View the full article: http://www.oregonlive.com/opinion/index.ssf/2012/09/portlands_economic_creativity.html
The Associated Press
Portland's amenities, from Mount Hood to downtown, help attract young, college-educated workers to Portland at an above-average rate. But many of these young people work at jobs beneath their potential, a gap that needs attention from city leaders.
Discussion about the mutual attraction of young people and the city of Portland too often devolves into cliches and politically tinted arguments.
A recently released study by two Portland State University researchers provides a framework for a richer discussion, one that could help stimulate economic growth. Of the many points that Jason Jurjevich and Greg Schrock make in the study, here are four that combine to suggest an opportunity.
While Portland has attracted young people at a well-above average rate for three decades, the education level of these potential workers has increased in the past decade.
Young workers in Portland are self-employed at a rate about 50 percent higher than nationally.
Young people are willing to earn less money in order to live in Portland, but they do want to work -- contrary to the popular cliches about young people coming to Portland to retire.
Many of these young workers are underemployed.
Proponents of building Portland's "creative class" tend to emphasize the benefits these workers bring to the community -- in particular, new ideas and energy. But after three decades, it's time for the conversation to move to the next level. What is the best way to help the young workforce make a bigger economic impact?
The obvious place to start is small business. Of the three largest metropolitan areas, Portland ranks third for the percentage of young, college-educated workers who report themselves as self-employed. The 9 percent who were self-employed in 2008-10 trailed only Los Angeles (9.2 percent) and Miami (9.9 percent) and was well above the national average of 6.2 percent.
"The self-employment figures suggest the young people who come here, whether by choice or necessity, are enterprising people," Schrock said.
A focus on small business also could help unify those who have competing views of the economic potential of the young creative class. Some draw distinctions between so-called lifestyle entrepreneurs, who launch businesses based on personal interests, and more traditional entrepreneurs, who conduct more research and focus on growth and profit potential. That distinction is unproductive, Schrock said.
Indeed policies that would help one group also would help the other. An iPad application designed to make it easier to complete the regulatory steps necessary to start a business might on surface appeal more to the young creatives, but it also would help traditional entrepreneurs. Likewise, waiving city taxes for the first three to five years of businesses' lives, the type of policy more likely to be proposed by traditional entrepreneurs, also would lower costs for any profitable lifestyle business.
The responsibility for finding new ways to engage and help young entrepreneurs falls disproportionately to the Portland City Council. Elected leaders throughout the metropolitan have taken fruitful steps toward a more unified, coordinated approach to economic development. But the young, college educated favor living and working in Portland over the suburbs.
The City Council will forge a new identity, and perhaps a new direction, in January with at least two new members. Finding more creative ways to help Portland's abundance of young college-educated workers contribute economically should be high on the agenda. It's not fair, or accurate, to say these too-often-stereotyped workers don't want to contribute. It's not sufficient to say be patient and wait for businesses to sprout.
Portland's young workforce is an underutilized asset. It's not the only solution to the city's economic problems, and maybe not the solution with the biggest long-term payoff. But making it easier for young, educated entrepreneurs to thrive is an achievable immediate goal that deserves more attention.