Manufacturing outlook strong in Yamhill County

America’s manufacturing sector has been shedding jobs for four decades. Continuing a long-term decline, it slid another 23% percent between 2001 and 2018.

Oregon’s manufacturing sector outperformed its national counterpart over that period. Following steep losses during the Great Recession, it has been adding jobs since 2010.

Guest Writer

Patrick “Pat” O’Connor has been an economist with the Oregon Employment Department for the past 18 years. He covers Marion, Polk, Yamhill, Benton and Linn counties. Born and raised in Corvallis, his hobbies include growing roses, golfing and playing guitar. He lives in North Albany with his wife, McMinnville native Stephanie (Moore) O’Connor, and their fourth-grade daughter, Nora.

Despite the recent growth spurt, however, Oregon manufacturing still accounts for 10% fewer jobs in 2018 that it did in 2001.

Yamhill County’s manufacturing sector has managed to contradict both the national and state trends, adding nearly 1,300 jobs over the period, a 23% gain.

A performance of that magnitude is a rare accomplishment for U.S. counties. It’s even rarer when it can’t be attributed to landing a single large company adding jobs through construction of a new production plant.

But that’s the case with Yamhill County. A number of its industries have managed to expand jobs in recent decades.

The county added nearly 1,300 manufacturing jobs between 2001 and 2018, the most of any county in Oregon. On a percentage basis, two counties did experience greater manufacturing gains during the period, Morrow at 123% and Hood River at 74%. However, Yamhill’s new job total outpaced Morrow’s 1,000 and Hood River’s 750.   

One fact that surprises many people is that Yamhill County has the second greatest concentration of manufacturing jobs among Oregon’s 36 counties. Manufacturing accounts for 20% of total county employment, exceeded only by Morrow’s 36%, stemming largely from food processing.

On the national level, the manufacturing share runs 8.5%. On a state level, it it 10%.           

When thinking about manufacturing in Oregon, different areas of the state are associated with certain industries within the sector, electronics in the Portland Metro Area, wood products in Douglas County, fruit processing in the Columbia River Gorge and dairy processing in Tillamook County, to cite a few examples among many.

It’s tough to associate Yamhill County’s manufacturing sector with a single industry. It’s just too diverse.

In fact, the largest local industrial category is “miscellaneous manufacturing.” That category includes a collection of manufacturing activities that don’t fit into other industrial categories. It features businesses manufacturing dental equipment, such as A-Dec in Newberg, and gaskets and seals, such as Meggitt Polymers & Composites in McMinnville.

Miscellaneous manufacturing grew from an employment level around 1,200 in 2001 to one of more than 1,850 in 2018. It added nearly 640 jobs, achieving a growth rate of 52 percent.

In the western portion of Yamhill County, the timber industry remains a huge economic presence. Hampton Lumber in Willamina, which hails itself as Timbertown, U.S.A., is a particularly important player in wood product manufacturing.

Wood products has proven one of the more volatile industries within the county’s manufacturing sector.

Its employment peaked at more than 1,000 in 2006, then plummeted when the nation’s housing bubble burst. By 2011, employment in wood products had fallen to 550 jobs.

Since falling to its low point in 2011, the category has added employment steadily. It accounted for 870 jobs in 2018, up 30 from 2001.

Adding 30 jobs over an 18-year period may not sound that impressive — until you compare the county’s performance with that of the state as a whole. Oregon’s wood processing industry shed nearly 10,000 jobs between 2001 to 2018, a 30% decline.

It would be difficult to drive through Yamhill County and not notice grapes growing on the rolling hillsides. The fast-growing wine industry has not only changed the face of agriculture in Yamhill County, but has also altered the profile of manufacturing.

On an annual basis, the beverage industry employed roughly 320 workers in 2001. This industry experiences a noticeable seasonal bump in the fall as grapes are harvested, sorted and made in to wine, but runs significantly less other times during the year.

In 2018, beverage manufacturing employed just under 1,400 on an annual basis. That represents a gain of more than 1,000 jobs, which works out to more than 300 percent!

We will have to wait to determine what kind of “legs” this fast-growing industry has in the future. But it certainly has played a substantial role in Yamhill County’s growth in manufacturing employment in recent decades.

Yamhill County’s food manufacturing has also shown long-term growth. Although the industry has not shown the breakneck growth of the county’s beverage manufacturing, food manufacturing has grown from employment of less than 500 in 2001 to more than 750 jobs in 2018. Adding 300 jobs works out to a gain of 61%. 

So far, we have examined the four largest industries within Yamhill County’s manufacturing sector. One element that speaks to the diversity of the county’s manufacturing sector is the five additional industries within the manufacturing sector that each employ more than 200. We haven’t even touched on those yet.

They are plastic and rubber products, transportation and equipment, primary metals, fabricated metal products and machinery.

Some of the better known firms in those industries include Freelin-Wade in McMinnville, Cascade Steel Rolling Steel Mills in McMinnville, Climax Portable Tools in Newberg and Northwest UAV in McMinnville.  

As an economist, people often ask me about the financial future. I get asked: When is the next recession coming? How fast will employment grow this year?

I have to confess economists, myself included, are quite a bit better at explaining what has happened in the past than in predicting the future. But we don’t let that stop us from trying.

The Oregon Employment Department produces 10-year industry employment projections for the state and nine of its workforce areas. Our most current projections are for 2017 to 2027.

Oregon’s manufacturing employment is projected to grow 6.6 percent, adding 12,600 jobs. Oregon’s total employment is estimated to grow 12% over that period — almost twice as fast.

We don’t have specific projections for Yamhill County, but we do for the Mid-Valley workforce area, which encompasses Marion, Polk, Linn and Yamhill counties.

The Mid-Valley’s total employment is expected to grow 12 percent from 2017 to 2027, on a par with the state as a while. However, its manufacturing employment is projected to outpace statewide manufacturing growth of 6.6 percent.

The Mid-Valley manufacturing employment is projected to grow 8.7 percent, representing the addition of 2,400 jobs. And Yamhill County’s strong manufacturing employment growth in recent decades is a big reason we expect the Mid-Valley’s manufacturing sector to continue outpacing the statewide average.