Portland, Oregon’s nickname “Stumptown” crassly suggests its origins in the timber trade, but residents and aficionados of the city woven by winding rivers, straddled by bridges and guarded by magnificent Mt. Hood know that there’s nothing diminutive about Portland.
The logging livelihood spawned Portland, the designated hub of the Pacific Northwest. At the city’s core are stunning natural beauty, diverse architecture, a formidable music and art scene, and an impressive collection of gardens, parks and open-air gathering places. Add to that a vibrant restaurant scene, well-established brewing and winemaking industries, and a burgeoning, diversified economy and you have a first-class, mid-sized city.
Portland, which prefers to be called the City of Roses, has been “discovered” in recent years – prompting the metro area’s growth to about 1.6 million in 1998 and an annual visitor count of 7 million. One of its best-kept secrets, though, may be the architecture. It’s a meticulous melange of old and new, classical and avant garde – from cobblestone courtyards and terra cotta temples to the famous Pietro Belluschi post-modernist landmark, the Portland Art Museum. Portland boasts a charming collection of restored Victorian homes in the city’s trendy Northwest district to stately Southern-style mansions in the posh West Hills.
Art and architecture go hand-in-hand, side-by-side in Portland. Many of the city’s public buildings are graced by sculptures, paintings, fountains or larger-than-life murals. Of the latter, the most impressivemay be the three-story mural – an illusionist painting of explorers Lewis and Clark, and Indian guide Sacajawea – on the Oregon Historical Society building in the city’s South Park Blocks. Equally famous is the sculpture “Portlandia.” The gleaming goddess, the largest hammered-copper structure commissioned since the statue of Liberty, guards the city from her perch three stories above the Portland Building on Fifth Avenue.
Portland is also well known for its natural beauty, and one rarely hears native Portlanders complain about the rain – which is over-rated, by the way, and amounts to less than cities like Atlanta and Houston receive. The tradeoff for the annual 37 inches of rain – glorious gardens, 9,600 acres of parks and huge clusters of towering fir trees – are well worth the days of donning rain slickers.
The city’s natural beauty hardly distracts from its vibrant business climate and ever-growing economy. Companies large and small coexist harmoniously in Portland, which is recognized worldwide for the warm welcome and support it affords business and industry. The following sections offer a snapshot of Portland and its business community.
Population of Portland
With a metro-area population of 1.6 million, Portland ranks 38th in the country in size; and is expected to top 2 million over the next decade.
Portland’s population is growing at a rate of nearly 2% annually, well above the national average.
Parks/Recreation of Portland
Portland has more designated “green space” than any other city in the United States -with more than 9,500 acres of park land within the city limits, and about 18 acres per 1,000 residents.
The country’s largest and smallest parks, 5,000-acre Forest Park and 24-inch Mills End Park, are both located in Portland. Also within the city limits is a dormant volcano, Mt. Tabor, site of a summer concert series.
Per-capita income for Portland residents is nearly $27,000, and has increased nearly $10,000 since 1990.
Portland boasts one of the country’s most educated workforces; more than 85% of the city’s residents are high school graduates and nearly 35% hold college degrees.
Portland – and Oregon as a whole – have long been recognized for educational excellence. For the past four consecutive years, the state’s graduating high school seniors have claimed the highest Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) scores in the nation.
The city is home to 20 public and private colleges and universities, including the internationally renowned Oregon Health Sciences University.
As the West Coast’s second busiest harbor, the Port of Portland’s outbound commerce totals more than 11 million tons annually. The port is the country’s leading export site of wheat, and the West Coast’s largest import location for autos.
Portland’s reputation for being excessively rainy isn’t based in fact. The city’s average annual rainfall is 37 inches, well below Houston’s 44 inches, Baltimore’s 41 inches and Atlanta’s 48 inches.
Portland’s climate is mild, although extreme temperatures occur occasionally when blistering heat descends for a few days in August or the annual Arctic “ice storm” shuts down the city in January. Average temperatures, though, are 38 degrees in January, 67 degrees in July.
One of Portland’s nicknames, City of Roses, derives from its renowned rose gardens, the most famous of which is the International Rose Test Garden in Washington Park. Few visitors realize that the raison d’etre of the garden – which houses some 10,000 plants and 400 varieties of roses in its 4 1/2 acres – is truly to test new varieties of the beloved flower.
One of the major draws of the Portland metropolitan area is its proximity to spectacular, and diverse, scenery. The Pacific Ocean is just a 90-minute drive, and Mt. Hood only an hour to the east. The Columbia Gorge, designated a national scenic area, is about 45 minutes from the city, as is Oregon’s Yamhill Valley wine country.
The city’s fiscal responsibility and financial strength are reflected in Portland’s AAA bond rating, one of the highest of any city in the West.
Retail sales for the entire Portland metropolitan area totaled more than $20 million in 1997, a per-capital rate of $11,046.
Because of the region’s abundant hydroelectric power and natural gas, utility costs are among the lowest in the country. Commercial businesses pay about 5 cents per kilowatt hour, 4 cents for industrial companies.
Portland’s commercial and industrial real estate prices compare favorably to other West Coast cities. Average sales price per square foot is $50 in Portland, compared with $68 in Seattle and $100 in San Jose.
The median sales price for a Portland-area home in August 1998 was $159,000, among the lowest of any major West Coast city. Portland consistently ranks among the top 10 cities in the U.S. for
Portland’s public transit system, now dubbed Tri-Met, dates to 1872, when the city first began operating horse- and mule-drawn trolleys in the downtown core. The city’s light rail line began operating more than a century later, in 1986, and in the same year purchased and installed its Vintage Trolleys.
For a mid-sized city, Portland enjoys a vibrant, diversified economy well reflected in its varied mix of businesses and residents. As in most growing cities – Portland has averaged 2% annual population increase over the last decade – the service industry accounts for the largest portion of the city’s jobs. According to July 1998 figures from the Portland Development
Commission, about 260,000 of the metro area’s residents work in some aspect of the service industry – from lodging and business services to legal/financial services, personal services, and health or social services. Retail and manufacturing take close seconds, at about 150,000 jobs each.
Within manufacturing the high technology sector has been the fastest growing in recent years, garnering Portland its coveted nickname “The Silicon Forest.” Several of the world’s leading high-tech firms – Intel, Tektronix, Hewlett Packard, Wacker Siltronic and Fujitsu, to name a few, staff large operations in the area. In all, Portland is home to more than 1,200 high-tech companies, including a number of internationally recognized companies such as Sequent Computers and Mentor Graphics. According to July 1998 figures, electronics accounts for more than 30 percent of all manufacturing-related jobs in the region.
Other industries that make substantial contributions to the local economy are transportation, import/export trade and real estate. In international circles, Portland is widely known as the headquarters for the footwear and apparel-manufacturing giant, Nike, Inc., which recently completed its architecturally and visually stunning “Nike World Campus” in suburban Beaverton, where about 5,000 of the company’s employees work. Portland is also the home base of the leading large-truck manufacturer Freightliner Corp., which employs about 4,000 workers in the region.
Despite Portland’s strong economy, its Pacific Rim location and export base make it especially subject to global market conditions, such as the current economic situation in Asia. Art Ayre, an economist with the Oregon Economic Development Department, says that although Portland is “starting to feel the Asian crisis in the manufacturing sector,” the city’s diversified, robust economy has had a countering influence. “The non-manufacturing sector is holding up well, creating more jobs in Portland than the manufacturing sector has lost (to the Asian crisis). This is surprising the economists,” Ayre says.
The region’s general economic stability is perhaps best illustrated by the job-growth rate, which has outpaced that of many of U.S. cities. Between 1996 and 1997, average annual employment increased 4.5 percent in Portland, compared to 2.6 percent for the nation as a whole.
On a statewide basis, the three leading industries, by total employment, are high technology, forest products and agriculture.
Business Climate of Portland
The diversity of Portland’s economy has been driven in large part by the city’s appeal to new and relocating businesses. Both the Oregon Economic Development Department and the Portland Development Commission – a separate department of city government known nationally for its unique governing structure and effectiveness – work to ensure a climate favorable to business growth and development. The OEDD, which has actively worked to expand and strengthen Portland’s ties with Asia and Europe, received a funding boost in the mid-80s when Oregonians voted to dedicate a substantial portion of lottery funds to economic development. Businesses are also drawn to the region because of its abundant and affordable hydroelectric power and natural gas.
Portland is known for its favorable business-taxation climate, noted by the absence of sales tax, and business inventory and occupation taxes. In addition, the city has notoriously low travel taxes. The 9% total, the lowest of any major U.S. city, includes state taxes, local occupancy taxes and any other surtaxes business travelers or tourists might be charged.
One of the city’s most visible – and cherished – landmarks is the Oregon Convention Center, whose sparkling twin glass towers can be seen for many miles. Opened in 1990, the 17-acre center has been a huge success, boasting an impressive 80 percent occupancy rate – considered optimal in the convention industry. The facility, situated just 10 minutes from Portland International Airport, houses 150,000 square feet of column-free exhibit space, 28,000 square feet of meeting space and the state’s largest ballroom, at 25,200 square feet.
The convention center hosts hundreds of gatherings – large and small – annually, and can accommodate up to 10,000 attendees at one time. In 1998 alone, attendance at Oregon Convention Center events exceeded 5 million.
Considered one of the country’s most attractive convention centers, the OCC houses a variety of original art works, many of the pieces featuring Northwest and Native American themes. As part of a Portland program dedicated to preserving and enhancing the visual arts, 1 percent of the original construction budget was dedicated to art.
Convention-goers have a wide choice of lodging in the Portland area’s hotels and resort properties, whose combined room count totals 16,000. The convention center’s economic impact is impressive as well. In 1997, the center fueled the local, tri-county economy to the tune of $312 million.
Portland is considered the Pacific Northwest’s transportation hub, largely because of its integrated transportation network linking rail, highway, airport and river barges. The latter system is linked to the Port of Portland, which boasts the West Coast’s second highest volume – in tons – of export shipping.
Portland International Airport
On par with the city’s rapid growth, Portland International Airport, operated by the Port of Portland, has seen a dramatic increase in traffic over the past decade. For the five-year period from 1992 to 1997, the Portland airport was the country’s fastest growing large airport – in both passenger traffic and air freight. In 1987, the airport handled 5.6 million passengers annually; by 1997, that number had topped 12 million. Air freight volume has nearly tripled over the same period, to 263,153 tons in 1997. In addition, the airport – which accommodates 21 carriers and about 600 flights daily – is more than midway through a major renovation and expansion. Even before the expansion, PDX was noted for its attractive design and efficient layout. And it has long been popular with business travelers because of its proximity to the downtown core – just 10 miles east of Portland International.
The region also is served by three general aviation airports: the Hillsboro Airport to the west, the Troutdale Airport to the east, and the Mulino Airport to the south.
Portland’s current reputation and standing as one of the world’s busiest ports dates to 1891, when the Oregon Legislature enacted legislation creating the Port of Portland and funding the dredging of a shipping channel extending from the city to the Pacific Ocean. Today, the port owns and operates five marine terminals, seven business parks and the Portland Ship Yard. All told, the port’s marine-related operations and activities employ more than 60,000 workers and have a total economic impact of $440 million annually and revenues of $700 million.
The Port’s leading export trade partners are Japan, Korea, Taiwan and Pakistan. Japan is also the port’s top import trade partner, followed by Korea, China and Australia. The total value of waterborne trade through the port is more than $9 billion annually.
Rail and Trucking
Portland is the starting point for the major east-west railroad corridor that runs alongside the Columbia River. Two national, transcontinental railroads – Union Pacific/Southern Pacific and Burlington Northern Santa Fe – serve the Portland metro region. More than 60 percent of the area’s 100 million square feet of industrial building space is served by rail.
The city is also a major hub for the trucking industry, because of its location on Interstate 5 – the highway extending from Mexico to Canada and serving such other major cities as San Diego, Sacramento, Seattle and Vancouver, British Columbia. Interstate 84 is the major east-west highway between Portland and Salt Lake City. About 100 local, regional and national trucking lines serve the Portland metropolitan area.
Bus and Light Rail
Portland has made great strides in public transportation in recent years. The Tri-County Metropolitan Service District, called Tri-Met for short, operates a bus and light-rail network serving more than 600 square miles of the metropolitan area. Ridership has increased substantially over the past decade, and now exceeds 69 million rides annually. Tri-Met’s flagship is the 33-mile Metropolitan Area Express (MAX) light rail line, which now runs from Hillsboro in the West to Gresham in the east. A 5-mile extension to the airport is under proposal, but voters recently defeated another proposed extension, a 16-mile north-south line.
The recent opening of the Westside MAX line to Hillsboro, in September 1998, has spawned more than $500 million in development within walking distance of the 20 new stations.
Both Greyhound and Trailways also provide daily passenger and package service in downtown Portland and surrounding areas