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November 19th, 2008 Mariah Summers | News Stories
 

Meltdown Lowdown

So how is Portland’s new, new economy looking now?

     
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IRMA VALDEZ: “People still really want to live here. We’re not Detroit, we’re not South Dakota, we’re not fuckin’ Iowa.”

The recent economic meltdown has obviously hit home.

Layoffs are ubiquitous—think Intel, Freightliner, Columbia Sportswear and Adidas, to name a few local firms hit in the past 18 months. Or restaurant closures—Rocket, Mercado, Genoa.

Back in October 2005, WW talked to a few Portlanders for a cover story titled “Portland’s New New Economy.” That story asked a group of local residents how the Portland area’s unemployment rate could be 6.4 percent—higher than the 5.6 percent recorded most recently in September—yet have soaring home prices and people still moving here.

Their overarching theme: Portland is a place people want to live, regardless of their employment status or net income. And they believed Portland’s real-estate market would survive the harsh economic times that might surface one day.

Well, harsh times are here. The average price of a home in Portland has fallen 12 percent since May 2007. The most recent state numbers for October put Oregon’s unemployment rate at 7.3 percent. And WW was curious: What do those same folks think now?

Who:
Irma Valdez, 37, real-estate agent.

What she said then:
A Washington, D.C., transplant and ex-federal prosecutor, Valdez moved to Portland shortly after 9/11 and went into real estate. In 2005, Valdez said she was seeing buyers flock to Portland from across the country. “There’s something spiritual going on in Portland,” Valdez said in 2005.

What she thinks now:
Valdez’s outlook on the local real-estate market, at least in Portland proper, remains essentially the same. “My business is the same, maybe even busier,” Valdez says. “Neighborhoods in Portland have really retained their desirability.” As for the out-of-state buyers seduced by what Valdez described as Portland’s mysticism, she says they’re still migrating steadily to the area.

“People still really want to live here,” Valdez says. “We’re not Detroit, we’re not South Dakota, we’re not fuckin’ Iowa. We’re Portland, Oregon, and we’re a great place to live.”

Who:
Ethan Seltzer, 54, director of the Toulan School of Urban Studies and Planning at Portland State University.

What he said then:
“I think a lot of what’s going on here is emblematic of bigger patterns,” Seltzer said three years ago. “What matters now is the completely global and the intensely local. With your cell phone, email and the Internet, you can acquire just about anything from anywhere. Once you can acquire anything in the world, what then? People are looking for a relationship with a place.”

What he thinks now:
Today, Seltzer acknowledges that Portland’s economy, along with the rest of the country’s, is in trouble. But he says Portland won’t get hit as hard as many other cities because we are more prepared here. He cites things like a good public transportation system, a diversified economy, a “buy local” mentality and less dependence on large corporations.

“All that said,” Seltzer says, “this is still going to be a really tough period for Portland.”

Who:
Kim Malek, 40s, graphic artist and illustrator.

What she said then:
The president at the time of Portland’s chapter of the American Institute of Graphic Arts, a professional association of graphic designers, Malek said in 2005 that she was noticing a trend of designers and workers in creative industries moving here.

“Over the last two years, we’ve seen a ton of people moving here,” Malek said. “They’re not coming because they have jobs, in a lot of cases. They’re coming because they want to be here. My sense is, there’s a perception that there’s a creative energy here, and a livability that you don’t find in other places. There are a lot of freelancers and one- and two-person firms.”

What she thinks now:
Malek still thinks Portland is attracting a creative class of people who will continue to move here and keep the economy afloat in the coming months. “There is still a great deal of appreciation for the livability of Portland,” Malek says, “and I think the climate for graphic artists and other creative industries is good and people will continue to move here.”

 
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