Portland, Oregon


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Population: 510,000
Annual Household Income: $31,260
Median Home Price: $160,000
Climate Perception: constant drizzle.
Reality: frequent drizzle.

Early in the last century, the big thing around these parts when it came to commerce was the fur trade. The purveyors of pelts quickly learned that the Willamette River, which today runs straight through downtown Portland, was conducive to business, spilling as it does into a plethora of waterways, including the main drag Columbia River. Entrepreneurs still flock to the area, drawn by a benevolent business climate that has nurtured such heavyweights as Epson and Nike, whose Beaverton campus is only a 10k jog from Portland. A low cost of living (compared with San Francisco and Seattle) helps small firms weather the troughs. Other fringe benefits: free local bus routes, no retail sales tax or business and occupation tax. The town’s unofficial motto is “We aim to earn.” But all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. When Jack’s not stitching together multimillion-dollar business deals, he’s cruising to the coast or ducking calls in 5,000-acre Forest Park, the largest woodland contained within a U.S. city.

THE HOME FRONT: Dream digs are a house in “The Old Portland Style,” preferably in the Northwest or Southwest neighborhoods. This most likely means a Tudor–Victorians are rare–with covered porch and columns that runs $275,000 to $350,000. (In 1990 you would have paid about $200,000.) For $125,000 and a lot of sweat equity, you may still find a few 2,500-square-foot homes with character in the less-desirable but gentrifying eastern sectors along Hawthorne Boulevard and around Mount Tabor.

THE BACKYARD: Runners and bikers rave about the trails in Forest Park–110 miles of them. To the south, Lake Oswego beckons for those who prefer to grind in a more remote locale. On weekends, locals get up early and set out for their favorite volcano, Mount Hood. In winter, it’s on skis or snowboards. In summer, the trails are dotted with Cascade hikers and mountain-bike goats. Boardsailors wend up the Columbia River Gorge (50 miles from the city) to ride wind currents not found on either coast.

NINE TO FIVE:Enterprising sorts should think visually and act locally: Wild-card gigs are plentiful for smaller ad agencies and graphics service firms, which often help big shots like Nike and Adidas (a relatively recent addition to the scene) surf waves of the sporting goods market. Those just looking for a workaday gig, however, would do well to deal in ones and zeroes, as more people land jobs in the high-tech sector with nearby Intel or Tektronix than with the mighty swoosh. Health-care jobs are bountiful too: Providence Health, Kaiser Permanente, and the Oregon Health Sciences University together provide some 25,000 paychecks.

ON THE TOWN: The book-browsing, coffee-swilling scene looms large here. Powell’s City of Books (one million-plus titles) is a mecca for virtually all residents, especially wallflowerish singles. Top-drawer restaurants include Zefiro and Wildwood. Afterward, take in an indie or classic at the Northwest Film Center, or see what’s on the four stages of the Portland Center for the Performing Arts. On sunny Friday nights in summer, the parade begins at Ram’s Head, on Northwest 23d, with a pint, or across the street at Coffee People with a double cap wrapped in a cup insulator from hometown Java Jackets.

PRICE OF PARADISE: Despite anti-sprawl zoning and new “light rail” lines in and out of town, the traffic crush has only gotten worse through the Portland-Beaverton corridor.

DON’T BE SEEN WITHOUT: Most excellent posture. There are more chiropractors and naturopaths per capita here than in Boulder or Marin County.

BEST OF THE REST BOISE, ID: Mayberry meets computer-geek heaven. AUSTIN, TX: Where your start-up can be as high-tech as your guitar is low-down. CAMBRIDGE, MA: Ph.D.’s from MIT will help you make lots of dough-re-mi.