Go global or go away? No way!

A look back at the shifting sands of Portland’s growth and development.

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A look back at the shifting sands of Portland’s growth and development


In ancient times—forty years ago—or when dinosaurs still ruled the earth and I started my career in commercial real estate, Portland boasted locally-owned corporations, locally-owned real estate, locally-owned real estate and stock brokers, and downtown was the center of our universe.

But gradually, national companies, like the incredible chicken heart that swallowed Manhattan, began to ingest our local stalwarts one-by-one: US Bank, Pacificorp, PGE and Tektronix to name a few, in some cases, replacing their corporate cultures with alien body snatcher teams.

National real estate developers also appeared on the scene and created majestic suburban projects like Kruse Way and Lincoln Center complete with “free” parking. Soon, one could hear the sucking sounds as tenants were pulled out of downtown office buildings into these office parks in their backyards.

Eventually a new breed of institutional investor flew into town, pension fund managers, paying unspeakably high prices with your 401K and IRA accounts for trophy, and later semi-trophy properties, somewhat like the current NBA teams signing semi-good free agents to $60 million contracts.

These institutional gurus competed against foreign bargain hunters like the Japanese Keiretsus who flew into town in the 1980s with satchels full of hyper-inflated yen with which they built Pacwest Center, and scarfed up Umpqua (formerly Ben Franklin) Plaza and Lincoln Center.

Today we have even larger national and foreign companies and investors munching on their smaller brethren and morphing into global behemoths. As soon as Elon Musk gets SpaceX really humming, these global giants are poised to become Cosmic Corporations and Interstellar Enterprises.

Meanwhile, back in PDX, some wonderful start-ups have emerged from the stumps of acquired, vanished or decomposing corporations.

A whole new creative economy is booming based on innovation, technology and fun. Companies with whimsical names like Puppet Labs, Elemental Technologies, Urban Airship, Zapproved and Jama Software are our new job engines, and scores more are scrambling to find their own niches and funding.

Even our existing corporate leaders like Nike, FEI, and Columbia Sportswear that continue to grow and overcome corporate Orks in the global battlefield are driven by the latest technological breakthroughs and data analytics.

And we have a new citizenry, our free thinking Creative Class, whose bubbling growth permeates everything – corporate cultures, lifestyles and attitudes. With our downtown once again at the hub, Portland is growing and attracting an amazing gang of innovators from around the country and the world, impacting every aspect of our economy – from software design to services, restaurants, and artisan-based businesses, and reinventing our work environments in the process. (By the way, can I sell you an app to manage your apps?)

It is a marvelous time to be in Portland, a city that evolves in wonderful but sometime scary ways on a daily basis.

And this creative momentum is increasing. In 2020 we will be innovating in ways we cannot even imagine today, and we may look back with nostalgia, and say, “Wasn’t 2015 quaint?!”

  • Jon Carder recently retired as president of Melvin Mark Brokerage Company.