Featured Stories

Other Pamplin Media Group sites

Local Weather

Heavy Rain

57°F

Portland

Heavy Rain

Humidity: 96%

Wind: 5 mph

  • 22 Oct 2014

    Rain 59°F 54°F

  • 23 Oct 2014

    Rain 60°F 50°F


Region's economy gains new strength

Business checkup says Portland still lags on wages, jobs


The Portland-area economy is showing surprising strength in the most recent report by the Value of Jobs Coalition.

According to the report released Wednesday, the region has gained back about 60 percent of the jobs lost since the Great Recession took hold in December 2007. According to the Brookings Institution, only New Orleans is increasing its gross metropolitan product faster than Portland. The well-respected think tank also ranks Portland ninth among the top 100 metropolitan regions in the country for its recovery.

But the report presented at the Portland Business Alliance’s monthly breakfast forum is not all good news. It notes that Portland fell further than the national average for metropolitan regions during the recession and so has a longer climb to fully recover. And incomes in the Portland region continue to lag behind many comparable regions and the national average, meaning hardships for a large percent of families and less tax revenue for vital services such as schools and public safety.

“What does this all mean? Certainly we should celebrate that we have had success, but we must also recognize that there is still a long ways to go,” according to the 2011 Checkup on the Portland Region’s Economic Health.

The Value of Jobs Coalition includes the Portland Business Alliance, Associated Oregon Industries, Oregon Business Association, Oregon Business Council, Greater Portland Inc. and Port of Portland. It came together in 2010 and contracted with the ECONorthwest economic consulting firm to better understand why the Portland region has consistently fallen behind similar regions in the country during recessions and takes longer to recover.

Early reports documented how Oregon had been overly dependent on the timber industry that collapsed in the state in the 1980s. The high-tech Silicon Forest created in Washington County during the past 30 years helped stabilize the state’s economy. But, many similar metropolitan regions have diversified their economies even more, including Seattle and Denver. As a result, Portland-area incomes continue to trail those regions and the national average.

“In the mid-1990s, the Portland-metro area’s per capita personal income was about 4 percent higher than the average for the top 100 U.S. metro areas,” according to the economic checkup report. “Per capita income has declined fairly steadily since then, dipping below the U.S. metro average in 2003, continuing to its low point in 2008 at 4 percent below average. It now sits at about 2 percent below the U.S. metro average.”

But after losing 72,400 jobs from August 2008 to August 2009, the region has added back 42,700 jobs, according to the new report. Forty-seven percent of new jobs are in the manufacturing and professional and business services — key traded-sector industries that bring money into the region from the rest of the country and the world.

According to the report, construction jobs increased significantly, driven by Intel Corp.’s expansion on its Washington County campuses, Oregon University System projects in South Waterfront and light-rail construction.

Employment gains were also made in the retail and food services sectors, reflecting renewed consumer confidence.

The economic recovery has attracted national attention, with Slate Magazine calling it a “renaissance,” according to the checkup.

But the report notes that the Portland region still has 29,700 fewer jobs than when the recession began five years ago, highlighting that much work remains to be done.

It recommends an even greater emphasis on creating traded-sector jobs, and urges policy-makers to take action on: improving education to attain the goal of graduating more students, both at the high school and college levels; making more market-ready industrial land available; investing in transportation infrastructure projects such as the Columbia River Crossing; and reforming the tax system to stabilize public services and attract more private investments.

“Until we see a return of higher-paying jobs, growing investments in critical public services — especially education — will continue to be an uphill climb,” says the report.