Guess what? City really is 'Portlandia,' according to analyst

by: 2012 FILE PHOTO: RAYMOND RENDLEMAN - Construction workers in Oregon City's South End neighborhood are busy building new homes for families looking to move to the suburbs, bucking the overall trend of the past few years.Portland is “Portlandia.”

Washington County is a magnet for families with young children.

And Clackamas County really is different than the rest of the region.

These are some of the conclusions to be drawn from a recent analysis of economic trends in the Portland metropolitan area conducted by Christian Kaylor, a work force analyst with the Oregon Employment Department. Kaylor has been presenting his findings to regional government and business leaders in recent weeks. The information is expected to help serve as the basis for development, transportation and land-use decisions as the economy improves.

All of the counties in the region added people between 2006 and 2011. But they grew in significantly different ways, Kaylor says.

He calls the changes “geographic sorting” and predicts they will continue for years to come.

Some of Kaylor’s findings confirm the premise of “Portlandia,” IFC’s comedy that portrays Portland as a mecca for young hipsters.

According to Kaylor, Multnomah County grew by 55,375 people between 2006 and 2011 — and almost all of that growth came from young people. His figures show the county added approximately 45,000 people between the ages of 20 and 39 during that time, with most of them concentrated in Portland.

“One demographic is driving growth in Portland, and that is young college graduates,” Kaylor says.

Washington and Clackamas counties lost people between the ages of 20 and 39 during that time. Kaylor says the changes represent a shift of young people from rural and suburban areas to cities that has been accelerating over the past few decades.

At the same time, Multnomah County lost children to Washington County from 2006 to 2011. The number of people younger than 19 fell in Multnomah County, but rose in Washington County, signaling a migration of families with children from Portland to the suburbs, Kaylor says.

“Washington County has done a great job of attracting families with young children,” Kaylor says, citing its good school systems and affordable homes with larger yards than those found in Portland. According to Kaylor, that helps explain Washington County’s growth by 26,141 people between 2006 and 2011.

In contrast, Clackamas County lost children during that time. It grew by only 5,977 people, with the largest share being those 65 and older.

“Senior citizens are deciding they like Clackamas County,” Kaylor says.

According to Kaylor, the shifts represent people making choices that regional policymakers should not ignore, especially those in Portland.

“Portlanders can be very arrogant. They assume everyone wants light rail and density. But that’s not true,” Kaylor says.

Share of jobs

There are seven counties in the Portland metropolitan area that Kaylor studied. They are Clackamas, Columbia, Multnomah, Washington, and Yamhill counties in Oregon, and Clark and Skamania counties in Washington. Clark County is the biggest county in Washington, and its shifts are similar to those in Washington County.

According to Kaylor, economic data reveals the region is finally beginning to recover from the Great Recession. The results vary by county, however.

Oregon added approximately 18,000 jobs in 2012, Kaylor found, with virtually all of that growth occurring in the Portland area. Multnomah County led the way with 10,200 jobs, followed by Washington County with 6,000 jobs and Clackamas County with 2,000 jobs.

The new jobs increased Multnomah County’s share of jobs in Oregon slightly in 2012 after decades of declines, Kaylor says. Washington County’s share of jobs also grew, a trend that began many years ago. The share of Oregon jobs in Clackamas County remained flat, however.

Kaylor says the leading economic indicators indicate job growth will continue. The Conference Board, an economic consulting firm, reports that online help-wanted ads are continuing to increase.

Residential building permit applications also are rising in the metropolitan area, jumping from 5,226 in 2011 to 8,483 in 2012. That’s still well below the peak of 17,175 in 2005, however.

The applications vary dramatically by city within the area, however.

Portland leads the way with 2,383. Most of those, 71 percent, are for structures with five or more units, reflecting the boom in apartment buildings being fueled by the influx of young people. Each unit counts as one application.

Hillsboro received the second-highest number of applications, 401, Most of those, 80 percent, are for apartment buildings, such as those going up in the booming Orenco neighborhood.

Wilsonville, which is in both Clackamas and Washington counties, received the third-highest number of applications, 451. Again, most of those, 344, were for apartment buildings.

In contrast, most applications for cities located entirely in Clackamas County were for single-family homes. Oregon City led the way with 410 applications in 2012, of which only 29 percent were for apartment buildings. West Linn was second with 87 application, with none for apartments. And Lake Oswego was third with 85 applications, none of which was for apartments.

Educated workforce

Kaylor believes the trends will continue even as the economy improves and people have more options.

For example, Kaylor thinks Portland is attracting highly educated young people for several reasons. Many are both underemployed and socially conscious, he says, and do not want to own cars. They are drawn to the city’s well-developed transit system and emphasis on bicycling, along with the thriving neighborhood centers that offer shopping, eating and drinking options within walking distance of homes.

“If you live in the suburbs, you really have to have a car to be comfortable,” Kaylor says.

At the same time, many couples move to the suburbs when they have children.

“When you have children, you look for larger homes with yards and good schools, which you can find in the suburbs,” Kaylor says.

But, he adds, fewer couples are having children these days, reducing the potential size of the migration.

“Right after World War II, 50 percent of all households had children. Now it’s 25 percent,” Kaylor says.

Kaylor notes that many young people in the Portland area work in Washington County, especially for such large companies as Intel, which is in Aloha and Hillsboro, and Nike, which is based just outside Beaverton. He expects that to continue, in part because both companies can be reached from TriMet’s westside MAX line.

Eventually, however, Kaylor thinks even more employers will move to Portland to take advantage of the educated workforce that is growing there.

“Over time, I see more businesses will feel pressured to locate in Portland, where their workers are living,” Kaylor says.

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