Portland, Oregon: Silicon Valley’s New Suburb?

Portland Startup Weekend

Geeks pack the house at Portland Startup Weekend. (Original photo here.)

Portland, Oregon — the city you’ve heard you should like, the city where the dream of the 90s is alive, the city that attracts even more nicknames than hipsters — is also the city where your ramen-profitable startup might just buy you a lot more ramen.

San Francisco is in the midst of an affordable housing crisis — or, perhaps better termed, an unaffordable housing crisis. A neighborhood map showing rents for an average one-bedroom apartment (and this is average) went viral on Facebook recently, prompting an examination of the city’s affordability for bootstrapped founders and emerging startups.


Plus utilities. Parking spot: $325 extra.

San Francisco hasn’t been a cheap place to live for a long time (has it ever?), but the rent spike, which shows no sign of slowing, pushes the limits of sanity. It’s no surprise that the startup scene is chronically obsessed with raising money (see Ryan Lawler’s dissection of the 500 Startups “rap” video), since so much of it is necessary just to pay one’s bills — not to mention those six-figure developer salaries.

The cost of living is so exorbitant that in SF, owning a house has gone from a middle class commonplace to symbol of wealth and prestige, and this is the case amongst a class of professionals who enjoy tremendous privilege to begin with. Is it any wonder, then, that BART workers, occupying a lower socioeconomic stratum, expect a higher salary?

It’s time to reexamine the premium one pays to live in San Francisco, particularly in light of a nearby city that offers better amenities, lovely lifestyle perks, a comparatively non-existent crime rate, and a flight to SFO that takes less time than a drive up from San Jose. The name of the town is Portland, and in addition to being an awesome place to live, it is much, much, much, much, much cheaper. I moved here a year ago and never looked back, and I hope other founders follow suit.

I sit here in the spacious living room of my two-bedroom apartment, adjacent to my eat-in kitchen, whose capacious windows overlook a canopy of trees in the summer, and a distant mountain in the winter. For this, I pay $695 per month — that’s the total price of the place — and it includes water, garbage, and parking. We’re in walking distance of an amazing local grocery store, a wonderful library branch, a coffee shop (Starbucks, but hey), and one of the best Japanese restaurants in the city. When we want to go downtown, we hop on the zippy #12 bus, part of the #1-ranked TriMet system. And did I mention there’s no sales tax?

When you want to go to SF, it’s a breeze. Rapid train service whisks you from downtown to the airport in about 20 minutes, where a $150 round-trip Virgin America flight lands about 80 minutes after it takes off. Once in the City by the Bay, it’s easy to spend a week or two crashing with friends, or staying at an affordable AirBnB, or even splurging on a Hotwire room if you’re feeling spendy.

For these reasons, I consider Portland more of a distant suburb to Silicon Valley than a separate city, a place where one can stay connected to the bustle of the Bay Area while living on a bohemian budget. One can be immersed in the culture and economy of San Francisco — I do run #sfbeta from here, after all — while finding respite in the abundant nature, the quieter pace of life, the wonderful coffee shops and restaurants, the delightfully odd assortment of retail stores, the thriving art scene, the splendorous parks, the functioning government (yes, such a thing exists), not to mention the fact that a developer’s salary here is $68,900, a wage so much drastically cheaper than Silicon Valley’s that it deserves its own hashtag.

Not to mention, Portland has a veritable tech scene of it’s own. It’s a major destination for Bay Area tech companies, including Intel, SalesForce, eBay, Neo, and EngineYard, and houses the headquarters of thriving local startups like Urban Airship and Simple. The open source community is one of the best in the country, home of OSCON, Open Source Bridge, and Free Geek, not to mention Linus Torvalds, the man himself.

In the startup world, there’s still no place like San Francisco, and it’s important to stay connected to the city’s pulse. You can do that while living in Portland and get the best of both worlds. I hope you’ll drop by for a visit, or move up here and join me.



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