Why Tech Leaders Are Following Google to Portland

Silicon Valley's burdensome housing costs and chronic traffic congestion make Portland's thriving tech sector a powerful draw.

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By John Boitnott

Angelo DeSantis | Getty Images
The sun sets over a busy 13th Avenue, in downtown. Portland, Oregon.

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I never truly experienced the great Portland-Seattle tech migration first hand. Oh, sure, I always heard about it in the background. People couldn't afford the Bay Area, so periodically various acquaintances might disappear to the rainy north.

Skilled American tech workers are leaving the Bay Area faster than they are arriving, so I haven't been all that surprised. It didn't really hit home, though, until recent months when a long-time, close coworker and friend, Janine Kahn, who I worked with at Village Voice Media in days gone by, decided to get out of Dodge (or San Francisco in my case). She'd always been one of my best San Francisco media friends, and we shared countless lunches and cupcakes. Time marches on though, and she eventually got an even better position running the digital editorial side of Lumina Media. Even more importantly, she found a good man, who became her husband. This good man found a fancy job in Oregon.

"My husband, who also works in tech, got a job as a senior engineer at a dev. agency in Portland, and I work remote, so we decided to give it a shot," she says. "It doesn't hurt that we're renting an entire house for less than our SF one-bedroom now."

Yes, that type of story forms much the core of why there's a Pacific Northwest tech migration.

Google gets in the act.

Of course, Google is a part of this major tech trend as well. They recently decided to open offices in Portland too. The move makes Portland one of the latest locations across the globe for the company, including Austin, Los Angeles, Milan, Mexico and Egypt. A local presence gives Google and other companies the ability to better serve customers in each area.

This is just a harbinger of things to come. As Portland grows, even more businesses will join Google there. The area has already had a tech worker influx rivaled only by the country's biggest tech hubs. Here are a few reasons Portland, like Austin, Seattle and others, is capturing the attention of the Silicon Valley worker.

Thriving tech industry.

Between 2010 and 2013, Portland's tech talent pool increased by 28 percent, which was a faster rate than Silicon Valley, where the talent pool grew only 20.8 percent. Even Austin, which has long been home to Apple, Google and othe huge tech companies, had slower growth than Portland at 26.5 percent. With so many talented professionals now, Portland has become a popular location for tech giants and startups alike.

Hewlett Packard, eBay, Salesforce, New Relic and Airbnb are just a few of the tech companies with offices in Portland. But the city has plenty of its own tech companies, giving it the nickname "Silicon Forest." The city is the hometown of Tripwire, Digital Trends and Cloudability, as well as numerous other startups and corporations in a variety of industries. This has created a culture of innovation in Northwest Oregon that makes new companies want to locate there.

Low cost of living.

This is the preeminent reason why workers are looking to leave Silicon Valley. A tech worker can live much more comfortably in Portland than San Francisco or Palo Alto, with much lower housing costs. While tech workers can easily earn six figures in Silicon Valley, tech-sector salaries in Portland are on the rise, up 9 percent between 2013 and 2014. From 2008 to 2014, Portland's tech salaries increased 18 percent.

Like Silicon Valley, the closer you get to Portland's tech hub, the more expensive the housing is. However, many of the area's technology workers choose to live in one of the more affordable suburbs of Portland, which also gives families access to great schools. Depending on a worker's willingness to commute, there are several suburbs that are good places to live. It adds up to something much more attractive than the nasty commute along the various highways throughout the Bay Area.

Work-life balance.

Work-life balance is often mentioned as a benefit to living in the Portland area. Part of this could be the growing popularity of telecommuting in the city. One study revealed that 7 percent of the city's workers now work from home and that number is growing. Nationally, 2.6 percent of the workforce telecommutes on a daily basis, making Portland a preferred city for those who want a commute that involves merely walking a few steps to a home office. Studies have shown that working from home allows for a better work-life balance, which is a priority for some of the top up-and-coming technology professionals.

Tech workers increasingly seek work-life balance, especially those whose work requires long hours and years of dedication. Portland offers a wide variety of options for tech workers with hobbies, from its big music scene to its museums and art galleries. Many other cities have this, as well, but a shorter work commute and the ability to work from home could help tech workers relieve the pressure they feel in other tech hubs as they try to find a work-life balance that often seems to elude them.

Portland is one of many areas seeing rapid growth due to technology companies. With so many professionals choosing the area, it will only continue to attract more organizations looking to capitalize on talent there. The tantalizing lifestyle of the city gives workers a combination of affordability and fun that can't be found at the center of the tech world. This is good though. A healthy U.S. tech economy can't be located in one region. It needs to be a part of mutliple regions, so it can drive greater benefit for the national economy as a whole.

John Boitnott

Entrepreneur Leadership Network VIP

Journalist, Digital Media Consultant and Investor

John Boitnott is a longtime digital media consultant and journalist living in San Francisco. He's written for Venturebeat, USA Today and FastCompany.

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