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The A&O Cluster

OPB | Nov. 23, 2010 9 a.m. | Updated: Sept. 10, 2013 9:44 p.m.

There are anchors and there are entrepreneurs — or so says Joe Cortright, a local economist who studies business clusters. He’s been looking at clusters nationally for years (like biotech companies clustered in Boston or high tech companies in San Jose, for example). Now he’s turned his attention to Portland’s athletic and outdoor cluster. It’s a group of companies local economic development agencies are also paying attention to.

The anchors of the industry are the big three: Nike, Adidas, and Columbia Sportswear. The entrepreneurs are the more than 700 firms in the region that are somehow related — albeit some more than others. According to the Portland Development Commission:

Oregon’s athletic and outdoor industry, based predominantly in the Portland area, employs more than 14,000 workers statewide; includes more than 700 firms with a payroll that in 2008 totaled nearly $1.2 billion; has average annual wages of more than $80,000; and includes as many as 3,200 self-employed people who generate sales revenues of more than $95 million.

James Curleigh, the CEO of Keen Footwear, says Keen moved to Portland from California because they received so many applications from “people from the 503 area code.” Curleigh says “so we thought we’d come to them instead of having them come to us.”

A talent pool is one of the key benefits people cite about business clusters. But with all these talented people, are there enough jobs?

Do you work at an athletic clothing company or a bike shop? Does your company make sports equipment or design shoes? What is your experience with the athletics and outdoor industry? And what role does it have, do you think, in the future economic health of the region? Is it the key to the future? Or just one cluster among many?

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