December 29th, 2004 Nigeel Jaquiss, Zach Dundas | Special Section Stories
 

Business

     
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Though many are freaked that a big-box demon may be coming, Lower East Burnside (uh, "LoBu") came out of its grimy shell this year. The twin openings of flashy new club Doug Fir in mid-October and the neighboring Jupiter Hotel in September underlined the strip's evolution. Other neighborhoods in the velvet this year: North Mississippi ("NoMiss"?) and Southeast Division's Seven Corners ("SevCo"?).

Phil Knight, the sultan of swoosh, sprinted through 2004 like an Olympian on steroids. Sure some of the citizens of Nike Nation (Kobe Bryant, Marion Jones, Jason Giambi) took it on the chin--or points south--but in its last fiscal year, which ended in May, the company itself pulled in $12 billion, a 15 percent jump from 2003. Then, last month, Knight won praise for stealing William Perez away from S.C. Johnson & Son to steer the Beaverton company into a world where it's known for more than expensive sneakers.

Oregon's three years of declining employment didn't keep talented out-of-staters from renting a U-Haul and moving here. While that pushed up unemployment in the short run, "their talent is a real asset for the economy in the long run," says Portland business consultant Joe Cortright, noting that the Beaver State picked up 34,000 new jobs in '04.

The stock market and the headlines were not kind to Intel in 2004, mostly because of the failure of a few specific product ideas. In mid-October, for example, Intel endured a bout of embarrassing publicity when it canceled plans for a new, higher-gigahertz version of its Pentium 4 chip. That apparent flub was followed by others, and a public nostra culpa from execs. Behind the scenes, the state's biggest private employer is trying to figure out where to go in the next few years, 'cause simply making faster and faster silicon isn't going to cut it.

Oregon's economy, once known for producing two-by-sixes and silicon chips, is now making a name for itself in speed dialing. "Call centers"--caverns of workers who handle up to 100 calls a day in exchange for minimum wage--were Oregon's leading job-growth industry in 2004. Runners-up were retail sales and "employment services " (a.k.a. temp agencies). Together, the three areas accounted for 6,500 new jobs as of mid-December, according to the Oregon Employment Department.

"Things have been flat for about the last three years," says Gregory Chaillé, president of the Oregon Community Foundation, which tracks charitable contributions statewide. As a result, nonprofits are increasingly hitting up corporate donors, who are responding by spreading a smaller pile of charity cash to more groups. "People are faced with the dilemma of giving less to more," Chaillé says.


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