Employment in Deschutes County’s hotel and restaurant industries is almost back to pre-pandemic levels.
That’s prompting one economist to describe the recovery as an “almost heroic comeback.”
Restaurants and hotels in Deschutes County lost roughly 5,300 jobs during the early stages of the pandemic; nearly half of their workforce.
Through various expansions during busy tourist seasons and retractions with each ensuing COVID variant, the industry has gradually worked its way back to a semblance of normal employment.
“To say that broad industry has recovered to 2019 levels is a minor miracle when you consider 18-20 months ago, they had a 50% drop in employment,” said Damon Runberg, Oregon Employment Dept. regional economist. “That’s a really remarkable, miraculous recovery there.”
Runbergs says food carts, fast food drive throughs and restaurants that have outdoor seating have done particularly well with notable job growth the past few years.
But full-service restaurants are still down more than 600 jobs or about 12% compared to pre-pandemic levels.
“We are still experiencing a downshift in what our expected sales should be right now,” said Jason Camberg, owner of The Point Pub & Grill. “I feel like the masks and COVID are still keeping people in. They are not getting out as much as we expect at this point.”
“We opened right in the middle of the pandemic so it doesn’t really feel any different,” said Miki Bekkari, owner of the Blissful Spoon. “I tell people it’s a little bit like having twins; if you don’t know any different you just keep going.”
Full service restaurant owners I spoke with said they expect business activity to remain quiet until March or April when spring break visitors come calling.
“The big question at this point in the labor market is ‘where are all the workers?’ The answer is that they are pretty much all working again,” Runberg said.
“We are sitting at unemployment rates in Deschutes County at 4.3%. That is well below our historic average and well below what we consider full employment in central Oregon.”
Runberg said at the current rate of job growth, the region will hit a record low of unemployment within the next six months.