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Waverly Place Assisted Living & Memory Care resident assistant Jordan Moore works on a matching puzzle game with a group of seniors last week. Residents get excited when they do well at those sort of games and activities, employees said. 

Aging baby boomers entering retirement homes and assisted living facilities have created an employment boom in the mid-Willamette Valley and Oregon, according to state data.

“There’s no question it’s a growth industry,” said Patrick O’Connor, regional economist with the Oregon Employment Department. “It just keeps going up and up. Demographics are the big push beyond the current business cycle,” he added.

From 2001 to 2016, the most recent full year data is available from the Oregon Employment Department, the number of private nursing home and residential care workers in Linn and Benton counties increased from 1,893 to 2,481, a jump of roughly 31 percent.

Nursing and retirement home employees now make up more than 3 percent of total workers in the mid-Willamette Valley, O’Connor said.

“That will continue to grow as baby boomers continue to retire,” said Janet Steele, president of the Albany Area Chamber of Commerce.

“People are living long than they used to. A lot longer,” said Marilyn Smith, city of Albany spokeswoman.

2017 and 2018 will certainly show job growth thanks to new facilities such as Waverly Place Assisted Living & Memory Care in Albany, which has its grand opening on Tuesday.

Linn County and Albany and particular, with the Mennonite Village complex and other senior care facilities, is responsible for much of the increases from 2001 to 2016. Linn County employment in the nursing homes and residential care centers grew by 41 percent, to 1,589 workers.

In the same time period, Benton County grew by 16 percent to 912 workers, though much of the increase is due to a new North Albany facility, Bonaventure of Albany, which opened in 2016.

John Pascone, president of the Albany-Millersburg Economic Development Corporation, said that land availability and values in Albany — which is cheaper than Portland, Salem, Eugene and Corvallis — may have played a large role in senior facilities coming to town.

The Albany area also is centrally located in the valley. The same factors that make Hub City a haven for commuters also could contribute to senior care facilities locating here, O’Connor said.

Albany Mayor Sharon Konopa said the Mennonite Village complex, which has a $19 million remodel and addition project underway, attracted other senior-based businesses to the area.

“We have been gaining a lot of facilities, which is great. They see we have a great, attractive community,” Konopa added.

Strong police, fire and medical services in the community also are a plus for senior-care facilities, Konopa said.

More nursing homes and residential care facilities, however, has meant a corresponding increase in Albany Fire Department ambulance calls to these locations.

“Half our (ambulance) calls are just to senior facilities, so that’s a really big strain,” Konopa said. “It’s a big demand on staffing levels.”

The pluses to the community, including the economic impact, however, far outweigh the drawbacks, Konopa said.

The mid-Willamette Valley now has about 150 residential care and senior facilities, and they range from small homes with just a few beds to communities with more than 100 residents.

Statewide, the job growth in senior care facilities was even more pronounced than in the mid-Willamette Valley from 2001 to 2016.

The state surged from 34,603 workers in the industry to 49,496 in those 15 years, for 43 percent job growth, according to figures from the Oregon Employment Department.

“Both counties are seeing faster growth than what we’ve seen statewide over the last couple of years,” O’Connor said.

From September 2015 to September 2017, Benton County added 107 jobs, for an 11.6 percent increase, while Linn County added 97 jobs, for 6.4 percent growth.

Statewide, the sector grew 4.1 percent in the same time period.

Kyle Odegard can be reached at kyle.odegard@lee.net, 541-812-6077 or via Twitter @KyleOdegard.


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