Portland’s Economic Recovery – How is it going?

Portland has had a rough time since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Prior to that, it had experienced phenomenal growth in the previous 10 years, with a booming recovery after the Great Recession. In fact, it ranked in the top 10 of the 100 largest metro areas in the country for job growth, median household income gains, increases in educational attainment, and more. The development of Portland’s urban core created a great place to live, work and play.

But it’s what happened to that urban core as a result of the pandemic that has caused Portland’s recovery to lag behind the rest of the state. With mandates, shutdowns and closures, the urban growth driven by amenities such as restaurants, bars, clubs, museums and retail locations came to a screeching halt. Downtown went from bustling to almost a ghost town. 

This is what has caused Portland to be the worst performing regional economy in Oregon. While consumer spending is strong, it’s happening in suburban and rural areas rather than in the Portland metro area. 

It is true, however, that Portland’s economy is improving. As of January 2022, Portland metro has recovered approximately 80% of the jobs lost at the peak of the pandemic. The biggest improvements have come in the areas of leisure and hospitality, retail and manufacturing. It is seeming that Portland may be close to shifting from recovery to expansion. 

However, according to the 2022 State of the Economy report released by the Portland Business Alliance in February, city leaders need to act with urgency and no longer continue assuming all of the benefits that Portland had during its period of extreme growth will be a given in this new pandemic-affected environment.

Key takeaways from the report put a damper on the excitement about recovering the jobs lost at the peak of the pandemic when we compare them to cities like Austin and Salt Lake City, who have actually gained jobs and are ahead of where they were pre-pandemic. Portland’s recovery is slower than it could be.

Another important element of the report is the cost of living in Portland. For a family of four to  maintain a reasonable quality of life in the Portland area, it takes over $93,000 to do so. Add in the latest surge in inflation and that number jumps even further. 

City officials maintain that they are committed to acting with the required urgency, with City Commissioner Mingus Mapps stating that public safety and addressing houselessness especially in the downtown core is what is most important at this juncture. “The foundation of recovery is increasing the number of public safety officers as quickly as possible, investing in transitional shelter beds with behavioral health resources, and continuing to increase trash pick-up resources,” he said in an email to KGW. (Click here to read our previous blog on the city’s houseless situation and its effect on the Portland economy)

Mayor Ted Wheeler’s communications specialist has released a statement saying that the mayor will continue to act with urgency and bring new economic initiatives to the table. 

The fact of the matter is, however, that there are multiple factors that play huge roles in Portland’s recovery – employment, houselessness, public safety, crime, inflation, cost of living to name a few – and city officials will need to work incredibly hard to back their words of promise with action. The next year will be critical in Portland’s recovery, and a lot of work has yet to be done.

What are your thoughts on what needs to be done to revive Portland’s economy? Comment below!

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