Originally founded at the end of the iconic Oregon Trail (which carried American settlers West into the frontier), Portland has grown to become one of America’s most unique and talked-about cities—with hit tv shows like Portlandia dedicated to satirizing the city’s quirky local culture, and a local populace dedicated to “Keeping Portland Weird” as the motto goes.
But it all just sort of … works.
From the city’s majestic Northern Pacific surroundings to ultra-hip local music scene, from the world-renowned breakfast treats at Voodoo Donuts to the fast-growing downtown scene, Portland provides a refreshing and welcome contrast to the bigger Pacific cities like Los Angeles and San Diego. Where those cities acknowledge liberal attitude and creative impulse, Portland embraces those ideas and runs with them.
This kind of outside-the-box thinking has been hugely successful for the city, too—helping them to build an impressive local economy while embracing new technologies, cultures and lifestyles to their substantial benefit.
Portland’s much more than just a hipster’s paradise these days; it’s a fast-growing testament to the power of man’s industrious free-thinking and an exciting urban playground.
Always an Oasis
Where the Portland of today has become a very special kind of cultural Oasis, the city used to provide a much simpler kind of relief … as the destination of a long and hard journey up the Oregon Trail.
Carved from the thick forests of the Willamette Valley, local settlers originally called the area “Stumptown” for all the trees that had been knocked down. In a story that seems oddly appropriate for Portland, the city’s official name was decided by a coin toss—with both Asa Lovejoy of Boston and Francis Pettigrove of Portland Maine vying to name the city after their hometowns.
Francis won, of course, and the “Portland Penny” is still on display at the Oregon Historical Society.
With the Willamette Valley forming a unique land bridge between the Pacific Ocean and the Columbia River, Portland enjoyed a healthy early advantage over other ports and frontier towns. It wasn’t until the turn of the 20th Century that Seattle began to catch up and surpass Portland as a larger shipping hub.
But spirited Portlandians kept the ball rolling, evolving their approach and leveraging the city’s early successes to transform into a modern day hub for logistics, shipping and technology businesses. As a result the city remains not just a cultural—but a business—capital to this day.
That’s so Portland
By now most people have seen clips of sketch comedy about Portland, or at least heard of the city’s unique reputation for attracting hipsters.
And while most of these jokes are funny because they’re true, it’s important to remember why they’re true. They’re true because Portland has one of the most inviting, non-judgmental, considerate and free-thinking local cultures you’ll see anywhere in America.
That means whatever you want to do—whatever kind of music you want to play or art you want to make … whatever food you want to cook or homes you want to build—Portlandians will generally accept it and you (within reason, of course). It’s not a perfect place, to be sure, but the city can be a great deal less intimidating and more relaxing because of this simple fact.
This uniquely Portlandian attitude has helped the city foster such creative geniuses as filmmaker Gus van Sant and cartoonist Matt Groening … it’s made the city a capital for karaoke (of all things), creative architecture and helped the local residents to thrive in an ever-evolving environment …
Big Business Means Diverse Business for the Rose City
Portland’s industry started out like most frontier towns—mostly just a few lumber mills and local trappers eking out a living—but it has since evolved into a rich and diverse panorama of American business.
And with just two Fortune 500 companies located in the State of Oregon, that level of diversity allows Portland’s prosperity to rely far less on any one business or group of businesses. Instead, the city’s government enjoys and encourages the growth of local business in the tech sector, computer companies, apparel manufacturers and more.
The city serves as local/national headquarters for major companies like Adidas, Hi-Tec Sports and Daimler Trucks and smaller groups like Portland Brewing Company, LaCrosse Footwear and more. Chipmaker Intel is actually the city’s largest employer though, with over 15,000 employees in high-tech jobs throughout the Portland metro area.
Despite being outclassed decades ago in terms of shipping, the city also remains a major port to this day—the country’s largest port for wheat, and the second largest in the world. It’s home to one of the largest dry docks in the world and technically still the country’s largest freshwater port.
So while the city might be known far and wide for its hipster exterior, it’s important to remember that Portlandians also aren’t afraid to get the job done …
Going Urban for Good
With a soaring local economy and a reputation for quirkiness known far and wide, it should come as no shock that Portland has seen a massive influx of renters and buyers—each and every one eager to help “keep it weird” in the City of Roses.
Back in 2011, rents were some of the highest in the country and locals were eager to consider things like rent controls and stricter building regulations—the kinds of things that have historically proven to make high prices even higher in places like San Francisco—but Portlandian open-mindedness prevailed once again. Locals are beginning to realize that by embracing new construction in the city’s urban center, they’re helping keep urban sprawl to a minimum and maintaining the city’s breathtaking surroundings (Portlandians refer to it as “Growing UP, not OUT”).
As a result, rents have decreased and condos are relatively available and affordable. But that’s not likely to last forever in the exciting and fast-growing metropolis of Portland.