This is an age-old quandary for demographers and economists, says Jason Jurjevich, assistant director of Portland State University’s Population Research Center (PRC). “There’s evidence for both but you probably could say with some certainty that more recently people are driving job location versus the earlier paradigm where jobs drove where people lived.”
In the past, workers stayed with a single employer for their entire career, and living-wage jobs, like those once found in Oregon lumber mills, did not require a college degree. Labor was more fixed to the location of the employer, reinforcing the bond between population and employment. But as relations between workers and employers have become shorter term, and as higher-skilled workers have gained leverage, migration has had less to do with jobs.
“We can’t find enough people,” says Trevor Betenson, controller and HR manager for Palo Alto Software in Eugene. The company, which develops and sells business-planning software, moved from Palo Alto, Calif., in the mid-1980s seeking cheaper labor and rent. Rents are still far below Silicon Valley rates, but the local talent pool of programmers is too small for the company’s needs, he says.
Nearly all of the 40 or so employees are in Eugene and arrived there before being hired. Betenson has tried hard to recruit from outside the area, but says, “Most people aren’t willing to move here if they don’t already live here. Most just don’t want to relocate, period.”