Survey finds growth in downtown Portland economy despite livability issues

A survey out of Downtown Clean & Safe found between 2015 and 2016, employment, wages, and the number of businesses grew.

PORTLAND, Ore. -- The owners of the recently-opened Phat Blue Buddha food cart near the corner of Southwest Stark Street and 3rd Avenue are former Floridians. They love Portland.

“There's so much life in Portland and so much diversity, and that's one of the reasons we were drawn here,” said Lucia Branton, who owns the business with her husband, Thai.

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They are an example of new business owners who have moved to the downtown core. A survey from Downtown Clean & Safe found that between 2015 and 2016, employment, wages, and the number of businesses grew.

Jobs grew 2 percent, wages grew 6 percent, and the number of businesses went up by 4 percent.

The survey indicates the downtown economy is thriving.

But while the vast majority of people and businesses surveyed said they felt safe, about half said cleanliness needs improvement.

The Brantons agree.

“I've come to my cart in the morning and found needles, drugs stashed underneath the AC outside my vent, vomit, urine, and that's on top of the normal waste from people eating after the carts have closed. From the homeless, a lot of that,” said Thai Branton.

Portlanders notice it too.

“Using the bathroom on the streets, and I’ve seen a lot of different things down here and that could absolutely deter people from coming down here and having a good time,” said Andre Anderson, who lives in Portland.

Thai Branton said the level of cleanliness on city streets can be a little embarrassing.

“It’s not putting our best foot forward when we have such a huge tourist economy here,” he said.

Downtown Clean & Safe, a program that promotes businesses by providing things like cleaning and security services throughout more than 200 blocks in the downtown core, has added more staffing for its mobile cleaning units.

It will also install more garbage cans by next summer.

Staff at Clean & Safe said it's also encouraging to see Mayor Ted Wheeler creating high-pedestrian zones and expanding police walking patrols.

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Michael Cox, the Director of Communications for Mayor Ted Wheeler’s office, said the city's economy is on fire, with a record number of people employed and record business license taxes coming in.

“Those record business license taxes have allowed us to invest record amounts into homeless services including homeless prevention, shelter, mental health and addiction services and permanent housing,” said Cox.

Meanwhile, business owners like the Brantons are hoping for a solution, for the sake of businesses, visitors to the city, and the homeless as winter approaches.

“We hope the solution is exactly that, a solution not a band-aid,” said Lucia Branton.