Why talent leaves Portland. one story

By Dave Lister
Small Business Advisory Council Member
Oregonian guest columnist

Marty Vegas is throwing in the towel. After four years of enjoying Portland’s hip downtown scene, the microbrews and the coffee shops, Vegas, like so many others, has come to realize that in order for him and his young wife, Jill, to own a home and start a family, they have to look for economic opportunity elsewhere. At first blush Vegas would appear to perfectly fit the much-vaunted “young creative” profile upon which our city mothers and fathers have staked our future economy. Armed with two bachelor’s degrees and experience as a freelance photographer and journalist, Vegas first came to visit Portland in 2005.

“I was 26 when I came to check it out,” Vegas told me. “Portland had a good reputation. There were lots of young people moving here, and everybody was talking about the creative class. The coffee was good, and the place seemed affordable. But the city did seem smug and a little full of itself. I came here without a job, and in order to get one I had to spend six months as an unpaid intern. I managed to scrape by during those six months by doing some freelancing on the side.” Even when Vegas started drawing a paycheck he discovered his wages were substandard compared to other cities, and he began to question his decision.“Looking back I guess I realize how stupid I was not to have done more research. But I think I’m fairly typical of people in their mid-20s. I was sold on the city and didn’t ask the tough questions. But now I think people who move here for the lifestyle have to be prepared to forgo almost all career opportunity. It’s a fun place to spend a few years, but when it’s time to get serious, it’s time to get out of here and find a job.”

I asked Vegas whether he thought the economic downturn was to blame.

“I was here two years before the economy tanked,” he replied. “The city was a Mecca for attracting people, but seemed to think it didn’t need to do anything to retain them once they got here. And that’s just not right. It’s no good to be smug when it comes to job creation. Not only is the city not creating jobs, the city doesn’t think it needs to. So I figure, fine, I don’t need to live here.”

Although he doesn’t really lay blame, Vegas sees city government as both symptom and cause.

“The driver behind this smugness, this vicious cycle, is that a lot of the people who do manage to stay here get jobs in government. The government here has an economic self-interest, and the city is one of the largest employers in the city. The people who do get jobs in government have very little experience in the private sector and therefore have no idea how to go about job creation. And you can’t really blame the leadership, because the leadership is just a product of the problem. The leadership is just the group that has worked their way up in government. It’s a bubble mentality. You get a job in government and work your way up and you don’t see outside the bubble, you don’t see the need to grow the private sector.”

As far as things changing in the future, Vegas doesn’t see much chance.

“Five years ago it was all about biotech, which never happened. And now it’s all about green jobs, which isn’t happening. Five years from now there will be talk of something else, but nothing will really change.”

  • Rupert in Springfield

    Portland smug?

    Naaaaahhhhh, come on you’re kidding me right?

  • Anonymous

    Portland is a dying town. People and businesses are leaving. The proof is the number of commercial property vacancies and the continual decline of enrollment in the Portland public schools. That’s what happens when you have high taxes and fess along with Stalin type regulations.

    When I moved to Oregon in 2001 I was told by my realtor not to buy a house in Portland or Multnomah County. That was some very good advice.

  • We’re Out of There

    Left Oregon in November 2009 for a wramer climate. Funny – but we don’t miss the trees, the idiotic “progressive” politics or the crappy rainy weather 7 months of the year. We do enjoy way lower taxes, utility costs about 35-40% of what we used to pay and a much better highway system.
    Sorry to say it, but Oregon is slowly circling the same drain as California.

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    • Anonymous

      Sounds like a win-win situation for everyone.

  • Bronch O’Humphrey

    Thoroughly enjoying the grammatically deficient and factually devoid comments here, as usual.

    • Rupert in Springfield

      Frankly when the bulk of ones comments consists of snipes about spelling and grammar then its pretty easy to see such spouting comes from a very shallow well.

    • Mary’s Opinion

      Wow! Are your ever smug.

  • Bob Clark

    Cityhall is addicted to population growth, and not so much economic prosperity. This strategy is supported by two major external institutions: The federal government and Metro. The federal government sends dollars to local governments based on population, and against strong local economies. Metro helps from the other side by steering population growth into the city of Portland, favoring the containment of population growth to high rise concrete bunker like condos. Portland cityhall hypes “green” inorder to attract Vegas types and some affluent retirees who don’t care for sunnier climates or just stay for the summer. Public union employees support this paradigm because their focus is not on an expanding economy so much as protecting their share of the government benefits within the context of a fixed economy.

    Well this is my political economic theory regarding Portland cityhall and its disregard for economic prosperity. To change this paradigm before the city has a Greek experience because of its mounting liabilities, the two outside institutions must change. Change in the federal government could come as soon as this November if somehow the national electorate votes in more fiscal conservatives to Congress. Metro could shift a bit also as soon as this November if Tom Hughes (a west side guy) is elected Metro president.

  • valley p

    Drawing sweeping conclusions from a single anecdote (Marty Vegas saga) is entertaining but not very enlightening.

    And Dave, where is this “elsewhere” that Marty is moving to? Is there someplace….anyplace in America he thinks he is going to have an easy time finding work as a freelance photographer and journalist? Detroit? San Francisco? Fargo?

    • jim karlock

      Maybe you could hire him to illustrate your next book: “the coming ice age and how we must stop burning fossil fuels and increase taxes to stop the new climate threat.”


  • John

    The title to this post should have been “Why talent leaves Oregon” and it still would have applied.

    • Mary’s Opinion

      You are so right John. The paragraph beginning “The driver behind this smugness” is one of the best explanations of governments failure I have ever read.

  • Bono

    This story speaks volume. PLease email to City COuncil

  • valley p

    I’m still wondering where Marty is moving to in order to improve his fortunes. Does anyone know?

    • Clay

      Well, Marty knows, but he would be silly to you (or me).

  • Terry Parker

    The present day politicians in Portland and at Metro are completely out of touch with reality and engrossed in social engineering wanting to control every aspect our daily lifestyles – how people move about, where and what kind of housing people live in and even what people eat – and in this case what kinds of businesses can locate here. Just look at the Portland Plan Mayor Adams is touting. It is all about social engineering and control. The unemployment rate in Oregon has been above the national average for the last ten years, likely because of all the lifestyle and economic meddling by state and local politicians. Big government is wiping out private sector jobs, except for those subsidized by taxpayers, while at the same time, dismantling the quality of life for the middle working class. What is needed is a whole new crop of political leadership that truly represents mainstream taxpayers rather than just their inner own circle of special interests.

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