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Part Of Portland Culture via

Part Of Portland Culture via

The hit show Portlandia tells America where the dream of the 90’s still lives, but why stop there?

Why not the Portland where the dream of the 60’s still floats in the air?

Better yet: Portland, where the dream of the 70’s never died.

The 60’s work better because it was the first time an unbathed long hair could slink into a Mercedes dealership through the front door and shock a salesman.

Imagine the reaction when they dropped enough cash for the best car on the showroom floor.

“Go away boy you bother me,” turned into, “tell your friends to come on down and test drive the finest automobile engineering on the road.”

While cagey marketers and promoters used young people to line their pockets, some youths hung onto their money and changed a few things.

Portland Monthly magazine runs a story this month asking, “Will a Rising Tech Industry Destroy Portland’s Soul – Or Save It?

They interview two rising CEOs in the tech industry, Charlie Brown of Context Partners and Sam Blackmon of Elemental Technologies.

They see Portland through a different lens than boomerpdx, than a Portland baby boomer, but a soul is still a soul.

Let’s start the search.

Does Portland Have A Soul To Destroy?

Any city named for winning a coin flip has the soul of a gambler.

At first the bet was making the region attractive enough to bring in new people. With the bait of 640 acres per married couple on a donation land claim, the wagons rolled.

One of the cultural attributes at the time was Oregon being one of the few states in the mid-1800s to allow women to own land under their own name. They got 320 acres in the split with their husbands.

Farmers made the trip and did their best to farm it up. Eventually they grew a surplus to ship to market.

Did Portland Start With A Farmer’s Soul?

We can say yes, but there’s more to farming than digging a hole and throwing seeds in it. Farmers are businessmen. The first pioneers had the land, but only the equipment and tools they could carry in their wagons.

As the population grew, suppliers began servicing the region with new plows, better transportation, and more livestock. Bankers saw the region and expanded their offers.

Ship owners and builders saw the Portland difference and made regular stops.

Farmers saw Portland grow with shipping, merchants, and the sort of businesses that supported them.

Today you can drive around Oregon and find farmers in most counties. Even though Portland feels too-big-city to the rest of the state, it’s roots are still farmer friendly, which makes it even more American.

How Did Portland’s Soul Change?

Once it grew into the Willamette River’s main city an industrial base took hold to diversify the economy. More people and more attention came after the 1905 Lewis and Clark Expo.

The shipyards of WWII added new people and new skills to the city along with another new city, Vanport.

Accelerated change spurred by WWII created concern for retaining the city’s soul. Fortunately a Portland newsman became governor and changed the discussion.

Tom McCall invited people to visit. He also invited them to go back home after their visit. His was an era of un-greeting. Portland’s soul got a tickle from Governor McCall.

Will A Rising High Tech Industry Save Portland’s Soul?

High Tech has been rising here since Tektronix bought hundreds of acres for their campus and became Oregon’s largest employer at one time.

Portland can’t be a born again high tech hub with that history.

From wiki:

The early Tektronix was often described as exemplary in its employee relations practices. Rules were played down and trust and reliance on each individual’s judgment were emphasized. Vacation and health benefits were unusually liberal, and a generous profit sharing plan returned 35% of corporate pretax profits to employees. This worked well for Tektronix employees during the years that profits were substantial.

In a state reliant on logging and fishing industries, Tek was a pot of gold under a blue collar rainbow.

New high tech companies relocating to Portland would do well to know the local history. It’s more than running shoes and beer.

From Charlie Brown in Portland Monthly:

When I told people I was leaving Washington DC for Portland, they were aghast. Why would you leave the global power center for a provincial city on the wrong side of the country? But Context’s work is all about community—and Portland is a city all about community. It’s been intentionally designed that way for many years, to be a place where people connect and engage. Context started as three of us in my attic; now there are 20 of us in Portland, DC, and Brussels. I can’t think of a place better suited for growing the company.

All great cities add to their greatness when the right people move to town, people who buy into what’s already there, then add their own twist.

Mr. Brown sounds like he’s got his eye on the prize in Portland, and we’re lucky to have him.












About David Gillaspie
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