Friday, March 27, 2009

Hard Times Hit Stumptown

Portland made the front page of the New York Times today, but Oregon's metropolis probably would just as soon have passed up the honor.

Posted By on Fri, Mar 27, 2009 at 11:32 AM

Portland made the front page of the New York Times today, but Oregon's metropolis probably would just as soon have passed up the honor.

Under the headline "A Downturn Wraps a City in Hesitance," the story told how the current recession/depression is causing companies to delay investments and consumers to stop buying things.

Reporter Peter S. Goodman chose a Portland icon to illustrate the point:

"Over the last four decades, Powell's Books has swelled into the largest bookstore in North America - a capacious monument to reading that occupies a full square block of this often-drizzly city. But this year, growth has given way to anxiety.

"Michael Powell, the store's owner, recently dropped plans for a $5 million expansion. An architect had already prepared the drawings. His bankers had signaled that financing was available. But the project no longer looked prudent, Mr. Powell concluded - not with sales down nearly 5 percent, stock markets extinguishing savings, home prices plunging and jobs disappearing."

The story contrasts Portland's current malaise with its boom period, when it enjoyed robust growth driven by (among other things) a reputation as a great place to live:

"Portland, a metropolitan area of 2.2 million people, affords an ideal window onto the spiral of fear and diminished expectations assailing the economy. The area has long attracted investment and talented minds with its curbs on urban sprawl, thriving culinary scene and life in proximity to the Pacific Coast and the snow-capped peaks of the Cascades. In good times, Portland tends to grow vigorously, elevated by companies like the computer chip maker Intel - which employs 15,000 people in the area - and the athletic clothing giant Nike.

"But in recent months, Portland has devolved into a symbol of much that is wrong. Housing prices have fallen more than 14 percent since May 2007, according to the S&P/Case-Shiller index. Foreclosures more than tripled last year, according to RealtyTrac. The unemployment rate for the metro area surged from 4.8 percent at the end of 2007 to 9.8 percent in January 2009, according to the Labor Department."

Conservatives no doubt will gloat over the Times story as supposed proof that Portland's (and Oregon's) pro-environment and anti-sprawl policies are economically toxic. Of course, this overlooks the fact that pretty much the whole national economy - hell, the whole world economy - is in the tank, and many places are in a lot deeper.

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