Tech Fest NW just celebrated its sixth year in Portland this week, and its message was loud and clear: tech in Portland is here to stay, and the community isn’t just vibrant, but it’s surging with momentous force into the future.
Ever since the 90s, America’s west coast has been the champion of the global tech community. But the attention has largely been focused on Seattle and San Francisco, leaving the long sleepy Portland out of the conversation and in the shadows of its two dominant neighbors.
But that’s changing, and it’s changing quickly. Maybe Portlandia is to blame for bringing the spotlight onto the quirky river town; maybe it was just ubiquitous access to the internet in general, our social networks slowly exposing the majestic beauty of the region to the world at large, calling forth the misfits, thinkers, and creatives from all over the country; or maybe it was simply the ridiculous growth of SF and Seattle, their populations overflowing due to their popularity and outrageous rent prices, forcing their tech-loving citizens to cascade along the I-5 to that last affordable beacon conveniently located along the western frontier.
Whatever the reason, the numbers are in, and Mayor Ted Wheeler was more than happy to relay them to those gathered as he kicked off TFNW2017:
- Portland’s tech industry has seen a 60% growth in the last ten years (compare that to Austin’s 41.4% rise in tech-industry employment between 2001 and 2013)
- Portland now directly employees over 10,500 people in the industry (while this may seem meager compared to the likes of SF and Seattle, it’s a massive increase for a city that only five short years ago was predominately rooted in the service industry.)
- TechFestNW2017 brought out an estimated ~1000 attendees, forcing the festival to upgrade to its fourth venue in only 6 years, now occupying two floors of the beautiful and spacious Portland Art Museum.
- TechFestNW 2017 received 400 applications from start-ups vying for only 70 pitch positions.
Add to this a film and animation industry that’s seeing a massive influx of studios who are excited to work with companies like Laika (the independent studio that created the oscar-nominated “Kubo and the Two Strings”) and the creative tech scene is proving itself as a robust and stable market. And when you have a stability, you have the foundation for immense growth. This potential was even noticed by notable British magazine Monocle as far back as 2014, when they put the eyes of the global business community on Portland by declaring it to be the only American city on its list of “Top 25 Most Livable Cities in the World”. And from personal experience, the global community has responded to the call over the last three years, as the influx of expatriates I run into seems to increase daily.
It all combines to a hungry community that has managed to keep the barrier-to-entry low and inviting, even while big names like Daimler, Google, and AirBnB are quickly getting involved with vast amounts of money and opportunity that act as a spearhead for the growth. And if we’re willing to let the constantly-doubling-in-size, TechFestNW, act as an indicator for Portland’s tech community, then Portland’s future in the global industry is looking incredibly promising.
Note: We’ll be bringing you more of our TFNW17 coverage soon, including everything from local Robopocalypse author, Daniel Wilson, to New York Time’s cybersecurity journalist, Nicole Perlroth. So stay tuned, and stay curious.