Portland Is Chock Full of Expensive Real Estate, But Woefully Short of High Paying Jobs

by | Sep 7, 2009

Ryan Frank of The Oregonian paints an intriguing portrait of one of Portland’s largest landlords and real estate developers, Joe Weston.

At 71, Weston has built a real estate empire that ranks him among the city’s wealthiest men (the Portland Tribune puts his real estate holdings at $300 million). But he doesn’t drive a Mercedes. He doesn’t live on an estate. He doesn’t do pinstripes. He shows up to public meetings wearing ties festooned with the American flag and a bald eagle without a hint of irony.

So, Portland has a rich but grandfatherly guy roaming the streets. If he wears suspenders, he must also have some good advice to impart. Frank asked him several questions that indicate as much.

Q: There’s been a lot of talk about a glut of condos in Portland. But the city’s skyline is now dotted with shiny new luxury apartment towers. How can a city like Portland support this huge supply of high-rise apartments?

A: That’s a very, very good question because we are not a corporate town and we don’t have a huge executive payroll. I don’t know how the people currently are paying $2,400 to $6,500 a month for these units. It’s a mystery to me. You’re looking at a corporate payroll for that of $175,000 a year or more. We just don’t have that many jobs in Portland, Oregon, that pay that.

This question of where highly paid people work in this city is a dogged one. The biggest industry these days appears to be sportswear, but Nike, Adidas, Columbia, Jantzen, Lucy Activewear, LaCrosse Footwear, Nau and Keen do not a city of well off people make. The Portland metro is also strong in high tech, but not in the same way Seattle is. There’s no Amazon.com and no Microsoft.

Real estate site, MoveToPortland, points to several of Portland’s largest employers and there is a seemingly solid manufacturing base here thanks to Precision Castparts, Nautilus, Schnitzer Steel, Oregon Steel Mills, Monaco Coach, Northwest Pipe Company and PW Eagle. Of course, the ever steady flow of immigrants from Ohio, Iowa and Wisconsin aren’t looking for work in the industrial sector.

Willamette Weekly, one of the city’s two alt weeklies, ran a cover story last week called “The Young And The Jobless”, wherein they profiled people like Emily Jackson, a recent law school grad who can’t find work and is subsisting on food stamps. The paper asked her “Do you ever think about leaving Portland?” She said, “Think about it, yes, but not seriously—I don’t know where I would go. I’m another tattooed white girl on a bike; this is really the only city that would have me.”