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COOS COUNTY — While population growth is down for Coos County, economists remind South Coast residents and businesses that despite low numbers, the area is full of jobs.

“One of the drivers for economic growth is population growth,” said economist Nick Beleiciks with the Oregon Employment Department. “I think there are a lot of job opportunities here for those seeking them.”

Beleiciks joined local leaders and economists at Friday’s 26th annual Economic Outlook Forum, held at The Mill Casino-Hotel, to discuss local industries and the area’s economy. Citing a Portland State University preliminary population estimate, Beleiciks said the county has so far lost 35 residents.

With a lower population and increased number of folks retiring, the labor force participation he said is about 50 percent compared to the state average of 63 percent. For the county, the focus should be on retaining local workers and a younger workforce, he said.

The forum, which was co-hosted by the Bay Area Chamber of Commerce and Banner Bank, showed the county added 120 jobs within the last 12 month with highest job gains occurring in leisure and hospitality industries, business and professional services as well as construction and food and beverage sectors.

“Unemployment rate is higher in Coos County right now, but historically it’s really low,” Beleiciks said. “It’s a sign of tight labor market with employers having difficultly filing jobs.”

The unemployment rate for the county is at 5.1 percent while the state is at 3.8 percent. About 1,300 people are considered unemployed and job growth has increased by half a percent. Salaries in the construction, business and professional services are much higher than the statewide average, Beleiciks said.

Local representatives from tourism and job development firms as well as a couple of business also spoke at Friday’s forum. Among them included Julie Miller of the Oregon South Coast Regional Tourism Network, who talked about the county’s tourism industry as one of its leading economic drivers.

Miller discussed recent tourism projects including the Whiskey Run Mountain Biking Trail and Wild Rivers Coast Scenic Bikeway. South Coast Development Council’s executive director Samuel Baugh talked about some of the tourism financial impact in the area.

According to Baugh, the area collected $28.9 million on retail spending from visitors to the area, $61.5 million on accommodations and about $40.6 million from recreational activities. The forum included testimonies from Dune Buggy & ATV Rentals as well as Boxcar Hill Campground.

Bandon Dunes Golf Resort operations director Jeff Simonds and communications director Michael Chupka both spoke about some of the resort’s upcoming tourism attractions including the resort hosting two United States Golf Association championship tournaments.

Former chief economist and western regional economist John Mitchell also spoke at the forum. According to Mitchell, the economy is currently in its 114th upturn month.

For December, it appears job openings and availability continues to be greater than the amount of people who are unemployed. As for when the economy’s upturn might take a move downward, Mitchell cited other countries with upward shifts lasting for more than a quarter century.

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