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News / Business / Clark County Business

Southwest Washington’s regional economist Scott Bailey signs off after 33 years

His service at Washington Employment Security Department draws praise

By Sarah Wolf, Columbian staff writer
Published: November 25, 2023, 6:08am
3 Photos
Scott Bailey walks along Vancouver&rsquo;s redeveloped waterfront, one of the many changes he has seen unfold as Southwest Washington&rsquo;s regional economist for more than 30 years.
Scott Bailey walks along Vancouver’s redeveloped waterfront, one of the many changes he has seen unfold as Southwest Washington’s regional economist for more than 30 years. (Amanda Cowan/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

Scott Bailey’s title may have been “regional economist,” but he didn’t mind being called “Dr. Doom.”

When Bailey released reports and spoke about Southwest Washington’s economy, he provided not just numbers but also context and a healthy dose of humor — even when his analysis was gloomy. He recently retired after 33 years with the Washington Employment Security Department.

“Scott was always quite the opposite of doom and gloom, even if the economic analysis and forecast may have been doomy and gloomy at times,” said Darcy Hoffman, business services director at Workforce Southwest Washington.

Economic insight

Julia Anderson, a former business news editor at The Columbian, was Bailey’s first contact at the newspaper when he started working in Southwest Washington. Bailey has spoken at The Columbian’s annual Economic Forecast Breakfast for many years and offered countless quotes and data sets for reporters.

“As regional labor analyst, Scott Bailey provided invaluable insight into Clark County’s economy,” Anderson said. “Through all those years, his monthly jobs reports were a huge help to Columbian readers, local planners and private investors.”

In Bailey’s three decades on the job here, the region transitioned from an industrial economy to a service-oriented one.

“His insights into labor and economic trends have provided valuable guidance to businesses, helping them navigate challenges and capitalize on opportunities,” said John McDonagh, president and CEO at the Greater Vancouver Chamber.

McDonagh said Bailey’s work has helped shape “a stronger and more resilient business environment for us all.”

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Bailey grew up in Northeast Portland, just down the street from where he lives now. Despite spending more than 30 years working for the state of Washington, he never moved his residence across the river.

Bailey said he’s rooted in his community. He served on the Portland school board in recent years. Even in retirement, however, he still gets coffee with friends and colleagues in Vancouver, and he teaches economics at Clark College, something he’s done for many years.

Bailey was a self-proclaimed math and science geek as a teen, but his interests shifted in college. He ultimately worked in social services, helping to form an alternative social service agency, the Spare Change Collective.

Eventually, he went on to study economics at Portland State University. Then, he processed checks at Portland’s Federal Reserve Bank Office before moving into economic analysis for the state of Oregon.

“In a nine-month period, I became one of the leading experts on the Oregon economy because I got down into so many different things,” Bailey said. “It was great.”

That job came to an end, fortunately, only weeks before the regional economist position opened in Southwest Washington. Facing several personal challenges, Bailey jumped at the position.

‘Belly of the beast’

Pursuing economics was an intentional choice for Bailey, who was so involved in social justice.

“Economics is the belly of the beast,” he said, pointing to systemic changes he says are needed to alleviate poverty. He avoided partisanship in his commentary and analysis, though.

“When I think of Scott, I think of his innate curiosity, sense of purpose, ability to see the big picture and attention to detail,” said Anneliese Vance-Sherman, chief labor economist at the Washington Employment Security Department.

Vance-Sherman said Bailey published regional and statewide data sets and wage analysis. He also created unemployment insurance data sets during the pandemic, she added.

That work “cannot be understated in its importance at the time,” Vance-Sherman said.

When Bailey first started at the department, fulfilling a data request might take a week before it could be dropped in the mail. By the late ’90s, however, Bailey finally had the technology needed to analyze worker wages.

“I was able to show wages at the lower end actually didn’t keep up with inflation (between 1993 and 1995),” Bailey said.

Before he retired, he’d accumulated 30 years of that same data.

“I feel really proud of that,” Bailey said.

Wide-ranging work

Bailey didn’t just regularly publish employment reports for five different counties in Southwest Washington; he also helped local agencies, such as the Columbia River Economic Development Council and Workforce Southwest Washington.

Hoffman worked next to Bailey when she started at WorkSource about 20 years ago.

“Back then, we didn’t know how lucky we were to have our regional economist right there in the office with us providing immediate access to all the answers to our burning questions about the economy, business growth and decline, unemployment data, all of it,” Hoffman said. “Pretty much anything our employer partners and job-seeking customers wanted to know about an industry or a career pathway, Scott could tell them the story through data and analysis.”

Miriam Halliday, CEO at Workforce Southwest Washington, said her team has been lucky to have Bailey’s insight, helping them to make informed investments and decisions.

“He will be greatly missed,” she said.