by Oakley Brooks
If you want a job punching rivets, you can still get it. In China. But if you want to build stuff for a living in Portland, fill your toolbox with lasers, programmable robots, and materials conceived last week. Pioneering high-tech companies like Tektronix and Precision Castparts have nurtured a highly skilled workforce here, capable of creating complex products, like streetcars and computer chips. Manufacturers already employ close to 110,000 people in the metro area, and their output is twice the national average. Our location has a little something to do with this: the Columbia River ensures a steady flow of low-cost power, and our deepwater ports give us a direct shot to China—home of the world’s most rapidly growing economy.
While job growth (the number of new jobs added) is expected to decrease over the next few years, a wave of anticipated retirements means this broad sector could need as many as 50,000 more people across Oregon by decade’s end. The workforce will have to remain nimble, though, as product demands change. To wit: in 2009, when Vancouver, Washington’s high-end yacht builder Christensen saw its business model, erm, sinking (turns out fancy boats aren’t a recession must-have), the company won a $1 million federal grant to retool some of its equipment to make wind turbines and wave-energy test buoys.
Savvy such as this, we’ve got aplenty; a big question looming is whether we have enough land. Our penchant for preserving farmland and habitat leaves flat, easily developed sites on freeways, rail, and rivers hard to come by. So, to have our fresh veggies, native birds, and jobs, the region will have to prove that initiatives like the Portland Development Commission’s plan to clean up polluted brownfield sites can happen fast enough to satisfy manufacturers’ needs—at least if we still want the trade with China to be two-way.
Tektronix Since its inception in 1946 as an oscilloscope design and manufacturing firm, Tek has secured 697 patents and remains a heavyweight in test and measurement tools for electronics companies.
Precision Castparts Precision shifted from making saw chains to airplane parts in the 1960s and never looked back: it’s now the no. 2 Oregon company on the Fortune 500 list and employs more than 18,000 people worldwide.
Hot jobs: Fabricators, computer-aided metal-workers; semiconductor and solar plant operators; manufacturing technicians and electrical engineers; technical sales and marketing staff.