Rogue Valley Baby Boomers Will Retire Soon: County Should Up Their Game To Attract New Opportunities

MEDFORD, Ore. — At their second annual State Of Rogue Valley business summit on Thursday, Southern Oregon Regional Economic Development Incorporated (SOREDI) hosted over 200 business owners, managers, and leaders who shared their input on the current business climate in the region, and put forward conditions of growth, opportunities, and challenges.

An Oregon state economist, Josh Lehner, presented financial data showing inflation at around 5% but when other figures are brought into the mix, it shows inflation is cooling. Oregon and the country are navigating the prospect of slowing down inflation with an over 2% target, but without incurring a recession according to Lehner who said that this is something that hasn’t happened before.

Lehner’s numbers for 2019 to 2022 indicated that higher incomes reflected that Rogue Valley’s economy had some resilience during the pandemic. Grants Pass’s average income increased by 27% (11th, 97th percentile nationwide) and Medford’s went up by 22% (50th, 87th percentile nationwide).

He says that local economic growth is driven more by strong productivity than by labor or population. From a demographic perspective, Rogue Valley’s labor market is more challenging as the population slants towards an older population compared to other metros in the state-similar to rural Oregon. As the large Baby Boomer generation retires, it becomes difficult to replace them as younger generations are smaller, and migration to the Valley is not as strong.


Rogue Valley Workforce Shrinks As Boomers Retire And People Move To Other Counties

Lehner shared data that showed a stagnant- or stable, population in Southern Oregon.  He cited as an example that while Klamath County is booming with incoming residents, Jackson County is losing people to other places in Oregon. His demographics also show that Jackson and Josephine counties are strong in baby boomers in their populations, but notes that 2/3 of them are out of the workforce.

Dave Morrison- Met One Instrument’s Chief Financial Officer, said that it was always a challenge. He said, “We’ve got an aging population of workers who are looking to retire, and we’ve got to backfill those positions.”


Next-Generation Businesses In Rogue Valley

Brent Kell- Valley Immediate Care’s Chief Executive Officer,  believes that AI or other tools will have to be used. He said, “Use more technology, less people.”

Lehner says that despite the average Rogue Valley worker’s productivity being more than 70% of the rest of the U.S., he expects AI to raise productivity. Lehmer also predicts a workforce challenge in affordable housing in the Rogue Valley, with an estimated 2,000 new housing units required annually to make progress. The current pace of about 1,500 new housing starts only maintains the status quo.

The biggest challenge in Southern Oregon according to him is that not enough housing is being produced, and affordability is terrible. He said that affordability helps individual households to be financially viable, making home life viable for skilled workers. “That pushes some of our neighbors and family members away, or they can’t afford to live nearby.”

Related: Medford May Extend ADU Housing Incentive Program

Paige Webster of Phoenix, Arizona-based Webster Global Site Selectors with clients such as Amazon, helps businesses locate or relocate properties for their business growth.  He detailed a priorities list considered by businesses looking for expansion locations, starting with “C suite,” or corporate office needs. The leading considerations are financial benefits and property, with the time frame associated with the property for location, transportation, and other business needs.


Opportunities In Rogue Valley

Economic development incentives, utilities, education, and business-government relations are also factors, along with quality of life according to Webster, but priorities can vary. He has researched a core list of economic development opportunities for the Rogue Valley for the near future.

Webster says that AI, e-commerce (and fulfillment centers), data centers, foreign investment, and especially outdoor manufacturing offer opportunities. Despite the perception that quality of life is low on a company’s priorities, in Rogue Valley lifestyle can translate to sportsmen’s and outdoor recreation because the region’s natural features could serve initiates in outdoors manufacturing.

With its good economic features on offer to business that helps existing and outside companies, the region needs to develop its own message and be more active about getting it heard by the right targets according to Webster. He said, “The more you get that message across, the more companies will start taking a look at the area.”

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