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The 14th best tech city is growing, and has advantages, but will it ever catch Baltimore? Real estate brokers assess.

COURTESY: CUSHMAN & WAKEFIELD - Tech firms prefer authentic spaces for their offices, such as the future Stamp Blocks with their history of metal pressing in the Central Eastside.

Portland is a real tech city, according to the latest study by Cushman and Wakefield.

Fourteenth out of 25, in fact.

"I like where Portland is, 14th," Cushman and Wakefield's Matt Johnson told the Business Tribune. "From a workforce standpoint, we employ a lot of well-educated workers, and this industry is growing."

The inaugural Tech Cities 1.0 national report by the commercial real estate company looked at more than just tech jobs.

The top five tech cities are: 1. San Jose, CA (Silicon Valley); 2. San Francisco, CA; 3. Washington, DC; 4. Boston/Cambridge, MA; and 5. Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill, NC.

Portland (14) lost out to Seattle (6) and Baltimore (12) but beat New York, Chicago, Atlanta and Los Angeles (15-18).

Rankings were determined by analyzing the concentration of factors such as talent, capital, and growth opportunity.

Winning 14th

"Portland's tech market has grown significantly over the last several years — both organically from companies homegrown in Portland as well as attracting major national firms to the Portland market," said Doug Deurwaarder, an Executive Director in Cushman & Wakefield's local Portland office.

"In part, this growth is driven by Portland being such a desirable place to live, and relatively affordable when compared to its West Coast counterpart cities. Fortunately, the talent pool continues to get deeper, giving companies comfort they can attract top talent."

Johnson represents firms looking for office space, rather than building owners looking to lease.

"Portland is fun and cool, so it's attracting a younger workforce. That's one of the reasons we have great in-migration. And we have cultural assets that fit well — it's a unique place, the food is great and we like to ride our bikes to work. We work hard and play hard."

"We don't have a lot of big things like Seattle, which has Microsoft, Boeing and Amazon. They move the meter. Microsoft takes a million square feet and the whole market changes. Same with Amazon. Rates go up for everyone."

He says that five years ago when California tech companies were looking to relocate or open a branch office, they didn't look here. "Now we're on the list."

The 18-hour lifestyle

Of course that's mainly down to how Portland is still affordable compared to other west coast cities.

"But there's the lifestyle. You go to work by bike in 15 minutes not an hour by car. You can buy a home and still do a lot of big city things such as the food and entertainment. And our airport has become more accessible," with more direct flights."

Tech companies want to be downtown, like Amazon Web Service/Elemental, or close in east side, like Simple.

Their key issues are access to the labor pool. "Groups like Greater Portland Inc. give them a good idea of that, and The Technology Association of Oregon has done a great job with roadshows to cities looking to relocate."

People are 70 percent of the cost of having an office here, and real estate is only about 7 percent. "Companies want people to relocate, and then there's growth though hiring. Portland has grown organically, there are two or three companies that have grown here and stayed here."

Space wanted with story

Companies that come to him are looking for authenticity.

"They want a building with some character, a repurposed warehouse that maybe has a story to it." The opposite of that would be "a cookie cutter building, one that looks like the one next to it."

He says Cushman & Wakefield tries to promote the tech company's larger business objectives.

"That means promoting a culture that helps people be their most productive. With a lot of the new generation entering the workforce, how people work is different. They have a flexible schedule: They may work 8 am to 8 pm but in between they may work out, run errands or have dinner with friends. So we look to how the location is served by amenities."

That means instead of a building needing a workout room, "Make sure the building is near two gyms and a yoga studio. It's all about choices. Be near a food cat pod and you have 20 choices for what to eat for lunch."

The 18-hour lifestyle has come to Portland: people have been spotted going out to dinner, late on a week night, something unthinkable a decade ago.

The likes of Autodesk and Lattice moving in from the suburbs to downtown is also significant, as well as Tillamook moving to Slabtown.

Johnson said he was surprised to see Washington D.C. as number 3 on the list.

"I don't group it in with Seattle and Austin when I think of tech cities."

Being close to an institute of higher leaning was important. A university which can supply skilled tech workers is essential. In Portland's case that means P.S.U. and U.P.

"Having a school that industry is talking to is very good.

And in 20 years?

Seattle is building a $50 billion light rail project. Portland has an advantage there.

"Portland has the infrastructure in terms of the MAX and streetcar that most cities its size don't have. They're usually born out of it being so difficult to get anywhere."

"In 20 years I hope we keep the positive momentum going. We keep the 18-hour culture and address some of the challenges bigger cities face."

He says with 10 buildings coming out of the ground downtown, that will add five to seven percent of inventory. "Outside of a major player coming to Portland, that's a lot of vacancy, and more choices. There's going to be winners and losers."


Joseph Gallivan
Reporter

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