A new study finds an unusually high number of migrants are young and that they tend to be well educated – especially in technical fields.
January 28, 2016
The place where young people go to retire? Maybe not.A new study of migrants moving into Oregon from other states shows an unusually high number of them are young and that they tend to be well educated, especially in technical fields. That runs against the popular image of TV’s “Portlandia” – a slacker who drifts into the city for a part time job slinging espresso.
In fact, Oregon is one of the nation’s top destinations for young migrants, according to Josh Lehner of the Oregon Office of Economic Analysis, who just completed a study of the subject. He contends that bodes well for the state’s long-term economic health, because such workers tend to stay put and bring valuable skills to a region perpetually starved for tech workers.
“That’s not what the conventional wisdom is,” Lehner said. “Most people think it’s the ‘Portlandia’ story.”
Four things stand out in Lehner’s study:
Slightly more than half of all young college graduates have scientific or technical degrees, according to Lehner. What’s unusual in Oregon is the high volume of young, educated people coming to the state.
“The number of people moving here is where we get our advantage from,” he said. It’s not equally distributed, though. Eighty percent of the highly educated arrivals come to the Portland area.
“It doesn’t surprise me. I think that Portland’s really attractive to people in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) field. You’ve got OHSU, you’ve got Intel, you’ve got a vibrant incubating tech community here,” said Dominic Moore, president of Flux Resources, a recruitment firm that recently spun off from David Evans and Associates.
In the aftermath of the Great Recession, people debated whether all those skilled migrants would find work. Historically, Lehner said, Portland had an unusually high number of part-time workers – suggesting people were having trouble finding full-time work. In the summer of 2014, The New York Times famously wondered, “Will Portland Always Be a Retirement Community for the Young?”
Sixteen months later, the answer seems clear: The Portland area’s job market grew 3.3 percent last year – compared to a national rate of 1.9 percent – and the unemployment rate fell below 5 percent despite a rapidly growing population. Portland’s tech scene is flourishing, turning the city into an attractive destination not just for young people but for two-dozen big-name tech companies that established local outposts to tap into their technical skills.
The highest number of migrants come from California, the nation’s most populous state, on Oregon’s southern border. Moore said Portland looks good to many of his clients when they compare Portland’s housing costs to the absurd prices to the south.
“In the Bay Area it’s supercool,” Moore said. “It’s a great place. But really, can you grow roots there? You can in Portland.”
That’s what drew Sergio Fare, 34, and his fiancée north from San Jose. They moved to Beaverton last July and he found work as an information technology contractor at the Bonneville Power Administration through Flux, Moore’s firm.
Even amid a quintessentially soggy winter, Fare said Oregon measures up pretty well to what they left behind in parched California. The people are friendly, work was readily available and the prospect of buying a home seems plausible. Fare and his fiancée have saved up for a down payment and plan on buying a home when she finishes classes and finds her own job.
No, Portland doesn’t have the nightlife or excitement the Bay Area does, where Fare and his fiancée enjoyed attending live comedy and stage performances.
“That’s something we were willing to give up in order to afford a home here,” he said.
Living in San Francisco, Naomi Miller was paying $1,500 a month for a room in a house she shared with two others. She commuted 90 minutes each day to a job in Silicon Valley.
Exasperated, Miller, 30, determined last fall she would move to Portland – a city she had never visited. The Oregonian featured her in an article on the effect of tech migration on the city’s housing prices.
Miller settled in Northwest Portland, close enough to her marketing job downtown at Aruba Networks that she can walk. She’s paying $1,100 a month to rent a studio.
“Intellectually, I know it’s a lot, but from where I’m coming from it’s amazing,” Miller said. “It would never happen in San Francisco.”
In California she worked in a low-slung office park. Miller’s Portland office looks out on Mount Hood.
Portland isn’t for everyone – Miller said she knows a lot of ambitious technologists in California who wouldn’t dream of leaving Silicon Valley for Portland. To her, though, it’s a mellower, friendlier alternative to the frenzy she left behind.
“I’m very, very, very happy. Definitely think it was the right decision,” Miller said. “This feels a lot more like home.”
— Mike Rogoway