Urban Tribe - Ride with your kids in front.

Business group to examine impact of ‘Portlandia Effect’

Posted by on March 10th, 2011 at 1:35 pm

Funny, yes; but is it good or bad for business?
(Photo: IFC)

Bicycling and the culture that has sprung up around it in Portland is a major part of our city’s brand. People move here because of our bike-friendly reputation — whether they’re drawn to mundane things like our great bike parking and bikeway network or more attention-grabbing things like our record-breaking annual World Naked Bike Ride.

With bikes featured front and center in the surprise success of the IFC mini-series Portlandia, that reputation is now stronger than ever.

But what (if any) impact does this have on our city’s business climate? And what about all the other aspects of Portland’s culture like our penchant for locally sourced food or our infamous young and unemployed residents that Portlandia creators mock as having moved here to retire?

Believe it or not, this is actually a topic that is getting some serious attention.

Tomorrow, the Portland Advertising Foundation will host an event called: The Portlandia Effect: Portland’s alternative lifestyles growing our economy. Here’s a blurb from organizers:

Ever wondered how local lifestyles and practices influence our business success on the national landscape?

“Oregonians and Portland’s Creative community may be experiencing first-hand the confluence of Pop Culture and Commerce: The Portlandia Effect. How does the business community outside of Oregon respond to our culture? Join PAF and a panel of expert brand strategists and economic development gurus, including our region’s most progressive thought leaders, for a spirited discussion of the perception of Portland’s laid back alternative lifestyle on our business environment.”

You can register for the event and see who’s on the panel here.

I know that many Portlanders moved here and/or started doing business here because of our bike-friendly reputation. To the extent that bicycling can be considered an “alternative lifestyle,” I’d say the Portlandia effect is definitely real and that yes, it does impact our city’s bottom line (positively, in my opinion).

What do you think?

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Thank you — Jonathan

  • Jennifer Willis March 10, 2011 at 1:41 pm

    Thanks for posting about this and letting us know about this upcoming conference. I still think it’s funny to hear bicycling referred to as part of an “alternative lifestyle.” If Portlandia is having a positive impact — both here in Portland and in the larger market — I hope that part of this involves making bikes and two-wheel transportation more mainstream.

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    • davemess March 10, 2011 at 2:19 pm

      Yes, I agree. I think Portland is one of the few places in the US, where riding a bike doesn’t automatically make you alternative. People here don’t do a double take when you say you commuted by bike to work, like most cities.

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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) March 10, 2011 at 2:30 pm

      The point isn’t whether or not bicycling in Portland should be considered “alternative”, it’s whether or not people’s perception of bicycling — in all its interesting forms, some of them mainstream some of them far from it — impacts their decision to do business here.

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  • DK March 10, 2011 at 2:30 pm

    People sure aren’t drawn here to mt. bike. 🙁

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  • John Mulvey March 10, 2011 at 2:40 pm

    I love it when something that’s gone on for years gets named after something that’s been around a few months.

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    • Lapis March 11, 2011 at 10:17 am

      The original Portlandia (mostly not seen on a bike, but there’s a great piece of her jousting by Tiago DeJerk) has been here a number of years, before most of us were biking.

      What would you call it, John?

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  • Nick V March 10, 2011 at 3:24 pm

    One of the main reasons that I moved here in 1998 was because of my interest in cycling and commuting by bike. I heard that you could survive here without a car. You couldn’t do that where I came from, and that continues to be the main thing that keeps me in Portland.

    I only saw snippets of “Portlandia” and I would not say that it showed Portlanders in a favorable light. I do think that much of it was funny and spot on (the underlying anger, the self-righteousness, the reluctance to, um, grow up, etc.). I don’t know if potentially incoming businesses will embrace those depictions and I do know that they’ll be reluctant to hire young people who have more or less “retired”.

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  • Dwainedibbly March 10, 2011 at 5:52 pm

    I had been interested in moving here for years because of Portland’s progressive reputation and especially the attention given to the needs of people on bicycles. When a job opportunity arose last Spring, I jumped. I can’t see myself ever moving back to Florida.

    Mrs Dibbly & I love Portlandia. Life is best when not taken too seriously.

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  • BURR March 10, 2011 at 6:06 pm

    all the darn midwesterners and floridians should stay home and help make bike culture happen there, but instead they’reall move to portland and clogging the roads with their cars and poor driving skills

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    • are March 10, 2011 at 9:21 pm

      i did my work on improving the bike situation in the midwest, and then i came here to get rid of the car

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    • Paul Johnson March 10, 2011 at 9:33 pm

      You’re confusing the midwest with California on that one. I should know, I moved to Tulsa last year because Portland’s economy died (largely due to the influx from people who went too far north on I5 and forgot to turn around).

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  • Crash N. Burns March 10, 2011 at 6:48 pm

    In some way I agree with all the comments so far. Weird.

    I laughed at some of Portlandia, but I don’t think it did Portland any favors. I do however feel, that with all it’s differences, bicycling in Portland is good for business.

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  • Michweek March 10, 2011 at 8:51 pm

    I think I’m under-employed. I wish I wasn’t young and retired just yet. It sucks to have no money safety net in this society. Luckily I don’t need much money, ahem bike, to get around and live, but it still sucks!

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  • Brad March 10, 2011 at 9:55 pm

    Approximately two minutes or so of bike footage featuring a laughably angry and self-absorbed character from a show on a minor cable network impacts our economic fortunes? That’s quite a reach even for BikePortland.

    The show ran for the past six weeks and the weather got a bit better for riding during that time but I must have missed all those positives. Did unemployment suddenly fall to under 7%? West End Bikes must be one huge store!

    Employment and economic growth in the Portland area has been stagnant for quite some time. If any real players were thinking about locating here, I suppose taxes, an educated workforce, zoning, licensing, permitting, fees, business friendliness, regulatory environment, transportation, and whole host of other concerns outrank a Fred Armisen bit on a fixie when making a multi-million dollar decision. Maybe it will help P.A.F. sell some luncheon tickets and that will solve our regions woes!

    If this show and bike culture attracting more people to a town without jobs is the best shot we’ve got…then Portland is OVER!

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    • BURR March 11, 2011 at 10:38 am

      Actually, Fred wasn’t on a real fixie, it was a faux fixie with a coaster brake, because he was afraid to ride a real fixie.

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  • adamdoug2011 March 11, 2011 at 2:57 am

    I think that the show is mocking portland and that the next time I meet someone in “advertising” who is worth the space and air they take up, it will be the first time. they take people like us who actually do things,then they package it as some bs conference and they try to make a brand out of it. I will pass.

    I can imagine that the majority of the people in the PAF would not know how to change a flat tire. but, they sure would know what a tallbike and a fixie is – at least by now. pfffft.

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  • Mabsf March 11, 2011 at 8:58 am

    Reminds me of the “cheers” thing: recreated bar and gift shop in Boston to match a tv show…
    While I think portlandia is mostly funny, attributing new business to the show, is “putting the bird on it”.

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  • Frog March 11, 2011 at 9:10 am

    The underlying culture of Portland produces a population that commutes by bike, and that is a great thing. Portlandia is NOT a great thing, and bicycles themselves do not an economy make. Portland has a highly educated but unemployed workforce. They have to do something to keep busy. Like organizing events that toil away the time talking about how a bit part on a mediocre show on an irrelevant network influences our contracting business environment. That show made fun of the few bright spots we have in business: the food movement, our arts culture, and our focus on local business. And it just wasn’t that funny. Lets not milk it in a misguided effort to avoid actually working.

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  • Steve B March 11, 2011 at 12:35 pm

    I just got back from trip to the east coast, and I got asked about the show a lot. FWIW, Brooklynites and Philadelphians seemed to identify with certain segments of of the show, and thought Portland was merely the setting of a skit-comedy based on contemporary young white American culture.

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  • geoff March 11, 2011 at 3:56 pm

    The bike culture is only one part of the draw Portland seems to have. There are other more powerful factors like quality of life and cost of living (to which biking does contribute).
    Can you identify the effect of a single factor, sure. But there will be a great margin of error.
    I’d be interested in the results of the study.

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    • Paul Johnson March 12, 2011 at 12:00 pm

      I’m not sure bicycling really contributes to the exorbitantly high cost of living in Portland.

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      • april March 14, 2011 at 10:47 am

        Whether or not Portland has a high cost of living seems to depend on who you ask. People who come here from larger cities like Seattle or Boston can’t get over how cheap it is to live here, but people from smaller or Midwestern towns seem to think it’s super-expensive. It’s all relative.

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        • Paul Johnson March 14, 2011 at 4:59 pm

          I’m from Portland, it has a high cost of living. If you’re not from Portland, your opinion on Portland’s cost of living matters not.

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    • adamdoug2011 March 13, 2011 at 4:55 am

      when people like “geoff(old)” use words like “seems”, you know they don’t know much. yeah, you will read the study, but you won’t know what us kids are talkin about.

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  • Ride4Beer March 11, 2011 at 9:41 pm

    I moved here to Portland for the two B’s, Biking and Beer. Mostly for the access to great beer though since I can and have commuted, toured and trained in some very bike unfriendly, if not downright dangerous, locales. The infrastructure here is wonderful though and does add some protections for us.

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  • adamdoug2011 March 13, 2011 at 4:54 am

    yeah, well, I am with the two b’s – but, the passive nature of portland does not allow for much real change. I mean, look at the “cycletrack” – its built for downtown – which is all that city hall really cares about.

    The climate in portland lends itself to people who wanna have fun(who have boyfriends with secret family money, aka “reedies”) but do not know much AND, really cool people who have to stay underground in portland because of the PPB and PBA issues that are well known. hot pepper!

    And, that green paint that they use to “protect us” is really slippery when wet, etc. When ignorance and passivity collide, you get portlandia. enjoy.

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  • Daddy Warbucks March 13, 2011 at 9:18 pm

    This great TV series has no affect on the business climate in Portland. Similar to our reputation for a bike friendly city. It bears no significant economic benefit. Having access to cheap electricity (e.g. Google’s choice to host data centers in The Dalles) — That is an example of something that wins business. Bike friendly city, as cool as it is, isn’t worth jack for business.

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    • Paul Johnson March 14, 2011 at 4:58 pm

      770-1450₥/kWh is pretty expensive given that more central locations charge 610₥/kWh or less (Portland General Electric versus Public Service Company of Oklahoma, industrial rates). Google and Facebook’s choice to go move out to the desert was primarily motivated by the fact Oregon doesn’t expect corporations to pay taxes. This is why Intel is so huge in Washington County, yet the county can’t afford to bring the roads to spec (this alone makes me wonder why they’re widening Bethany instead of a road that still hasn’t received MSTIPS 3 retrofits, like 25th or Glencoe or damn near anything in Forest Grove and Cornelius).

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