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Economy | local

Is Portland Becoming A Bedroom Community For Its Suburbs?

Few cities strive to be suburbs.  They want to be known for their own thriving communities and cultural attractions — they don’t want to be seen as bedroom communities.

But an economist with the Oregon Employment Department says newly-released employment figures for January  show that in some ways, Portland can now be seen as a suburb of cities like Hillsboro and Beaverton.

Kristian Foden-Vencil: “So I’m in downtown Portland, in the Pearl District, which has sprouted up over the last 10 years.  It used be just industrial areas. Now it’s flats and lofts and a Barre 3 exercise Yoga studio, I’m outside that, and a park, Tanner Creek. And I’m stopping people to see why they live here as opposed to living perhaps out in the suburbs where they would get a garden and perhaps a bigger house for their buck.”

Wendy Kincaid

Kristian Foden-Vencil / OPB

Wendy Kincaid: “My name is Wendy Kincaid. I was one of those people that said I’d never live here because I lived in a house that had a front yard and a back yard. And now I love it.”

Kincaid’s husband is employed at Nike, in Beaverton, where he commutes every day — usually by car. She works here, at a non-profit for children.

The Kincaids and their four-year-old live in a three bedroom home. But it’s a loft — on the top of a five-story block. They have a small patio garden where Kincaid grows cucumbers and kale.

The Kincaids are an example of Portland’s new, young, well-educated and fast-growing, demographic.

Oregon Employment Department economist, Christian Kaylor, says it’s a demographic that changing the face of the metro area.

He says when the city’s major highways were built, many people chose to work downtown but live in the suburbs in single family homes with gardens and garages.

During the 1980’s and 90’s, he says, companies started to follow, going where there was available land — and people.

“Corporate campuses, Nike, Intel, Tektronics, Nautilus, moved out to the suburbs where their workers were and they enjoyed the same, less expensive real estate and freeway access for moving their products around,” Kaylor says.

Kaylor says for decades, economists thought of Portland as a doughnut, with all the growth and new jobs ringing the downtown area.

But he says, things have changed.

“Now the people, particularly the highly educated professionals are moving back into the center of that doughnut, they’re moving back to the urban core and to some degree the jobs are following them. Over the next 10 or 20 years we may see that pattern follow of companies following their workers. If that’s true, it’s a very good sign for the city of Portland’s economy, over the next 10 or 20 years.”

Kaylor says when you look at job creation, population and economic activity, inner city Portland looks like the booming suburbs of the 1960’s, 70’s and 80’s.

So it doesn’t take that much imagination to see Portland as a suburb of Hillsboro, Vancouver, Wilsonville or Beaverton.

“There’s almost as much commuting into the suburbs from the City of Portland as there is vice versa. That is people who live in the suburbs commuting into the city of Portland,” Kaylor says.

But while seeing Portland as a suburb of Hillsboro might be an interesting twist, the questions is, does it matter?

“Well it’s an election year and the number one topic is job creation. And if you look around the Portland metro region, job growth in the City of Portland has outpaced suburban Washington County by more than two to one over the last 10 years. So if you’re looking for the success stories, the City of Portland actually stands out as the fastest job growth, the fastest resident growth, the fastest high-wage job growth region,” Kaylor says.

That’s a very different story than the one told by those who say Portland’s taxes are too high, and that it’s not business friendly.

The city also holds other attractions in this era of high gas prices.

Back in the Pearl District, Wendy Kincaid says her family really enjoys walking and biking around the neighborhood.

“We have one car in our family. We’ve had one car for over a year now. And we share it and walk to the grocery store and use the transit system and we love our little neighborhood.”