Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Talent Glut Portland

I think of Pittsburgh as the anti-Portland. The cities are surprisingly similar. How each metro got to the point of commonality is strikingly different. For example, the glut of talent:

Oregon economist Christian Kaylor says he can think of only one explanation for the migration into Portland: the quality of life.

Kaylor says wages there are sometimes 20 percent lower than in Seattle or San Francisco. But people keep coming. In fact, Portland's appeal is part of why the city's unemployment rate tends to be about a point higher than the national average.

Portland keeps pulling in the brains while Pittsburgh doesn't let them get away. The point of commonality is that both regions have an oversupply of what firms want, skilled workers. That's why I'm bullish on Portland and Pittsburgh.

I stumbled upon the above NPR story via a blog post at the Oregon Business Report. The blogger remarks about all the talent available in Portland. The depressed wages and high unemployment are positive indicators, not negative ones. The last paragraph, unrelated to the talent migration, is what inspired my own post:

Anyway, when thinking about the path that led us to the Portland that is now the media darling. I always think about the downtrodden, blue-collar city of my youth that specialized in cheap, home-grown diversions. It was a great place to be a college student or aimless twenty-something even then, as rents were incredibly cheap, you could go to the Mission Theatre for free and then spend your few dollars on local beer. What more could you want? I think that these trends start slowly and then gain feedback momentum and this is where my consciousness begins – Portland in the early 80s. Looking back we look for big answers, but often the roots are humble.

I see a lot of Pittsburgh in that narrative and the reason why I am much more bullish on the Steel City than on the City of Roses. Pittsburgh can and will attract talent in droves, sooner than you think. As for Portland, it has a long way to go in developing talent. As Edward Glaeser recently remarked, talent can leave just as quickly as it arrived. That's something for a tech business to mull over when weighing relocation options.


keetz4 said...

Why the competition? Why can't Pittsburgh and Portland both attract many brains? After all, there are more than enough brains to go around and both cities are attractive.

Jim Russell said...

To some extent, the war for talent is a zero-sum competition. Pittsburgh is less vulnerable to those mood swings in a tighter labor market because that region built up its human capital organically. It's a more resilient approach than what we are seeing in Portland.

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry but this post doesn't make any sense. I just don't understand how one could be bullish on Pittsburgh, and think that Pittsburgh could possibly compete with Portland. Of course, I could be wildly mistaken.

First, I'm a native Portlander stuck in Pittsburgh. I was born and raised in the Northwest, did my undergraduate in Portland, and came to Pittsburgh for my graduate work. I met my wife here and am waiting for her to finish her schooling. Once she's done, we're out of here!

First, off this city is a dump. Straight up garbage strewn about. Residential recycling rates are low,and so is environmental consciousness. Too often I've witnessed people throwing garbage out of their car window. I clean a ditch by my house every couple of months, because it gets clogged with all manner of plastic bottles. Given such low recycling rates and abysmal environmental awareness, there is no talent in the city. One cannot be talented and environmentally oblivious.

I suppose I'm not accurately representing the original meaning of "talent." I guess the intent was to say that talent denotes the students at the local universities. I suppose it would be natural to think that businesses should locate here to tap that "talent stream." But that's just the point. It is a "talent stream" and not "talent" per se. The students here, like me, leave. We know that.

Sorry, but now I'm getting bored. Much like how I'm bored with local professional sports and the bloodsport that is "professional culture" of the Cultural District. Further, and nobody seems to listen to me, but the liquor and beer laws are a constant thorn in many people's lives. The state stores are pathetic. Getting a six-pack is extortion, and I don't want f-n case of beer all the time. Shit! (My apologies for the language.)

So, let's just boil things down to two things: dump, and lack of talent. Two tall orders to overcome.

Constant Gardener said...

Anonymous sounds like a bitter, angry version of a character from Portlandia. Wow.

Cincy Mom said...

I am a Pittsburgher who left in the '70s to live in Cincinnati for employment. I miss the traditions and close neighborhoods of Pittsburgh as well as friends.

One friend from Pittsburgh spoke recently of her niece wishing for a Pittsburgh man - someone who shows the deep level of care and respect to which we women become accustomed.

To anonymous: Sounds like you are homesick and I hope you are able to return to a place where you love.