As Oregon’s jobless rate continues to dip – slipping under 7 percent for the first time in more than five years – tech employment is climbing, hitting its highest point in years.
Signs of that resurgence are all around, as Portland startups such as Puppet Labs snap up prime office space to make room for more employees, and as out-of-towners such as Airbnb and Squarespace lay out plans to open big satellite offices in the city.
By the broadest measure, though, Oregon tech jobs remain below their pre-recession highs and aren’t growing as rapidly as tech employment nationally.
Competing factors are pulling Oregon’s tech economy in different directions.
On the plus side:
• Well-funded startups such as Puppet, Elemental Technologies and Jama Softwareare building large new companies in downtown Portland, hiring workers by the dozens.
• Out-of-towners are tapping the revitalized Oregon tech ecosystem for outposts and satellite offices. Salesforce.com, eBay and New Relic are establishing substantial beachheads in the Portland area, in addition to Airbnb and Squarespace.
• Intel is expanding its Oregon manufacturing, and is due to begin full-scale operation in the first phase of its new D1X research fab in Hillsboro late next year.
Weighing on Oregon tech, though, is a good deal of uncertainty:
• Intel, which has more than 17,000 Oregon employees, expects its third straight year of flat sales and is in the process of reducing overall employment by about 5 percent. That could offset job gains at D1X. The Oregonian reported last week thatIntel plans to notify 400 IT employees by April 15 that their jobs are going away.
• TriQuint’s pending merger with rival RF Micro Devices puts the future of its Hillsboro chip factory in doubt, along with many jobs at its corporate headquarters there. The company has said it could be months before it decides whether it will continue manufacturing chips in Hillsboro, and before it sorts out which jobs will stay and which will go when the merger is complete.
How you balance the ledger depends to some degree on which numbers you choose.
Data from the Oregon Employment Department’s monthly job report pegged total state tech employment at 60,100 in February.
That’s up 3.3 percent from a year earlier and above where that tally stood at the end of 2007, at the dawn of the Great Recession. But most of the growth happened in the spring of 2013 – tech employment was unchanged since July.
Complicating matters, Oregon last year began using a broader analysis to calculate total tech employment. That data -- in the graph above -- shows more jobs overall, just over 90,000, but a steeper fall (Oregon tech employment fell nearly 11 percent from the start of 2008 to the beginning of 2009) and a slower recovery.
The broader measure, based on federal definitions, says that at the end of September – the most recent data available – Oregon remained more than 2,000 tech jobs below where it was at the start of the recession.
It also suggests slower growth, about 1.6 percent annually, and shows that Oregon’s tech recovery remains well behind the national pace. Overall, U.S. tech employment reached pre-recession levels in the fall of 2012.