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Planning efforts could reverse trend or allow suburbs to sustain employment growth

by: TRIBUNE PHOTO BY CHASE ALLGOOD - Intels first and second D1X fabrication plants are helping to drive employment gains outside of downtown Portland.A new Brookings Institution study confirms what Washington County officials have been saying for years: most new jobs are being created outside of downtown Portland.

In fact, according to the study that was released in mid-April, overall employment within three miles of downtown Portland declined by 19,474 jobs between 2000 and 2010. Jobs within three to 10 miles of downtown fell by 5,119.

But overall employment 10 to 35 miles away from downtown increased by nearly 2,963 jobs. That includes Hillsboro and Beaverton, where several large employers have either moved or announced major expansions in recent years. They include Nike, which said it would build two office buildings on or near its World Headquarters campus on the edge of Beaverton.

Before Nike's decision was announced, a high-ranking company official praised Beaverton and Washington County officials for creating conditions that encourage business investment.

Portland economic development officials do not dispute the study, saying the Brookings Institution does good work. They say some jobs have been created in downtown during the past few years, however, citing a list of 17 software and apparel companies that have opened offices or expanded in Portland in recent years.

The Portland Business Alliance also says jobs have increased downtown in recent years. Its 2011 Business Census and Survey shows an increase of 500 jobs in the Clean & Safe District, a 213-block area, which includes most of downtown since 2010.

"We are inching our way back to pre-recessions levels, but obviously, when a big major employer like Intel makes a big investment in Washington County, it has an impact," says Megan Doern, PBA's vice president of communications and programming.

The trend of faster job growth outside of downtown is not new, however. It was documented in an April 2009 Brookings study, "Job Sprawl Revisited: The Changing Geography of Metropolitan Employment." It found that between 1998 and 2006, the share of jobs within three miles of downtown Portland fell from 27.4 to 24.3 percent. The share between three and 10 miles of downtown fell from 48.7 to 46.3 percent. But the share between 10 and 35 miles of downtown increased from 23.8 to 29.4 percent.

And that trend is not unique to Portland. According to the 2009 study, "The movement of people and jobs away from city centers into increasingly distant suburbs represents a long-standing trend in metropolitan America."

That trend was slowed by the Great Recession that began in 2007, according to the new Brookings study, "Job Sprawl Stalls: The Great Recession and Metropolitan Employment Location." But Elizabeth Kneebone, the author of both studies, says jobs are likely to continue growing faster in the suburbs as the economy recovers.

"Jobs in the suburbs were particular hard hit by the recession because so many of them were in the manufacturing, construction and retail industries. But as the economy recovers, they are likely to come back," says Kneebone, a fellow at the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institution.

That appears to be what's happening in the Portland metropolitan area. During the past year, many new jobs have been announced outside downtown, especially in Hillsboro. That's where Intel has announced it will build a second D1X manufacturing plant, is opening a large office, Oracle is relocating 130 jobs from Mexico, and Hitachi is adding 30 engineers.

Nike also just announced it will expand its corporate headquarters just outside of Beaverton instead of building in South Waterfront.

At the same time, a number of large employers revealed they are leaving town since the study was finished. They include Integra telecommunications, which is moving from the Lloyd District to Vancouver, Wash., and Gunderson, which is downsizing and moving its Greenbrier operation to Lake Oswego.

Both Brookings' studies analyzed the location of private-sector employment within 35 miles of Central Business Districts in the nation's 100 largest metropolitan areas. The U.S. Census Bureau first designated the CBDs in 1982. Portland's lies between West Burnside on the north, the Willamette River on the east, Southwest Jefferson Street on the south, and Southwest 12th Avenue on the west.

More people, not jobs

To those who follow urban planning trends, the fact that downtowns have been losing jobs to the suburbs for the past 20 years may seem surprising. The national news has been full of stories about the revitalization of America's urban centers over the past two decades. Planning concepts such as New Urbanism and Smart Growth were reported to be rescuing city centers from years of decline.

But in fact, although some people — especially young creatives — were attracted to high-density urban redevelopment projects, they did not bring an overwhelming number of jobs with them. Most large employers still stayed away from downtowns.

"Urban cores have gained population but jobs have not followed to the same degree," Kneebone says.

The new Brookings report concluded that by 2010, "nearly twice the share of jobs was located at least 10 miles away from downtown (43 percent) as within three miles of downtown (23 percent)."

The share between three and 10 miles was 34 percent.

The situation is somewhat different in Portland. Although downtown still has the smallest share of jobs (24 percent), the largest share is between three and 10 miles (47 percent). Thirty percent of jobs are located more than 10 miles from downtown.

"Portland is more centralized than typical urban areas," Kneebone says.

Portland did not fare as poorly as most downtowns during the 2000s, however. According to the April report, jobs within three miles of downtown Portland fell 2.3 percent between 2000 and 2010, compared to an average of 10.4 percent in the top 100 metropolitan areas. Areas within three to 10 miles of downtown did better than average, too, with jobs falling 0.8 percent compared to 5.4 percent.

"We have confidence in the strength of our Central City," says Chris Harder, manager of the Portland Development Commission's Business and Industries Division.

But areas 10 to 35 miles outside of downtown Portland did much better than average during the past decade. Jobs there increased 3.1 percent compared to 1.2 percent for the national average.

Planning is key

Kneebone says suburban jobs do not need to create sprawl. According to Kneebone, pollution will increase and livability will decline if the jobs are not close to housing and public transportation. But such problems can be overcome with planning.

"Not all decentralization is sprawl," Kneebone says.

In Hillsboro and Beaverton, major employers like Intel and Nike are located near planned housing development and light-rail stations.

Can Portland reverse this jobs trend or will outlying communities maintain their edge in coming years? Planning efforts are under way that could influence the outcomes.

Portland is working on an update of its comprehensive land-use plan that is intended to determine how the city grows during the next 25 years. So far, most of the public discussion has evolved around policies to make neighborhoods more livable. City planners are still trying to find more land to meet future employment needs, especially in the Portland Harbor area.

Meanwhile, Hillsboro is pushing ahead with plans to create a new 330-acre industrial park north of town. It is rumored to be a potential site for a new semiconductor manufacturing plant that the state is recruiting through a secretive process called Project Azalea. Environmentalists and others have mounted legal challenges to the industrial designation. The Oregon Court of Appeals is expected to rule in the near future.

And Nike is expected to break ground on two new buildings near its existing World Headquarters campus in the next few months. The company has not revealed the size of the buildings nor the number of new employees it will hire.

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