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Jobs Watch: A bear of a labor market

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Ben Jacklet
Wednesday, December 16, 2009

It's the holiday socializing season, and that means a lot of catching up with friends and acquaintances, no small percentage of whom are looking for work in a job market that is simply not improving. The conversation can turn complicated quickly when you ask the old standard, "What are you up to these days?"

I wish I could start a company with the people I've spoken to randomly over the past week or so who are struggling in their search for work. They include two top-notch copy editors, an apparel expert, a Reed College grad with a great attitude and awesome baking skills, an attorney specializing in intellectual property rights, a hot-stuff investigative reporter and a college graduate with cafe and bar experience who has yet to receive a single response for her job applications through Craigslist. OK, so this would make for a highly unusual business team. But you get the point: Oregon is packed with smart, talented people who are eager to work — if only there were jobs. No doubt you know plenty of people in similar situations.

The latest unemployment figures show that the state has lost 84,300 private sector jobs from November 2008 to November 2009. That's a 6% decline overall, with construction jobs down 15.1%, manufacturing jobs down 14% and real estate jobs down 14.2%. Those numbers seem even worse when you think of where Oregon's economy was a year ago. Things weren't exactly popping then, and they've skidded downhill from there.

When this much talent is wandering around untapped, there's a rather gaping hole in the economic recovery we are allegedly experiencing. It reminds me of the window dressing I've noticed in downtown Portland to make vacant spaces appear vibrant, or the "50% leased" sign on the stalled Park Avenue West building that strikes me as highly doubtful given that the newly completed 17-story building at First and Main has not attracted a single tenant.

It takes serious persistence to find decent employment in this economy. Take my friend Pete Forsyth, who was recently hired by the Wikimedia Foundation. The guy has written thousands of articles for Wikipedia over the past few years. His total compensation for that labor was zero, but he did finally work his way into a job, and he definitely earned it.

Another friend who beat the odds is my old Oregon Business colleague Abraham Hyatt. Since leaving the magazine he has reinvented himself as a digital journalism maestro, and now he's landed an editorial position with ReadWriteWeb, a futuristic newsroom headquartered somewhere in cyberspace, where all communications are enabled by Skype.

My last example of determination in a tough economic landscape is my tennis buddy Dave Shanley, who is bootstrapping a mobile technology company called CrowdCompass with two partners out of his home in Southeast Portland. They're working overtime without salaries and looking for Angel funding. Dave's confident they'll atract some. But Dave's a confident person; you have to be to do what he is doing.

It takes guts to reinvent yourself to land a great job, or to race to fill a niche that nobody has yet filled. There's a lot of people trying to beat the odds in Oregon these days. The more of them that succeed, the better off we'll be in 2010 and beyond.

Ben Jacklet is the Managing Editor of Oregon Business.



0 #1 I really do understand....Jon 2009-12-17 09:45:12
Your article really rang true for me as I have experienced the same thing; so many highly-qualifie d, experienced, educated people that are looking for the next opportunity in the Portland/Vancou ver area, not because they are picky but because the purported recovery jobs do not exist!

Like your aforementioned examples, I have been out of work since the company I worked for imploded and I was laid off in June, 2008, right before the mass lay-offs. While there were some opportunities in the latter half of 2008 (unfortunately in garden spots like Los Angeles, Mobile, Washington D.C., and Wichita), there have not been any in the Portland metro area.

I am of the mindset that I need to consider moving, but then the question is WHERE? The other parts of the country have the same or worse problems with providing any opportunities in their local area and will not consider hiring out of their area.

I had earlier this year reached a conclusion that the jobs are not coming back here so I concluded that I should start my own business in the renewable sector, thinking that the stimulus funds would be a natural fit to the Oregon area only to find out the competition and red tape is incredible to take advantage of that sector.

I also am involved at an executive level with several startup companies in the renewable, medical, technology and defense areas that could go crazy and add 50-500 local people within two years but all we need is funding. Well, we know how far that subject goes since this is one of the worst geographic areas for getting investors to spring for any funding. If there are any investors that read this that really want a top notch team to lead your investment then let me know.

One would think that having an MBA, 11 years in technical engineering, operations, automation, project management, 16 years in technical product business development/sal es and having a get-it-done attitude that can get things done would go far. Maybe I have been looking in the wrong places but I am also looking for some great opportunities where I can deliver and really get the job done. Any ideas?

Interested in helping the area add jobs....
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Ben Jacklet
0 #2 Ben Jacklet 2009-12-17 12:08:35
Thanks for the thoughtful comments, Jon. One upcoming event that may be of interest is Angel Oregon 2010 in March, http://www.oen.org/events_ao.aspx
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