Major Oregon Private Employer Feels Housing Pain
ETHAN LINDSEY: I'm Ethan Lindsey in Bend, Oregon. I'm standing in one of the city's newest neighborhoods, but it's actually just a bunch of empty home sites right now. There is one house being built a couple of blocks away, but it looks pretty lonely. Anyone in town will tell you this was one of the fastest growing cities in the entire country just a few years ago. But when the state and regional economy collapsed, it took the local building and construction trade along with it and the city's growth.
Mr. MICHAEL WOOLY(ph): Well, the funny thing is to see all these homes that are half built.
LINDSEY: Michael Wooly is an out-of-work carpenter.
Mr. WOOLY: See the raw plywood up and there's no siding or nothing. I mean, as soon as that crash hit, everything stopped.
LINDSEY: Wooly and his wife moved to Oregon in 2004. When everything stopped, home building companies laid off thousands of roofers, framers and general contractors, including Wooly.
Mr. WOOLY: Oh, gosh. The facts of life really start to hit you in the face and you're, like, wow, you know. I got to feed my family, you know, put a roof over their head. For a while I had to wash dishes.
LINDSEY: Oregon's 12.2 percent unemployment rate is the fourth highest in the country. Big local names have slashed their payrolls. Bright Wood lumber has gone through multiple layoffs in Central Oregon over the past two years. So far it's cut more than 20 percent of its 1,000-person workforce. The largest private company in the state is Jeld-Wen. It makes doors and windows and over the past two years has cut hundreds of jobs across the state including in Bend. In March, the company even laid off 50 people from its administrative staff.
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LINDSEY: At the state unemployment office in Bend, out-of-work job seekers take computer classes and apply for jobs. This downturn may have started with home building, but now it seems to affect everyone. Carolyn Egan is a regional economist with the employment department.
Ms. CAROLYN EGAN (Regional Economist): Of course we have the people who are swinging hammers and laying concrete. Also, we need the engineers and the architects who have designed the lot and the house, not to mention, the people in Home Depot.
LINDSEY: All the different job losses pushed Bend's August unemployment rate up to 15.8 percent. That's almost three times what it was in 2006. But it hasn't been a nonstop descent into job despair. In fact, over the summer, economists thought they saw a turnaround. Some landscaping and engineering firms rehired workers, but those green shoots withered quickly. It looks as though it was a seasonal optic. Egan says she knows firsthand the impacts of the housing slowdown.
Ms. EGAN: I was working for an engineering company here in town doing the traffic studies. So for every commercial or residential development, there has to be a traffic study submitted. And so I lost my job last August and was unemployed for six months before I got my job here with the employment department.
LINDSEY: There aren't enough state jobs to go around, Egan knows, and she worries that if the recession lasts much longer, people may start to move out of town. Wooly, the out of work carpenter, says he'll likely move to Salem if something doesn't turn up here soon.
For NPR News, I'm Ethan Lindsey in Bend, Oregon.
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