Survey: Downtown businesses, employment, wages growing
Despite the recent controversy over whether homeless people are bad for downtown businesses, a recently released annual survey found employment is up in the urban core and most retailers say they feel safe.
A growing percent say cleanliness is a problem that needs to be addressed, however.
The annual survey was conducted and released by Downtown Clean & Safe, an affiliate of the Portland Business Alliance that works to improve downtown livability. Among other things, the survey found downtown employment increased by 2 percent between 2015 and 2016.
The 2016 Downtown Business Census & Survey also found wages in the downtown area increased 6 percent and the number of downtown businesses increased 4 percent.
"The continued growth in jobs and wages is great news for downtown Portland," said Peter Andrews, chair of the Downtown Clean & Safe board and a broker at Melvin Mark Companies. "Similar to past years, we saw employment increase in the technology sector, a booming industry in Portland."
Columbia Sportswear CEO Tim Boyle and other business owners have recently complained that their employees have been harassed by homeless people. Boyle even threatened to move his company's Sorel store out of downtown, prompting Mayor Ted Wheeler to designate a high-pedestrian zone around it — commonly called a no-sit zone. That prompted a protest in front of Columbia Sportswear's nearby flagship store on Saturday.
But when asked about safety in downtown, 95 percent of respondents said they feel downtown is safe. Despite that, Andrews praised Wheeler for his response.
"While this progress indicates that employment in downtown is thriving, we continue to work on Portland's livability issues. It is encouraging that Mayor Wheeler is addressing these concerns by announcing the city will implement additional tools to impact Portland's livability issues, such as high-pedestrian zones and expanded police walking patrols," Andrews said.
At the same time, when asked about cleanliness downtown, half of respondents said it needs improvement. The need for improved cleanliness has increased from 29 percent in 2014 to 50 percent in 2016.
Andrews said the Clean & Safe program is responding to those concerns.
"The Clean & Safe board recently made a number of investments to immediately address downtown cleanliness, including a 30 percent increase in staffing for mobile cleaning units, which are staffed by formerly homeless individuals contracted through Central City Concern's employment programs. Also, by summer 2018, we will have installed more garbage cans downtown, with the city providing more frequent collection. We look forward to continuing our work with the mayor and other elected leaders to ensure downtown is welcoming for business owners, employees and visitors alike," Andrews said.
Other key report findings include:
• Employment in the downtown area grew from 97,281 to 99,031 jobs between 2015 and 2016.
• Total wages increased from $6,843,920,476 to $7,251,758,831 6 from 2015 to 2016.
• Businesses in downtown increased from 4,770 to 4,958 between 2015 and 2016.
• Sectors with the most notable employee increases include Finance and Insurance, Professional Scientific and Technical Services, as well as Educational Services, and Accommodation and Food Services.
• Sectors with the most notable increase in the number of businesses downtown include Information, as well as Professional Scientific and Technical Services.
• Top factors influencing businesses locating or staying in downtown include: 1) central location; 2) proximity to other businesses; and 3) access to public transportation.
• Areas identified that need to be addressed include 1) transients, 2) panhandlers, and 3) parking.
• The number of people taking public transportation continues to drop, while driving alone is rising; currently 53 percent of downtown workers drive.
• The number of bike commuters remains unchanged from 2015 at 5 percent.
The Downtown Clean & Safe District conducts the Business Census & Survey each year, surveying employers within the I-405/I-5 loop. The district partners with Prosper Portland on employment data provided by the state of Oregon. Other survey data is collected using mailed questionnaires, personal follow-up and block-by-block canvassing to obtain a statistically significant survey sample. Survey data was gathered from October 2015 to October 2016.
Visit the Downtown Portland Clean & Safe District website to read complete results of the survey.