News

Oregonian: Oregon tech accelerates; broader job market slows
Author: Mike Rogoway
Posted: May 30, 2019

To read the original story, visit the Oregonian.

Oregon’s tech industry grew heartily last year, rebounding from a notable slowdown in 2017 even as the state’s broader job market cooled off.

Technology employment expanded by 3.1% between December 2017 and the end of 2018, according to new figures from the Oregon Employment Department. That’s its fastest growth rate in more than two years.

Technology is Oregon’s most vital industry, dominating the state’s export market and paying annual wages that average more than $115,000. Statewide, the average wage is about $53,000.

Oregon’s overall economy remains strong, too, with the unemployment rate near an all-time low at 4.3%. A regional economic outlook issued Thursday by the Northwest Economic Research Center at Portland State University notes that if the state keeps adding jobs through September, it will be Oregon’s longest expansion on record.

Those researchers expect to break that record: They say they consider an Oregon recession unlikely in the foreseeable future, at least through 2021.

“At this time,” they wrote, “we do not see a particular imbalance or speculative bubble occurring in the economy. There are risks out there that we do consider, but for now, these risks are at a probability level of less than 50%.”

But job growth has slowed considerably, expanding at an annual rate of less than 2% for most of 2018. That’s no surprise to economists, who have been predicting a slowdown as Oregon’s employers run out of qualified workers to hire.

“No longer playing catchup in the recovery, Oregon is now adding jobs at a similar pace to population growth—a sign that there are fewer discouraged workers to draw back into the labor force,” Portland State’s researchers wrote in Thursday’s analysis.

And as population growth slows, there are fewer workers to add fuel to Oregon’s expansion.

While Oregon’s economy has slowed, though, the tech sector is again heating up. Part of the reason may be a surge of capital during 2018, when the amount of money investors poured into young Oregon companies doubled and hit its highest point since the dot-com era.

While Oregon hasn’t produced a large, homegrown tech company in decades, it’s become a fruitful hub for nurturing new technologies. Startups sell and then become outposts for larger tech companies based elsewhere.

This week alone, for example, online education company OpenSesame announced $28 million in additional investment and plans to double its workforce. Portland online security startup Twistlock, which moved its headquarters here from San Francisco last year, sold for $410 millionWednesday.

There are other signs of growth on the horizon. In the coming weeks, Intel says it will begin construction of a new, multibillion-dollar research factory at its Ronler Acres outpost near Hillsboro Stadium. The chipmaker told city officials the factory will add 1,750 jobs to the 20,000 it already employs in Washington County.

Tech’s gains aren’t distributed evenly. The majority of those high-paid Oregon technology jobs go to whites or Asians, and 70% of the workers are men. Additionally, the industry is concentrated in the Portland metro area – particularly Hillsboro and downtown Portland.

Moreover, Oregon’s lack of homegrown tech companies worries some economists who are concerned companies based elsewhere will cut back at their outposts first whenever the next downturn comes.

But the long-term trajectory continues to point up for Oregon tech, according to Emily Starbuck, who wrote the new report on the state’s technology sector for the Oregon Employment Department. She forecasts that Oregon’s largest technology sectors will grow by 15% through 2027, compared to 12% growth across all Oregon industries.