Housing, education, workforce issues top worry list for Jackson County businesses – Medford News, Weather, Sports, Breaking News


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A resident bicycles past apartments under construction in downtown Medford at the corner of Eighth and Holly streets. A recent survey by the Chamber of Medford & Jackson County found businesses are concerned about a lack of workforce housing and regulations that drive up home construction costs. [Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune]

A recent survey by the Chamber of Medford & Jackson County found that housing, education, the economy and workforce issues are the top concerns among local businesses.

“Those were the four that stood out,” said Eli Matthews, president and chief executive officer of the chamber.

More than 100 businesses answered the online December survey that asked them to rank their top 12 issues in order. About 80% of the businesses that answered were small businesses with 10 or fewer workers; the rest were larger companies, Matthews said.

The chamber has a Legislative Action Team that meets regularly via videoconference with local elected leaders in the Oregon Legislature. The 2023 legislative session starts Tuesday, Jan. 17.

Results of the survey will help the chamber focus on bills and issues that are most important to local businesses, Matthews said.

“Our mission at the chamber is helping businesses succeed,” he said.

The Chamber of Medford & Jackson County has 1,200 members.

A top issue for local businesses is the lack of sufficient housing — especially housing that workers can afford. Some businesses are having trouble recruiting workers from out of state due to the housing shortage and high costs.

In the survey, many businesses said Oregon has too many regulatory restrictions that impede the construction of new housing.

A 2021 state government analysis found Oregon is 140,000 homes short of the number it needs for its current population. A 2022 state report said Oregon needs to build more than 550,000 homes over the next 20 years.

In Jackson County, more than 2,300 apartment complexes, houses and manufactured homes were destroyed by the 2020 Almeda and South Obenchain fires.

On the education and workforce fronts, many businesses said there needs to be more focus on primary and secondary education to strengthen the future workforce. People need training for both blue and white collar careers.

“Businesses are saying we need to invest more in education to get returns in the future. They want to see an investment in the next generation,” Matthews said.

Businesses said more technical training opportunities in the Rogue Valley would help the area attract younger workers and retain youth who grow up here.

Local businesses have concerns about the economy, especially rising costs for practically everything. Many said workers are living paycheck to paycheck.

After housing, economy, workforce and education issues, public safety emerged as another big concern for businesses that answered the survey.

“There’s growing concern amongst the business community about the mental health crisis,” Matthews said. “There were some comments about the lack of jail space. There was conversation on Measure 110 and the legalization of drugs and what we’re already seeing in the community with drug overdoses and increasing drugs on the street.”

Passed by Oregon voters in 2020, Measure 110 reduced penalties for possessing user amounts of drugs such as heroin, meth, fentanyl and cocaine to a $100 ticket. The user amount of fentanyl is set at anything less than 5 grams, even though 4.9 grams of pure fentanyl could kill 2,450 people.

Some legislators are sponsoring a bill in the 2023 session that would repeal Measure 110.

Child care ranked as a medium concern for local businesses that answered the survey. Workers are having trouble finding child care, and what they do find often is costly.

“It’s difficult to have two people working and be able to afford expensive child care. There’s concern about the overall cost of making ends meet, even for those who are employed — especially for single parents and young families. There’s a connection between child care availability and workforce sustainability,” Matthews said.

Businesses had concerns about a batch of survey items such as Oregon’s corporate activity tax, paid family medical leave, workers’ compensation, environmental regulations and other issues that put a financial burden on businesses.

“We had quite a few comments about taxation as a whole. There’s a great amount of frustration among business people that taxes continue to grow. In Oregon, the state government continues to look to businesses for revenue,” Matthews said.

He said businesses aren’t sure how the upcoming session of the Oregon Legislature will impact them.

“There’s a lot of uncertainty. There are going to be a lot of new faces across the state, new party leaders and a new governor. There are a lot of unknowns. It’s beneficial that there won’t be a super-majority,” Matthews said.

Newly elected Gov. Tina Kotek, a Democrat, has taken the reins from former Gov. Kate Brown, also a Democrat, after a fierce campaign fight with opponent Christine Drazan, a Republican.

On Tuesday, Kotek issued executive orders to tackle Oregon’s housing and homelessness crisis, including setting a goal for Oregon to build 36,000 new homes per year for the next 10 years — up from Oregon’s current pace of building 20,000 homes annually. Meeting that goal and making the housing affordable will require significant investments from all levels of government, including the federal government, according to Kotek’s office.

Democrats during the last election lost their three-fifths majorities in the Oregon House and Senate that previously allowed them to push through bills and make few compromises with Republicans.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-776-4486 or [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @VickieAldous.

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