Last week it was the NYT, but this week's national story really rips the clothes off Portland's economic emperor. First, here's a quote to fill you with confidence:
"I'm hopeful people will stick around," says Portland mayor Sam Adams. "Even if they come to my city without a job, it is still an economic plus."
This drizzly city along the Willamette River has for years been among the most popular urban magnets for college graduates looking to start their careers in a small city of like-minded folks. Now the jobs are drying up, but the people are still coming. The influx of new residents is part of the reason the unemployment rate in the Portland metropolitan area has more than doubled to 11.8% over the past year, and is now above the national average of 8.9%.
As unemployment has risen, businesses have felt the pain. So many restaurants have closed in recent months that the Portland alternative newspaper Willamette Week recently started a column called "Restaurant Apocalypse" to keep track of closings. "Everybody is holding on to their money," says Ryan Birkland, a Portland artist who does abstract paintings of flowers and koi fish on glass, sheet metal and other recycled materials. Mr. Birkland sells art across a range of prices, but says sales of $400 to $500 pieces, which are mostly purchased by young professionals, are down about 25% compared with this time last year.
The scarcity of jobs has college grads competing for positions they might not have considered just a few years ago. HotLips Pizza, a local institution that touts ingredients from nearby farms and whose owner drives a stubby electric car emblazoned with the restaurant's rouge lips logo, recently posted a job for a sous-chef and got hundreds of résumés in the space of a few days. They were both over- and under-qualified, ranging from the executive chefs at fine dining restaurants that have closed to unemployed computer technicians with zero experience in a kitchen. "People are having a harder time landing," said Greene Lawson, HotLips' chef.
With jobs scarce, some Portland newcomers are going home. Adam Pollock, 36, moved from New York to Portland in December, lured largely by the natural beauty and vibrant cycling scene. "In New York, if you want to get anywhere decent you have to battle traffic for a half-hour on either end of the ride," he said. Mr. Pollock, a computer consultant, rented a small apartment with a month-to-month lease, figuring he'd trade up after he found a job.
He spent months sending out résumés and trying to drum up consulting work. He looked for work as a bicycle mechanic and as a barista at some coffee shops. As his savings ran out, he finally punted. "It got to the point where, fiscally, the clock had run out," he said in a recent phone interview from Louisville, Ky. He was visiting relatives on his way back to New York.
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