How Oregon Works: A worsening labor shortage is stunting $1B nursery sector's growth
By Sean Meyers – Contributing writer
Oct 11, 2018, 8:53am PDT 
Updated Oct 11, 2018, 8:55am
Oregon Association of Nurseries Executive Director Jeff Stone on the status of the industry and how workforce shortages are stunting growth
The greenhouse and nursery category was Oregon’s top producing agricultural sector in 2017 in terms of dollar value generated, at $947.7 million. That's well ahead of No. 2, cattle and calves, at $694.2 million. Oregon ranks No. 3 overall in U.S. nursery production and is the nation’s leading producer of conifers, shade trees, Christmas trees and flowering trees. The Oregon Association of Nurseries is the industry's largest trade group, with its 800-plus members employing about 22,900 workers with an annual payroll of $327.6 million. We talked connected with OAN Executive Director Jeff Stone to talk about the status of the industry and how workforce shortages are stunting growth. How are acreage and revenues trending in the nursery industry? Acreage is stalled a little bit. The recession hit this industry hard. We lost about 30 percent of the growers in Oregon. In terms of revenue, we’re almost back to where we were pre-recession. We briefly topped the $1 billion mark. Nobody really thinks of us that way, but we bring a lot of trade dollars into the Oregon economy. We’re at $948 million now, with fewer growers. Have you recovered most of the 30 percent of growers that you lost? No. For reasons that were not of their own doing, markets just disappeared. You can’t last very long if you don’t have anywhere for your plants to go. What’s the biggest challenge facing the industry? Labor, labor, labor. It’s difficult because of the type of work. It’s skilled labor, but it’s also hard work. It’s year-round. The difficulties our nurseries are seeing is that there is a market there to grow by 10 to 20 percent because of our ability to produce plants, but we’re only growing at 2 percent because of the lack of availability of labor. We’re working in Washington D.C. on immigration reform. We’re at the tip of the spear as an organization. We’re telling them that it’s an economic cap on our industry.
How Oregon Works: A Portland Business Journal series looking at the current and future workforce challenges and opportunities facing Oregon's most important industries.
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