Monday, July 12, 2010

Why Portland Doesn't Suck

Relatively high unemployment can be an indicator of a healthy regional economy. In Portland (Oregon), a strong case could be made that not all workforce woes are created equal. Via Brian Kelsey's Twitter feed, the good news from bad numbers:

Portland ranks high nationally for its rate of entrepreneurship, as measured by things like self-employment and the number of small businesses. Even during the recession, some local independent restaurants and manufacturers have increased sales and opened new outlets.

While other states lost workers, Oregon’s labor force grew because people kept coming. The livability crowd led the way: young, white, well-educated people drawn to an outdoor — and local — lifestyle.

“We get people who self-select,” said Joe Cortright, a longtime economist here. “And there’s no fervor like the converted.”

That does not mean the local economy has figured out how to absorb the stream of newcomers: the Portland area’s unemployment rate was 10.2 percent in May, compared with 9.7 percent nationally.

In its song “Portland Sucks,” the local band White Fang pokes profanely at everything from the city’s joblessness to its self-obsession and sometimes counterintuitive rigidity, from “angry vegans” to outspoken disciples of do-it-yourself (“DIY”) culture — localism in the extreme.

There is a lot to unpack in those five paragraphs. I'm tackling the joblessness. If anything, the lack of work has spurred more of the innovations in localism. It's a glut of talent that could easily be gainfully employed in Dallas, but chooses to sandbag it in Portland.

That's not a problem of labor mobility. Far from it. Making a go of it in highly competitive Portland is a tough business. The labor market dynamics there mimic immigration. Packing up and moving anywhere far from home is a high-risk venture. It's not easy to make a living in Portland.

The same is true in many places, especially now. Few cities sport the assets of Portland, Oregon. Talent is begging to be let in and the natives are annoyed. The Creative Class isn't heading there because of abundant tolerance. As Portland gets hotter as a destination, the region gets less tolerant. It's now renown as a city of Soup Nazis. Portland has made it. Portland has jumped the shark.

Keep Portland Annoying.

No comments: