BEND, Ore. -- Not so long ago, Bend was a gleaming mecca to people like Biff Ingels, a skier, kayaker and
hiker who moved to this high desert town for the easygoing lifestyle and bounty of recreational opportunities at
Ingels, 58, came from Merced, Calif., where he worked as a county employment training specialist, and easily
found a job in Bend managing recreational and sport programs with the city parks department. Finally, he was
living the life he had dreamed about for years.
"You only live once," he said, "and I always wanted to come to the mountains."
It was 2005. Thousands of people, many from California, came here and found jobs in the high-tech
manufacturing, service and homebuilding industries.
Located on the sunny side of the Cascade Range, this resort town was once the nation's sixth fastest-growing
community. It seemed developers couldn't build homes fast enough to accommodate the newcomers.
But Bend's boom has gone bust.
The city's jobless rate ballooned in March to 17 percent, a 9.2 percentage-point increase from a year earlier
and the second-biggest monthly gainer among all metropolitan areas in the United States.
"There was a general sense of excitement" before the economy turned sour, said Oran Teater, a former Bend
mayor who now serves on the city council. "Has the atmosphere changed now? Yes."
It's gotten so bad that some transplants, like Ingels, are considering leaving. He lost his job seven months
ago and stops by a state employment center each day looking for work. Maybe Colorado would have more to offer, he
said, but the economy could be just as bad there.
He's been told by the parks department he will be hired back this summer, but only for two months.
"I think in hindsight I would have stayed in California," he said.
The road that leads out of Bend and toward the east slopes of the Cascades is lined with sagebrush, horse
pastures and dozens of homes for sale.
"For-sale" signs dot the landscape. Some stand in multi-acre spreads on the edge of town, advertising a
The median price of homes slid from $396,000 in May 2007 to $215,000 in February, according to the Central
Oregon Association of Realtors, and only 214 of the 1,132 Bend-area homes for sale in March sold that month.
"It was a frenzy for quite a while," said Teater, the former Bend mayor. "We knew it wasn't going to sustain."
By the time Teater left office in 2004, after eight years as mayor, the population had more then doubled --
30,000 to about 65,000. Bend has since grown to 80,000.
"We were discovered. We were on the map," Teater said. "It was a frenzy for quite a while."
But when the boom went bust, the Bend area again stuck out. About 11 percent of the jobs in the area had been
devoted to construction, twice the statewide average, said Roger Lee, executive director of the nonprofit
Economic Development for Central Oregon. As construction slumped, the number of construction workers idled made
for fast-rising unemployment percentages.
Signs of tough times can be found on street corners, where panhandlers stand and workers wave retail
"Going Out of Business," says a yellow banner billowing in the wind on a corner outside Mountain Comfort
Furnishings and Design, a downtown luxury furniture store.
Jerry Laymance, a 50-year-old salesman at the store, said he expects all items will be sold within two months,
about the same time his partner also will be looking for work.
She works at Gottchalks, a retailer that announced it would close department stores just months after opening
one in Bend.
Laymance, who moved to town 10 years ago from Seattle, hopes he won't have to take his job search elsewhere.
He considers Bend a "friendly, mountain-like town" and on his days off he likes to ride his Harley on open roads
of Central and Eastern Oregon.
"I have friends who are heading out of town, they think Bend is dried up," he said. "But the bottom line with
me is I'm hopeful."
In March, the Central Oregon Association of Realtors reported median home prices increased slightly to
$221,000 in March, marking the third month median home prices remained relatively steady and hovered around
That's reason to hope the worst of the downturn in local housing market has come and gone, even if it doesn't
mean a return to the building and buying craze of the 2005-2006, said Wendy Atkisson, a principal broker for the
Bend-based Garner Group.
"Homes in Bend are affordable again, and I think we have hit bottom," she said. "I think there are signs of
But the job market has yet to show signs of a turn-around.
Cessna Aircraft Co., the nation's largest builder of corporate jets, announced in late April it will close its
Bend plant, putting 109 people out of work.
The announcement, which came just 18 months after the company acquired a factory in Bend, was yet another
reminder of the rapid rise and fall of Bend's economy.
The day Cessna said the Bend operation would close, the plant was empty but for a few glistening planes.
"That was a real feather," Teater said. "Just a year ago, they had a backlog."