Sunday, January 18, 2009

Is Central Oregon Experiencing "Shrinkage"?

The Bulletin's top business story this morning is about how many people are moving into Central Oregon and how many are moving out. Predictably, the

Posted By on Sun, Jan 18, 2009 at 9:26 AM

The Bulletin's top business story this morning is about how many people are moving into Central Oregon and how many are moving out. Predictably, the spin is upbeat.

"Central Oregon and the state were magnets for residents from across the U.S. in 2008, according to data released this month by three leading moving companies," reads the story (available by subscription only).

"The moving companies - United Van Lines LLC, Mayflower Transit LLC and Atlas Van Lines LLC - handled 287 moves into Central Oregon and 166 moves out, according to data provided by the companies. That means 63 percent of the business those companies handled in Deschutes, Jefferson and Crook counties was for people moving here."

Sounds good, right? But the obvious problem with those numbers is they include only people who hire moving companies - typically the affluent, or those whose companies pay for their moves - and leave out the hundreds (thousands?) who simply load up the Ryder truck or the U-Haul or their own pickup and breeze on outta here in search of greener (or at least different) pastures.

The story quotes Tim Duy, an adjunct professor of economics at the U of O, warning that the region might see a loss of population in 2009: "To what extent are your immigrants going to come from high-priced housing markets, given that those markets aren't high-priced housing markets anymore? Once the equity is wiped out in California, where is your source of immigrants going to come from?"

But then come some quotes from Roger Lee, executive director of Economic Development for Central Oregon, The Bulletin's go-to guy whenever it needs somebody to paint a rosy scenario.

"I don't see us getting to a situation where we're losing residents," Lee says. "All that is speculation [about population declines], but there is nothing to back it up in the numbers. If all the jobs evaporated, that would be a game-changer, but net out-migration in 2009 is very dubious."

And then comes the inevitable "people will keep moving here because we're so damn special" argument:

"We're still looking at [population growth] rates that are well above the state average and the national average and every other county in Oregon or across the nation. This area appeals to a lot of people who move here in various stages of life. They are looking for quality of life and lifestyle factors."

Whatever you say, Roger. But as The Eye has observed before, you can't eat "lifestyle." And with Central Oregon unemployment at or near double digits, it seems unlikely that many people will move here in search of a job.

The Eye has heard rumors that Bend already has lost population - maybe as much as 10,000. That seems way over the top. But it would be nice to have some honest numbers.

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