Cattle remains big business in Wallowa County accounting for a big percentage of 2013ís $483 million in farm sales, which is up $1.9 million from the previous year. (KATY NESBITT/The Observer)
Cattle makes up almost half of 2013 farm sales in the county, with prices consistently on the increase for the past four years
ENTERPRISE — Wallowa County farm sales continued to be strong in 2013, bringing in $483 million in sales, up $1.9 million from the previous year.
Not surprisingly, cattle made up almost half of that number while prices have been on the increase the last four years. Grain and hay along with rotational and specialty crops made up the other half of farm gate sales, said John Williams, Wallowa County’s OSU Extension agent.
“Demand for beef will continue to rise due to falling supply,” said Williams Tuesday night at the Wallowa County Chamber of Commerce’s annual economic report. “The number of cattle in the U.S. has declined since the 1970s — increased efficiency has contributed to an increase in total U.S. beef production.”
Williams said export sales bolstered the market, with December beef exports up 15.9 percent compared to a year ago with Mexico and Japan the main countries responsible for the increase.
The timber market remains low, but housing starts are up, Williams said. This year is the last of a 10-year contract between Boise Cascade and industrial land owner Hancock. Williams said this may increase pressure on price.
Roughly 65 million board feet of timber was harvested last year in the county. In the next couple years, the Lower Joseph Creek restoration project could begin to contribute up to 20 million board feet a year of timber off national forest land, Williams said.
Jason Yohannan, regional economist for Work Source Oregon, said the county has had six years of jobs decline, mostly in the government sector, but private job counts are steady. He said a statewide boost in education funding may increase school district employment where cuts have hurt schools since the recession.
The unemployment trend is downward at 9.9 percent.
“It’s the first time the county will have an annual level under 10 percent since 2007,” Yohannan said.
However, this is without many jobs being added, he said. Teenagers and young adults are participating in the job market in smaller numbers while the number of retired citizens is on the rise.
In 2013, Wallowa County had some of the poorest paying jobs in the state, ranking 35th out of 36 counties. Only Wheeler County was lower. Yohannan attributed this to lower wage scales than areas with higher population and the number of part-time and seasonal jobs.
Yohannon said the county ranks 24th in median family income, yet the local poverty rate is 16. 6 percent, just a few points lower than the state average of 17 percent. Yohannon said per capita, personal income is now close to the state average of $39,166; Wallowa County is now at $37,479.
Self-employment is essential to the county’s overall job make-up and ranks fifth in the state, Yohannan said, with farm jobs at the top of the list.
Social Security income, whether for those retired, on disability or receiving survivor income, is received in 44.9 percent of the county’s households. Retirement income outside of Social Security is number two in the state, second to Curry County on the Oregon coast.
Lisa Dawson, Northeast Oregon Economic Development District executive director, brought innovation to Tuesday night’s discussion, introducing new ways to invest in local businesses.
“The intent is to localize more resources and dollars to support local businesses,” Dawson said.
Investment savings in Baker, Union and Wallowa counties adds up to $1.1 billion, Dawson said. “One percent of that could make a big difference in local investment.”
She said one reason to invest in local businesses is the receipt of a bigger return. “Local businesses tend to spend more of their money locally than a national corporations.”
Dawson said the district met with community and economic development leaders and decided to look into a variety of local investment options including crowd funding, like the popular Kick Starter campaigns where budding entrepreneurs ask for gifts of money to launch a product or service.
The Lostine Tavern, now under reconstruction and scheduled to reopen in May is looking at launching a crowd funding campaign soon, Dawson said.
Local loyalty point incentives, or rewards for local purchases, is another idea to boost sales at local businesses, she said.
The district plans to offer workshops for entrepreneurs on how to raise funds through a direct public offering and events that introduce potential investors with business owners.
The first of the Local Impact Investing Opportunity Network opportunities is from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Monday at the Prairie Creek Center in Enterprise.
For more information, call 541-426-3598.