Unemployment Crisis, Workforce Crisis or Drug Crisis?

From the desk of Commissioner Kevin Cameron, Marion County
September 2014

It has become evident to me, since being appointed to the Marion County Board of Commissioners that our economy is lagging in its full potential for many reasons. One of them is not so obvious. It is does not get much press and does not appear on the front page of the newspaper.

The challenge we have is a prepared “workforce.” Jobs are abundant in our region which if filled would lift the tide for all citizens. However there is a mismatch of expectations between potential employees and employers.

As recent as last month the Oregon Employment Department reported “Businesses Report Largest Number of Vacancies in Six Years.” (http://www.qualityinfo.org/pubs/vacancy/quarterly/pressrelease.pdf.) The completed survey estimated just over 47,000 jobs were open throughout the state of Oregon, but employers are having difficulty filling them.

I have heard from several employers that they have jobs available, good paying jobs, annual salaries of $35 – 60,000, but they cannot fill them. GK machines in Donald, said they could put to work another 60-75 people today if they had the qualified workforce. May Trucking has upwards of 45 vacancies to fill and they were restricted in their volume of business due to workforce issues. There are food processing and manufacturing companies experiencing double digit growth but unable to secure dependable employees.

A big part of the challenge has been a spike in failure of drug tests this past year! For some reason businesses are seeing more failure of existing employees and those who are applying for the jobs. Could it be that the availability and move towards an acceptance of marijuana is impacting the lively hood of our citizens and region? A ballot measure in November, if passed, could make marijuana legal to those over 21.

Unemployment insurance and other safety net programs in most cases are a positive part of our community. However there are programs that do not require individuals to be drug free. In some instances our safety net has become a sidewalk.

As your Commissioner, I will continue to listen to employers, and provide feedback to the stakeholders that have the ability to implement changes when possible at the county level. You can help by insisting that your state and federal delegation push for accountability in programs that are offered, including being drug free to be eligible. This would go a long way to promote a drug free culture that our traded sector employers so dearly need to expand our economy.

As always my doors are open and you may contact me at 503.588.5212 or email me at kcameron@co.marion.or.us. To learn more about the Board of Commissioners you can visit their website at http://www.co.marion.or.us/BOC/. It continues to be an honor and privilege to serve the citizens of Marion County. Thank you