Menus Subscribe Search

Follow us


Portland Is Dying

• May 17, 2013 • 10:46 AM

Portland's skyline from the west, with Mount Hood on the left. (PHOTO: AMATERIA1121/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)

The City of Roses was a darling of the pre-recession economy, but things are changing and the creative class has more options than ever before.

What does a dying city look like? Brains are draining. The population is shrinking or aging, or both. Vibrant, creative class cool Portland is the antithesis of dying. Yesterday, journalist Annalyn Kurtz tweets: “See! The Portland labor force lost 25,000 workers in the last year.”

What in the name of Richard Florida is going on here? The link will take you to the Bureau of Labor page with a bunch of employment data for Portland (select data recreated below). You can see the boom, the fuel for Portlandia. More recently, the labor force number plateaus. Recession. Financial crisis. You know the drill. What comes next? Will the boom pick back up?


As Kurtz notes, the year-over-year drop is dramatic. You might expect such a dive for a Rust Belt city, say Pittsburgh. But Pittsburgh’s labor force is growing, setting historical records seemingly every month. Pittsburgh is thriving. Portland is dying.

As the economy recovers, I argue that Pittsburgh is the place to be. Portland is the darling of the pre-recession economy. Talent production Pittsburgh is where we are headed.

Portland helped write the talent attraction playbook. The approach works as long as there are only a few winners, a short list of tech towns. Knowledge workers hail from somewhere, likely a Rust Belt birthplace. Why compete with Austin, San Francisco, and Los Angeles for software engineers when you can set up shop cheaply in Pittsburgh? Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) graduates are in high demand. The mountain is moving to Muhammad. Portland doesn’t have a CMU.

Jim Russell
Jim Russell is a geographer studying the relationship between migration and economic development.

More From Jim Russell

Tags: , , , , ,

If you would like to comment on this post, or anything else on Pacific Standard, visit our Facebook or Google+ page, or send us a message on Twitter. You can also follow our regular updates and other stories on both LinkedIn and Tumblr.

A weekly roundup of the best of Pacific Standard and, delivered straight to your inbox.

Follow us

Subscribe Now

Quick Studies

What Makes You Neurotic?

A new study gets to the root of our anxieties.

Fecal Donor Banks Are Possible and Could Save Lives

Defrosted fecal matter can be gross to talk about, but the benefits are too remarkable to tiptoe around.

How Junk Food Companies Manipulate Your Tongue

We mistakenly think that harder foods contain fewer calories, and those mistakes can affect our belt sizes.

What Steve Jobs’ Death Teaches Us About Public Health

Studies have shown that when public figures die from disease, the public takes notice. New research suggests this could be the key to reaching those who are most at risk.

Speed-Reading Apps Will Not Revolutionize Anything, Except Your Understanding

The one-word-at-a-time presentation eliminates the eye movements that help you comprehend what you're reading.

The Big One

One state—Pennsylvania—logs 52 percent of all sales, shipments, and receipts for the chocolate manufacturing industry. March/April 2014