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A Good Place to Work?

OPB | Feb. 4, 2011 9 a.m. | Updated: Sept. 10, 2013 9:52 p.m.

Last December the Portland Business Alliance put out a report that received a lot of attention — the press covered it, we did a show on it, and legislators (including the governor) promised to take action on the results. Its main assertion was that Portland-metro residents have lower wages and incomes that people in peer regions.

Essentially, people here don’t make the money they should… and therefore they also don’t send a higher amount back to the state in the form of income tax to pay for schools, law enforcement, and other public services. A good number of you agreed with the premise. Vega6981 wrote:

I took a 8K pay cut to move from Phoenix to here for cost of living. Trash, Elec., gas, cable, and water were ALL more expensive here, not to mention housing was at least 1/2 more expensive… Wages have not kept up with the cost of living here. My company gauges their wages in the Portland metro by surveying the likes of small towns in Oregon. It makes living here very difficult. You cannot own a home here as a single person unless you moved here 20 years ago or more.

But soon after the program we heard from some people who disagreed with the report. One such person is economist Joe Cortright.

Cortright, and some of his colleagues, wrote an opinion piece in the Oregonian that said (among other things):

The lack of attention to issues like educational attainment in the PBA report doesn’t help us deal with what really is a “Portland paradox”: Our salaries and incomes continue to lag behind national averages despite the fact that worker productivity and gross metropolitan product have been steadily on the rise, and this is true for all educational levels. Why, particularly in this time of high unemployment and robust in-migration, particularly by well-educated young people, is this so? Unfortunately, though the PBA report raises this issue, it is silent about what we ought to do about it. It’s not how we make ourselves more like somewhere else, but what it is that enables this region to actually outperform many others.

Statistics can too easily mask the story that we really need to understand: what makes each company and each worker in the Portland region successful — or not. We need to ask why a company founder came to or stayed in Portland, what prompted her to start her company and what factors made her successful — and what would make her leave or quit.

What do you need as an employer, or employee, to be successful here? Greater access to training? Venture capital to help your business to grow?

If the latter is your response you may be in luck! Did you know that last year VCs backed entrepreneurs in Oregon with $173 million? That’s almost double the 2009 figure and, in fact, the second-best year for venture capital in the state since the dot-com era. We’ll find out what’s being backed, and why. And what makes Oregon the place those businesses want to do business.

So, what’s the secret to economic success here?

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