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Economic recovery slow on South Coast

Empty storefronts on Chetco Avenue. An auction in front of the Curry County Courthouse to sell the Brookings Inn and Resort and Flying Gull Restaurant was attended by seven but had no bidders. 

Recovery is coming slow to Curry County, even if in other part of the state the worst of the recession is over. 

“There’s not much of a recovery to show for on the South Coast,” said Guy Tauer, regional economist with Oregon Employment Department. 

While Curry County’s unemployment rate has begun to drop, at 10.1 percent it is still above the state average of 7.3 percent. 

But official unemployment rates do not tell the entire story. Even with the unemployment rate dropping, the number of people on payrolls in Curry County is much less than it was before the recession. 

“Regionally and overall, (Curry County) is not adding jobs,” Tauer said. 

Only 8400 people were in the labor force in Curry County in Nov. 2013, down from around 9,400 people who worked in 2008 before the recession. But whether this is a result of the demographic trends of people retiring, workers giving up finding new employment or an out-migration of laborers, Tauer doesn’t know.       

Wood products manufacturing and logging are two of the bright spots in employment in Curry County, with both sectors adding jobs this year. But with other areas shedding jobs — notably  retail and government — Curry County stands to have fewer people working than it did at the the beginning of 2013. 

And with the number of businesses that have closed in the last year, it is easy to see from where those smaller payroll numbers come. 

Chetco Federal Credit Union closed, to be taken over and reopened by Rogue Credit Union. Brookings Inn Resort and Flying Gull closed because of foreclosure proceedings in November. C&K Market Inc. announced the closing of Chetco Pharmacy in Brookings and Pharmacy Express in Harbor, in October, and filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in November and announced the closing of its Shop Smart store in Harbor, laying off two dozen employees. 

“The economy is still taking its toll on small businesses in small towns,” said Brookings Inn general manager Peter Spratt. 

WIth several restaurants, cafes and shops in the area closing in the last year, it looks like the economic situation will continue to drag on businesses. 

More residents needed

Tauer says most of Curry County’s growth before the recession was due to migration from California. People moved north, buying property and driving construction, which spurred economic growth. 

But as the housing bubble burst, Californians were unable to sell their homes and move north, hurting Curry County’s economic situation at the same time. 

At a recent Chamber of Commerce luncheon, Brookings City Manager Gary Milliman said attracting new residents was important to economic growth in Brookings, with new residents meaning more money being spent.

Tauer said construction of a new hospital in Gold Beach should benefit economic growth in the area, with lack of medical services being one of the primary reasons many retirees choose not to live in the county.

Many real estate agents also cite the lack of emergency room services in Brookings among the reasons people chose not to live here. But with hospital and city officials looking to change that, the situation could improve for Brookings. 

Troubles with the county government may discourage families from moving to the area, and if county workers are laid off, there could be further additions to the unemployment rolls. 

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