Wine Industry Buoys Oregon Employment

Although state saw unemployment rates increase this summer, a new report highlights opportunities in growing sector

by Peter Mitham
chris martin troon vineyards oregon jobs
Chris Martin, owner of Troon Vineyard, told Wines & Vines, “We’ve seen a continual and steady increase in the number of vineyards and wineries emerging in this region.”
Salem, Ore.—Oregon unemployment rates increased this summer. After bottoming out at 8.4% unemployment in May, August ended at a seasonally adjusted rate of 8.9%—but the wine industry bears a bright light for the state’s job market.

While state-wide unemployment in Oregon climbed to 11.6% in spring 2009 (from just 5% two years earlier), a report released last week by Annette Shelton-Tiderman of the Oregon Employment Department highlighted the contribution the state’s wine industry made to keeping people employed.

“As Oregon businesses struggled during the Great Recession (2007-09) and the years to follow, the state’s grape and wine industry flourished,” her report began. “This growth has accelerated during the post-recessionary period, and by 2011 there were 870 vineyards and 451 Oregon wineries.”

Shelton-Tiderman points to the economic impact study that Christian Miller of Full Glass Research prepared for the Oregon Wine Board last year, using 2010 data to bear out the impact on employment. Miller’s report drew upon data from the Oregon Employment Department to peg the number of wine-related jobs in the state at more than 13,500, with an average annual wage of $28,259 per person. Six years ago, there were just short of 8,500 jobs paying an average of $23,942 per year. (See “Breaking Down the Oregon Wine Report.”)

“The economy is showing signs of recovery, and given the importance of consumer spending in nearly all aspects of that improvement, I would expect that the wine industry will continue to see steady growth,” Shelton-Tiderman told Wines & Vines.

Since many wineries and vineyards are small, family-run operations, Shelton-Tiderman cautioned that the numbers provide only a high-level glimpse of the sector rather than fine detail.

Interviews with industry members support both the activity and areas of concern as the sector moves forward.

King Estate Winery near Eugene, for example, has added 37 new full- and part-time staff members to its non-agricultural workforce during the past three years. It now has a payroll of 227 people—up from 190 in 2010.

And in Southern Oregon, one of the fastest-growing regions in the state, new wineries and tasting rooms continue to open.

“We’ve seen a continual and steady increase in the number of vineyards and wineries emerging in this region,” said Chris Martin owner of Troon Vineyard in Grants Pass and president of the Southern Oregon Winery Association. “Southern Oregon, in many ways, is being buoyed in an otherwise tough economic environment by the wine industry.”

The departure of young, talented workers is one of the main challenges facing the Southern Oregon industry, Martin said, noting that any growing industry depends on being able to tap a pool of young workers.

“Our challenge, honestly, here in Southern Oregon, is finding qualified and talented people to fill the positions,” he said. “Just like every great area of the world needs a lot of 20- and 30-somethings to drive the economic engines that are talented, it’s no different in the wine industry of Southern Oregon. Hopefully, we’re doing more and more to keep some of that talent home.”

Raising awareness of the opportunities that are available is a key challenge for emerging wine regions.

Washington state’s wine industry addressed the challenge earlier this year at its annual convention in Kennewick, where it offered a free afternoon session for high school and college students to learn about within the industry. (See “Northwest Wineries to Gather at Annual Conclaves.”)

Meanwhile, a recent survey of viticulture workers in British Columbia highlighted the need for better awareness of long-term career opportunities in order to draw new workers in the face of competition from other sectors. (See “B.C. Studies Vineyard Skills Shortage.”)

“There’s not a clear track,” report author human resources consultant Carolyn MacLaren told this industry at a workshop in Penticton, B.C., this summer. “People don’t know what the jobs are in the sector, and they don’t know how to progress through a career pathway to become a winemaker or to work in the cellar or to become a viticulture technician. It keeps people out of the sector.”

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