Bendafornia: What’s driving the Northern California migration?

bendiforniathumbBY KEN MAES

A huge migration from Northern California has contributed to average 16% growth per year since 1990.

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A huge migration from Northern California has contributed to 16% average growth per year since 1990.


Photo courtesy: Flickr — Matthew Hickey

Bend, Oregon circa 1990: 20,469 people are enjoying the pristine air, crystal clear water, world class skiing and quality of life second to none. Downtown feels “down home” and uncongested. Bend is still a local secret.

Bend, Oregon circa 2015: 84,080 people — an increase of 410% — are enjoying the same stunning recreational activities but with big changes. There’s a new bypass to handle the traffic but Bend — now lined with trendy shops and restaurants — has a rush hour, crowded streets, and construction everywhere. The secret is out.

Call it Bendafornia, Oregon. A huge migration from Northern California has contributed to the almost 16% growth on average per year since 1990.

Several factors are transforming Bend into one of the fastest growing cities in the country: An improved real estate market in the Golden State, active baby boomers looking for the next big adventure and a bustling job market in Oregon.

Home values in California far exceed most areas of the country

That’s especially true in the Bay Area. As of June 15, 2015, the average home sale price in San Francisco is $833,000 versus Bend, Oregon at $293,000. A difference of $540,000! A lot of smart Bay area residents are doing their math, selling their homes paying cash for a nice place in Bend–and grinning over the $247,000 still in the bank.

A California renter scouting for property in Bend recently told me: “I do not own because I’ve had rent control the past ten years. I’ve been planning on moving to Bend, hopefully in three to five years. Homes in San Francisco start at 1 million and I do not feel it’s worth it to buy a condo or small one bedroom in comparison to what I can buy Bend.

Trena O’Bill, a long time loan officer in Bend shepherds many Californians through the process of becoming Oregonians. She says affordability isn’t the only reason for the migration. “The common reasons they want to live here is they love the area, the friendliness of the people — they actually look at you and smile — the bounty of outdoor activities, it’s dog-friendly and there’s wonderful food and drink.”

Baby Boomers On The Go

Another driver of growth is the aging Baby Boomer population. According to Bend Chamber of Commerce President Tim Casey, over 40 percent of the population growth in Deschutes County

is people 65 and older. “For those looking to save money and spend their golden years in the great outdoors, there’s no better place to move to.”

Jobs and Lifestyle

Jobs are the primary engine for driving growth, and in 2014, Oregon was the top destination state in the country, according to a survey conducted by United Van Lines. “People come to the area for the lifestyle but they still need to make a living and Bend allows that,” says Lana Strom operations manager for a Bend mortgage company. “There are a lot of new jobs in the medical and IT/Technology fields. Many people can work remotely. They have a constant income stream and a lower cost of living.”

Damon Runberg, Bend’s Regional Economist cites a Portland State University study that found Deschutes County was the fastest growing county in Oregon in 2014. In Deschutes County, the unemployment rate is 6 percent, while the State of California’s unemployment rate is 7.7 percent.

Many people who make the move are launching their own businesses. Bend is the sixteenth largest metro area in the country for high-tech startup density. Pretty amazing for a town with fewer than 100,000 people!

In addition to the four major data centers that include Facebook and Apple, Bend currently boasts 95 startups across multiple technology sectors: 47 software, 26 hardware/semi and 22 medical technology related startups. Nearby Portland Oregon (just 160 miles away) is home to over 300 startups; between the two markets, nearly 80 new startups are forming each year.

Bend: Boom or Bust?

A healthy housing market is always the foundation for future economic growth and all the signals indicate the boom for Bend, and really all of Deschutes County, is not over. In April, rental vacancy was at 2.4% for single family homes, and .8% for duplexes, according to The Central Oregon Rental Owners Association’s annual report. In that same report, 1.4 to 1.6 percent of all Bend apartment units surveyed, about 400, were available to rent.

So Bend has a lot to crow about: The top inbound county in the top inbound state, affordable real estate values, dynamic job growth, low vacancy rates and a legendary quality of life.

The secret is out, Bend is on the map and poised for continued growth thanks in part to the Northern California migration.

  • Ken Maes is vice president of Skyline Home Loans NW