Central Oregon progress comes with caveats

ben-blogFacebook has announced that it will build a second data center in Prineville. InEnTec has raised $20 million. Black Butte Ranch is investing $3.75 million in a golf remodel. And Cascade Bancorp has reported a $2 million quarterly profit. Is Central Oregon’s economy finally returning to health?

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By Ben Jacklet

Is Central Oregon’s economy finally returning to health?

Facebook just announced that it will build a second data center in Prineville. Bend-based waste recycling business InEnTec has raised $20 million from investors and is hiring. Black Butte Ranch is investing $3.75 million into a remodel of its Glaze Meadow Golf Course near Sisters. And Cascade Bancorp reported a $2 million quarterly profit after narrowly averting the wrath of the FDIC during the recession.

These are all positive signs for Central Oregon, which got hit with soaring unemployment and crashing land values when the housing market collapsed. But the good news comes with caveats.

The Facebook building will create short-term construction jobs in Crook County. But long-term jobs will be few.

InEnTec will be adding engineering jobs after its cash infusion. But although the company is headquartered in Bend, its technology center is in Richland, Wash., near the Batelle Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. That’s where R&D will ramp up.

The golf investment at Black Butte Ranch is a strong statement of confidence in the tourism sector for the gorgeous area around Sisters. But that same scenic area is littered with “Ranch For Sale” signs with reduced prices.

As for the Bank of the Cascades’ $2 million profit, it can be attributed to a $2 million tax credit.

And then there is the biggest caveat of all: none of these developments are curing the region’s unemployment problem. There are actually 1,500 fewer jobs in Central Oregon today than a year ago. The unemployment rates in Crook, Deschutes and Jefferson counties are 15.3%, 12.5% and 13% respectively.

These latest story lines add new hues to a complex picture of a regional economy that is rebounding in powerful ways yet still trembling from the aftershocks of a devastating downturn. That’s why the title of our July cover story was not “Bend is Back!” It was “Bend is Back! (sort of…).”

There is a difference.

Ben Jacklet is managing editor of Oregon Business.