Alliance sees progress even as number of employers drops

by: TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER ONSTOTT - Sixty percent of downtown employers rate the city's cleanliness and safety as 'OK,' and 20 percent said it needs improvement. 
In another sign of the economy’s uneven recovery, the number of employees increased in downtown Portland between 2010 and 2011 even though the number of their employers fell.

That’s one finding of the 2011 Downtown Portland Business Census & Survey released on Monday by the Portland Business Alliance, which represents business owners throughout the city.

“It’s good to see we are making progress. It’s a slow but steady upward trend,” says Megan Doern, the PBA’s vice president for communications and programming.

The annual survey was conducted the Clean & Safe District, which is managed by the PBA and provides services to improve livability in 213 blocks within the Interstate 5 and Interstate 405 loop.

The survey also found downtown employees earned more than $5.5 billion in wages in 2011. This is the first survey to gauge income, and Doern says it will be tracked in coming years.

“We want policy makers and others to be aware that downtown is an economic driver,” says Doern.

According to the survey, the total number of their employees in the area increased from 87,038 to 87,588 since 2010. The relative small size of the increase — 550 employees — hides dramatic shifts within some industry sectors, however.

For example, the number of professional, scientific and technical services employees increased by 1,328, jumping from 15,710 to 17,038 workers. The number of government employees increased, growing from 7,846 to 8,805, a gain of 959 workers.

Construction jobs also increased by 468, growing from 2,073 to 2,541.

“That’s probably related to the number of construction jobs downtown,” says Doern.

At the same time, the number of finance and insurance employees shrank by 224, dropping from 10,667 to 10,433 workers.

Cleanup requests

The increase marks the second year of gains since 2009, when downtown employment peaked. The district changed the survey’s methodology in 2010, however, making exact comparisons with previous years difficult.

Despite the increase in total employees, the number of employers dropped from 3,615 to 3,599 from 2010 to 2011. The biggest decrease was in “other services,” which shrank from 285 to 272 employers. At the same time, the number of professional, scientific and technical services employers increased from 1,121 to 1,137.

According to the survey, 38 percent of employers said the health of their enterprise had improved during the prior two years, the same percent that said it had remained the same. Another 24 percent of the companies in the survey reported a decline.

Despite the employment gains, 75 percent of employers said they did not plan to expand during the next two years, while 25 percent said they planned expansion.

A majority of employers — 67 percent — “very much” support the district’s holiday lighting program. It is “somewhat supported” by 27 percent; “hardly” or “not at all” supported by 4 percent.

The survey also measured attitudes toward the cleanliness and safety of downtown Portland. It found that 20 percent of employers consider downtown “very clean,” 60 percent said it was “OK,” and 20 percent said it needs improvement.

Doern says the district has worked hard to respond quickly to cleanup requests. For example, it recently supplemented its large cleaning truck with a pedal-powered trike that carries cleaning supplies.

The survey also found that 9 percent of employers think downtown is “very safe,” 47 percent think it is just “safe,” 39 percent think it is “moderately safe” and 5 percent think it is “not safe.”

Factors that need improvement, according to the survey, include panhandlers, cited by 59 percent of respondents, followed by transients at 52 percent, the cost of parking at 37 percent, taxes at 24 percent and the availability of parking at 23 percent.

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