Tribes ‘biggest economic boon to region’

March 2016, CUJ

Tribes see significant growth according to economic studies. By Antonio Sierra of the East Oregonian.

PENDLETON - The economic message was mixed Feb. 17 at the Pendleton Chamber of Commerce Economic Outlook Luncheon.

On one hand, Umatilla County’s prospects are improving.

Oregon Employment Department regional economist Dallas Fridley said many key industries in Pendleton, like hospitality and durable manufacturing, are trending upward.

On the flip side, high-paying jobs in the professional service and federal government field were wiped out by the closure of the Umatilla Army Depot and are unlikely to return.

A.J. Tarnasky, the executive vice president and chief credit officer for Community Bank, said the region’s housing prices are starting to rise, although a gap is opening between Pendleton and Hermiston.

The average house costs $138,000 in Pendleton as opposed to $180,00 in Hermiston.

Perhaps the biggest economic boon to the region is the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation.

Between the Wildhorse Casino & Resort, Arrowhead Travel Plaza, Cayuse Technologies and the tribal government, economic consultant Robert Whelan said the tribes employ 1,652 people.

Whelan said the success and growth of the tribes creates a chain effect that boosts other calculations.

According to Whelan’s calculations, the tribes were directly or indirectly responsible for 11 percent of the jobs in Umatilla County.

Whelan also downplayed the negative economic effects of gambling addiction, saying only 0.5 percent of gamblers are considered problem gamblers, 59 percent of whom do their gambling outside casinos.

During the question and answer session, many attendees asked the economists about the effect of a potential minimum wage hike. Whelan was the most vocal about a minimum wage increase, saying it would hurt impoverished Oregonians by forcing them to pay more taxes and reducing their earned income tax credit.

Whelan scoffed at the notion that a higher minimum wage would stimulate local economies, saying people spent only 17 percent of their money locally.

Whelan said a better way to improve the working poor’s economic prospects is to cut income taxes for those who earn under $30,000.