I have never been to Portland, Oregon but it sounds like a pretty cool place. As it turns out, it is so cool that lots of people have gone there. Thing is, now that they are there they are not sure what to do with themselves.
This piece from The Upshot describes the Portland mystique nicely. The city, which has a population of a little over 600,000, has all those things that put cities at the top of ‘most livable’ lists. There are mountains, there is culture, there are coffee bars everywhere – it is pretty much nirvana. Adding to the chic is the fact that it is populated with cool people like designers and writers and innovators who have showed up to be part of the party. Thing is, while the new in-migrant may have been attracted there because of the city’s hip factor, as it turns out there might not be much for them to do besides side in those coffee bars.
Jobs are not as plentiful in Portland as they are in other places in the U.S.., and the situation is getting worse because people keep showing up. Yo move to Pittsburgh because you have specific job opportunities, but you move to Portland because you want to, but there is a price for that choice. According to two researchers at Portland State University who are quoted in the article, it is a ‘buyer’s market’ for employers, flooded as they are with educated labor. Translation: if you buy a latte in Portland, you can figure it was poured by a guy with a better degree than the guy who would pour it most other places. It is being called the ‘Portland Paradox’: the city is full of overeducated and underemployed young people.
So what is the next step for Portland? There are signs that the city is transitioning towards becoming much more expensive as a new group, the educated and employed (or at least the educated and wealthy) move in. If you think about it, Greenwich Village in New York was once a haven for writers and artists and thinkers who found it a cheaper place to be than other parts of Manhattan. Now, you can still find coffee bars in Greenwich Village but you most certainly cannot find cheap accommodation.
But here’s a thought: maybe Portland’s economic development people should give those educated and under-employed Portlanders a stipend to sit in the coffee bars and look cool as they sip their lattes. After all, they have been a kind of advance publicity team for what may turn out to be an economic and real estate boom. If rising prices force out the slackers too quickly, however, the cool may evaporate and the boom may never happen.