Where We Live: Oregon’s economy after the coronavirus


How is Oregon positioned to recover?

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — The coronavirus pandemic has ground the American economy to a halt. One of Oregon’s leading economists said it’s hitting this state especially hard. So, when it’s over, how is Oregon positioned to recover?

A closure notice posted in the window of a Portland Nordstrom. March 2020 (KOIN)

“We’re in a recession, and this could be the worst recession since 1929, and I’m not exaggerating,” said Robert Whelan. He is a senior economist at ECONorthwest. “This is a big problem for us because, particularly the Portland area, is dependent on tourism—it’s become a tourist-dependent area.”

“In the metro area alone, that’s half a million jobs,” said Whelan.

The hotels are nearly empty. Brick and mortar retail is on life support. The restaurant industry has seen massive layoffs. All of this was accelerated when Governor Kate Brown ordered all restaurants move to take-out or delivery options only, and banned indoor seating. It’s something Whelan said she had to do.

“Well, because you don’t want people to die,” said Whelan.

It is drastic, short-term economic pain. But, what about the long term?

“It’s a weird thing, one of the odd outcomes of bad recessions is a re-birth happens,” said Whelan.

Robert Whelan, senior economist at ECONorthwest. March 2020 (KOIN)

In the early 80s, when timber was king, a deep recession crippled Oregon’s economy. But, land and property became cheap, and Oregon began promoting itself as a tourist destination. Creative-types, world-class chefs and entrepreneurs flocked to the state. The apparel industry soared, as did high-tech.

Oregon reinvented itself.

“That’s where the growth comes from. But existing companies suffer. Some won’t make it,” said Whelan. “But, eventually, you do recover out of this. Oregon will in spades, for sure.”

We all hope he’s right.

Whelan said the longer the recession lasts, the harder it will be to recover. And help from the federal government, although welcome, can only go so far.

Get more on this story by listening to the KOIN Podcast Network episode below or download it on iTunes, GooglePlay, Spotify or Podbean.

Coronavirus sent Oregon’s economy into a tailspin.
Can lessons from the past help correct our course?

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