Wasco County’s significant job loss and slow economic recovery throughout 2020 was in line with most of the state — disastrous — but Hood River County’s economic recovery has been slower.
While both counties have a significant leisure and hospitality industry — the industry most impacted by the pandemic — Hood River County has a longer tourism and recreation season, deepening the economic losses, said Oregon Economist Dallas Fridley, speaking before the Wasco County Commission Feb. 24.
“Hood River County is doing a little worse, economically, because of the recreational seasons,” he said. Hood River County draws visitors to the river in summer and unlike Wasco County, to the mountain in winter as well.
“For Hood River, there was a lot of impact in December,” he explained. Counties on the Oregon Coast are also recovering more slowly, he said.
“This was a significant economic crisis,” Fridley said.
As a state economist, Fridley provides economic analysis for seven Columbia Gorge and Columbia Basin counties.
Reviewing economic data from 2020 in graph after graph, Fridley painted the picture of a dramatic and historic decline in economic growth beginning in April, followed by a slow recovery and second dramatic decline, though not so deep, near the end of the year. Another stretch of very slow recovery followed as we entered a new year. He said throughout the region and state, limited service restaurants (fast food) recovered more quickly than full service restaurants after the COVID-19 shutdown in the spring. Economic recovery continued through the summer and into the fall.
He said in the Gorge, economic recovery was looking good in October and November, then a second surge of COVID-19 cases caused the state to impose new restrictions on gatherings and businesses.
“With the new restrictions, there was a lot of uncertainty,” Fridley said. “There is a lot of uncertainty now.” But as state rules are clarified, and restrictions met or modified, the economy should again begin to recover.
“If we look at what the state is saying, business might get back to normal pretty quickly,” Fridley said. “In two years, this should be behind us, we may be back where we started.”
But it won’t be easy for some, and some will not recover, he added. “The real issue is for businesses that aren’t going to survive this — and there will be some that don’t. There will be some more pain along the way, before that recovery happens.”
He said that the economy of both counties had slowed somewhat prior to the pandemic, and noted that energy projects in Gilliam County created jobs over the year, and Sherman County had a truck stop open so jobs were added there as well.