A feast of creative jobs bound for Portland

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Saturday, July 01, 2006

s_RobinOregon’s Private 150 list, our annual ranking of the top revenue-producing companies, is always a fun horse race of who’s up and who’s down, who’s in and who’s out. But it’s also a telling economic X-ray.

This year’s group generated a whopping $3 billion more in revenue that last year’s ranked companies, while at the same time the aggregate number of jobs (in and outside Oregon) remained virtually unchanged from 2005. It suggests that even though it’s no longer considered a jobless recovery, job growth is still a concern.

So when an Oregon company says it plans to create 500 jobs, and those jobs are in a tiny but important part of the creative-class economy — film editors, writers, producers, photographers, artists, animators — that’s pretty good news.

Laika, Phil Knight’s animation movie studio in Portland, is, as managing editor Christina Williams writes in our cover story, one of the sexier business development stories to unfold in Oregon lately. Not just for the buzz factor of the number of jobs, but also because of what they represent.

As Steve Oster can tell you, permanent, stable jobs in this industry are hard to come by. He’s lived in Portland for seven years, and has been the executive director of the Oregon Film & Video Office for just four months. During most of his time here he has had to commute to Los Angeles to work TV production jobs, coming home on the weekends, because there wasn’t enough work in the production industry here. It’s a commute he says many in the film and video industry have had to make.

The lack of enough stable jobs is the biggest block to maintaining and growing the workforce in this industry, Oster says. “It’s a lot of feast and famine. But the addition of Laika and its two back-to-back animated features is a major shift for Oregon. It adds hundreds of jobs, and they last for two to three years.” In the entertainment industry, that looks like stability. He adds that these jobs are also important because this is an industry that pays above-average wages.

Oster thinks this year is a turning point in Oregon’s film/video industry. “We are at the beginning of a large growth spurt in the creative industries in the state,” he notes. Oster estimates that out-of-state film production companies working in Oregon in 2005 brought in $23 million, a 71% increase over the previous year. State incentives (10% rebate on production costs up to $250,000, and a 6.2% rebate on payroll taxes) are kicking in, and Oregon is whipping a bit of Canadian behind by grabbing some of its business.  

One example is Feast of Love, directed by Academy Award winner Robert Benton (Kramer vs. Kramer, Jaws) and starring Morgan Freeman and Greg Kinnear, which will be shot in Portland in its entirety starting in August. Feast is a Lakeshore Entertainment film, an L.A.-based studio that also made Million Dollar Baby. Oster says the production probably would have gone to Canada a few years ago. But with the Oregon incentives, an unfavorable exchange rate and the lower cost of doing business in Oregon, the movie landed here.

The growth of stable, creative-class jobs with above-average pay is a great story line for Oregon, and Feast of Love fits right in. The movie, based on a novel by Charles Baxter, follows the ups and downs of a group of friends in Oregon. Kinnear’s character? A nice but troubled coffee-shop owner.

— Robin Doussard
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