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SOUTH COAST —  For this year’s South Coast Strong special section, The World has assembled a collection of articles analyzing our region’s economic vitality, the local indicators and potential impacts for growth and what it means to us living here.

When we look at the South Coast from just a jobs standpoint, we see that the bulk of the area's employment lies in three distinct industry sectors, whether public or private: education and health services; trade, transportation and utilities; and leisure and hospitality.

According to Oregon Employment Department Regional Economist Annette Shelton-Tiderman the three sectors accounts for roughly 60 percent of Coos County’s total employment.

She said retail trade accounts for 66 percent of jobs in the trade, transportation and utility sector.

Meanwhile, the county’s leisure and hospitality sector employs more than 2,600 people.

There are hopes in the local business community that tourism will continue to bring in more dollars for the economy and create more jobs in the process.

Bandon Western World Editor Amy Moss Strong took a deep dive into the state of Coos County’s tourism industry and found that the county’s direct travel impacts in 2016 included $265.3 million in spending, $76.6 million in earnings, employed 3,280 people — full- and part-time employment of payroll employees and proprietors — and earned $9 million in tax revenue.

The numbers were part of a series of independent findings by Dean Runyan Associates which indicated travel-related spending statewide increased by nearly $500 million last year, reaching a record $11.3 billion, a 4.3 percent increase in spending in real dollars compared to the previous year and marked the seventh consecutive year of growth.

There is hope more tourists will continue to pour into the area to use the world famous Bandon Dunes Golf Resort, which helps facilitate direct flights from Southwest Oregon Regional Airport. And while the flights are enjoying their third and final year of their current contract with United Airlines, resort and airport officials say they would like to see the summer flights continue.

Another draw to the area is its many state and county parks as well federal recreation areas.

There are currently plans for a mountain bike trail along West Beaver Hill Road and Whisky Run Road.

The $250,000 construction project is mostly funded through a grant from Oregon's Parks Recreational Trails Program.

There are also plans in motion for a potential 41-mile hiking trail from the mouth of the Coquille River in Bandon to Hoffman Myrtle Grove State Park.

Tackling the question of growth — whether we are measuring changes in population, to the number of new businesses opening or even houses being built — becomes a bit trickier the deeper we dive into the subject.

One glaring example can be found comparing the changes in student populations at South Coast schools. By all accounts, class sizes are growing.

The Coos Bay School District alone saw student numbers bump up to 3,300, compared to 2,716 in 2012.

Likewise, North Bend and Coquille school districts saw student increases of more than 300 students and 100 students, respectively.

The rise in student numbers has also been seen in Reedsport. Highland Elementary added 25 kindergartners for the fall of this year, which requires adding another classroom according to Principal Beckie Lupton.

Moreover, youth sports, notably baseball, has also seen an uptick, with the North Bend Independent Baseball League reporting an increase of 30 players.

“It’s hard to tell why we’re seeing an increasing number of kids at the elementary school,” Coos Bay School Superintendent Bryan Trendell told The World’s Jillian Ward.

And that question becomes even more difficult to answer when looking at Coos County’s population as a whole.

Economist Shelton-Tiderman said the county has only seen a population increase of roughly 200 individuals over the past year.

“It does look like schools are gaining students, so the school enrollments are going up but that’s really all I can tell,” she added. “But the overall population is not showing much growth at all, so I don’t know what’s going on.”

The uncertainty and limited population growth has at the very least set a cap on the county’s construction industry, which is a core component of the areas limited availability of homes and apartments to rent or own.

Currently, Coos County has a paltry 4.5 months of inventory in terms of available residential real estate. The conditions have created a market with high demand, low availability and, at times, high prices, according to local real estate experts.

The conditions also have a role to play in the two downtown areas for Coos Bay and North Bend. While both areas have added new businesses in recent years, most of the businesses seem to follow a pattern of shuffling from location to location among the downtowns, with most owners preferring to set up shop on the lucrative Highway 101 corridor.

Just a short drive north, Reedsport is attempting to revitalize its storefronts and fill a plethora of vacant spaces on a similar stretch of highway.

The city’s Main Street Program was recently awarded a $100,000 Oregon Main Street Revitalization Grant to support the renovation and rehabilitation of the second-floor of the Burdick building.

As for the Port of Coos Bay, all eyes will be on the agency that manages the largest deep water channel between San Francisco and Puget Sound in the coming years.

Officials have several projects on the horizon, including a proposed $400 million channel modification, an undertaking that would take years of dredging but potentially open a slew of new customers for the ship starved port.

Other projects the port will focus on involve rail line tunnel rehabilitation, installing a state-of-the-art stormwater system at the Charleston Shipyard and replacing the Vaughn Viaduct bridge.

As for the Jordan Cove liquefield natural gas terminal and Pacific Connector Gas Pipeline, well, we will just have to wait and see if the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission will approve it this time before considering its impact.

In all, there’s a myriad of reasons to be excited about the state of the South Coast economy and what the future holds.

However, expectations for overnight improvements or sudden riches should be tempered, at least for now.

Reporter Spencer Cole can be reached at 541-269-1222, ext. 249, or by email at Spencer.Cole@theworldlink.com Follow him on Twitter: @spencerdcole.

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