Gophers find home in Portland

Some U grads are heading to the Northwest looking for a fun place to live.

Special to the Daily Nina Petersen-Perlman worked at the Daily as a reporter from 2005 to 2006 and as managing editor from 2006 to 2007. After graduating, she had internships at the nonprofit online newspaper Voice of San Diego and the Star TribuneâÄôs Washington, D.C. Bureau, and a temporary reporting job at the Duluth News Tribune. She moved to Portland in July 2008 and is currently working at the Regional Arts and Culture in their workplace giving program.

PORTLAND, Ore. âÄî On a drizzly Saturday afternoon in February, about a dozen University alumni gathered at a Portland sports bar to watch the Gophers take down the Bulldogs on the ice. Some of them have been out here for decades, but the conversation centered around walleye fishing, Garrison Keillor and the pitiful way Oregon had reacted to a freak series of snowstorms in December. You can take the Gopher out of Minnesota âĦ According to data published in 2005 by the Minnesota Alumni Association, Oregon is one of the top 10 non-Midwestern states for alums to find residence after graduation. ItâÄôs not hard to find a Minnesotan here, and itâÄôs not hard to figure out why they came. Alumnus Scott Likely has been here for nearly three years and said the climate and geography drew him to the area. The local food and recreational opportunities kept him here. âÄúItâÄôs like Minneapolis but more fun,âÄù he said. Within a few hours, one can drive east from the cityâÄôs center to majestic Mt. Hood or west to the Pacific Ocean. Compared to MinnesotaâÄôs rolling hills and lakes, that physical landscape is a stunner. Throw in the mild winters, the bug-free summers and vibrant cultural atmosphere, and the prospect of moving to Portland is not a hard sell. The problem is, with so many degree holders having the same idea, Portland is home to a glut of highly qualified applicants searching for a limited number of positions, creating a tough job market even before the economy tanked. Despite the difficulties, more keep coming. Andrew Thomas moved here in October armed with his months-old degree from the University in ecology, evolution and behavior. He was drawn by the usual suspects: the cityâÄôs âÄúbikability,âÄù its eco-friendly sensibility and the City of RoseâÄôs mountainous, arboreal geography. The favorable ratio of micro-breweries per capita doesnâÄôt hurt either. âÄúI love my beer,âÄù he said. âÄúI miss Summit, but this is beer-vana.âÄù But Thomas, like so many in this state with a whopping 9.9 percent unemployment rate, hasnâÄôt had any luck finding a job. Portland-based economist Joe Cortright of Impresa Inc. was a lead researcher for a 2004 study of the movements of 25- to 34-year-olds in major U.S. metro areas called âÄúThe Young and the Restless.âÄù Using Census data and focus groups in cities like Austin, Texas, Raleigh, S.C. and Portland, he attempted to pinpoint the characteristics that make those cities attractive to young professionals. In Portland, itâÄôs the environment more than the job market that young adults have found attractive, Cortright said. âÄúItâÄôs been the case for some time that people are moving here without jobs âÄî they just decided they want to try living here,âÄù Cortright said. âÄúFrom the standpoint of employers, itâÄôs a really good thing. Lawyers, engineers, people in healthcare are all awash in unsolicited résumés from people who want to move here or already have.âÄù This makes for an incredibly competitive labor market, where those with bachelorâÄôs degrees find themselves competing with those who have professional work experience on top of their college education, Cortright said. âÄúThatâÄôs why a lot of people embark on DIY careers,âÄù he said. âÄúA lot of people arenâÄôt getting a regular 40-hour-a-week job. TheyâÄôre getting a part-time job and doing other things to build their reputation in the field in which theyâÄôre interested.âÄù Thomas envisions himself heading elsewhere for grad school, but wants to stay in the Portland area for another year or two. âÄúWe all suffer from growing up without an ocean, and we must seek it eventually in our lives, like reverse salmon,âÄù he said. âÄîNina Petersen-Perlman can be reached at [email protected]