Portland, Oregon: A Growing U.S. Market of Invention

Portland, Oregon has promptly become one of America’s most alluring and fastest-growing cities. According to the U.S. Census, the Rose City is growing at a clip of 1.36 percent per year.  Known for its unmatched lifestyle, food, and drink, the city is also notorious for its creative weirdness. Yes, “Keep Portland Weird” is not only a cute motto, but a way of life.  As evidenced by the recent 60 Minutes segment (see here), the city is keepin’ it weird while going through some changes.  With change comes opportunity. With opportunity comes innovation.

Boasting a highly educated, creative, and growing workforce, businesses in the Portland market are experiencing a boom in opportunity and talent. With unemployment at four percent (one of the lowest in the country) and Forbes projecting wages to grow 7.54% over the next year, it’s easy to be bullish about Rip City.

Another reason for the city’s growth is the constant endeavor to launch inventive concepts, products, and services. With our West Coast operations based in Portland, we investigated and analyzed the corporate landscape and found seven industries ripe for Market Invention.

Biomedical and CRISPR

The biomedical world continues to rise to new heights in discoveries and breakthroughs. And there have been none more revolutionary than the advent of CRISPR— a gene-editing tool that could be the ultimate turning point in treating genetic diseases. As spotlighted in this Sunday’s 60 Minutes segment, Portland-based Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) is leading the charge in CRISPR research and biomedical discovery. All eyes and resources (talent, financials, and otherwise) continue to be drawn to OHSU, and Portland is proud to stake claim to such radical and inventive means to treat diseases.

The Amazon Factor

Amazon has a huge presence in Oregon. The company is based in Seattle, but they are busy in Portland as well with fulfillment centers, corporate offices, and even food delivery services. So for companies that specialize in Amazon, Portland is a natural fit. Some of the city’s fastest growing businesses, like Cartlogic and Netrush, are helping clients to perfect their presence on the world’s largest online retailer by optimizing their Amazon storefront. These businesses are different from traditional advertising or website design companies because they specialize in Amazon-specific technologies and processes, like Alexa, inventory management, and the fulfillment process.

Bubbly Beverages

While craft breweries have popped up in practically every American city, Portland remains one of the nation’s leaders in fermented beverages. Portlanders are discerning when it comes to food and drink, and the demand for premium local potion is not going away. Brew Dr. Kombucha Brewery is one of many local kombucha brands, and was one of the city’s top 30 fastest-growing private companies last year. Brewery Branding Co. is taking another approach to capitalize on the demand: they are catering to craft brewers that need help with marketing. Koozies, glassware, coolers, bottle openers, playing cards, and coasters: they make it all, and they also make the top 50 on the list of growing Portland companies. And don’t forget about cider. Portland is home to the world’s largest cider taproom, as well as growing breweries like Reverend Nat’s and Portland Cider Company. The entire craft-brewing craze took off with market inventor Sam Adams, and Portland seems as likely a candidate as anywhere to produce the next big beverage revolution, whatever that may be.

Sportin’ The Sportswear

Portland has long been a hub for sportswear companies. Columbia, Nike, Keen, and Adidas’ North American headquarters are just a few established athletic brands that are based in the city. But with Portland’s increasing affluence, as well as growing consumer interest in handcrafted products, a new category is on the rise: artisan sportswear. In fact, the fastest growing sportswear company in Portland last year was Seamus Golf, which manufactures ultra-premium golf caps, bags, and pouches by hand. Because so many big-name sportswear companies are headquartered there, Portland sees a steady trickle of employees leaving companies like Nike and Adidas to start their own businesses in the industry. “Artisan” and “sportswear” don’t traditionally go together, but Portland is starting to change that notion.There remains a lot of room for companies with a market invention mindset to expand and innovate in this marketplace.

The Internet of Things

With billions of connected products entering the scene each year, the exponential growth of the internet of things (IoT) is only speeding up. Portland-based Rigado is one local company finding ways to take the invention of connectivity even further. They are providing flexible hardwear to businesses that want the benefits of connectivity without spending months to design and develop hardwear. Another innovator is Kimera, which has taken artificial general intelligence and applied it to the IoT. Their flagship offering, Nigel, is a single-algorithm intelligence that learns—all by itself—to silence your cell phone when you’re in a theater, or block unwanted calls during dinner time, or even turn off the lights when you leave home. These industry leaders are positioning Portland as a future hub of IoT innovation (and probably ground zero for the robot apocalypse).


In Oregon, recreational use of cannabis was legalized in 2015, so Portland has a head-start in the legal marijuana industry. As more states consider legalization, entrepreneurs will look to Portland as a model of cannabis Market Invention. Dozens and dozens of trendy dispensaries, like Calyxes and Farma, have opened in the city. Naturally, there are plenty of lounges that serve cannabis users, and many offer live music, comedy, or food to complete the experience. Perhaps most interesting of all is the way the industry has banded together to promote Portland as a cannabis destination (much like Napa Valley has done with wine, or Kentucky with bourbon). This is an aspect of the market that is still in its infancy, but organizations like the Oregon Cannabis Association are working hard to raise awareness that, for seasoned users and adventurous first-timers alike, Portland might be worth a visit.

Workplace Wellness

With Portland’s flourishing corporate culture, a number of businesses have emerged that aim to improve the well-being of workers. These businesses frame happy employees as a financially rewarding investment, a way to optimize an organization’s performance and gain an edge over competitors. It’s an idea especially popular among the city’s younger generation. Portland-based Fully creates stylish, ergonomic office furniture, like standing desks and kneeling chairs, that help alleviate back pain, sedentism, and stiffness for office workers. Pacific Energy Concepts, based in nearby Vancouver, Washington, helps businesses to upgrade old fixtures to LED lighting. This saves money on electricity, reduces carbon footprint, and brightens and beautifies the workspace. And with the LED industry pushing the idea that LED lighting can improve mental performance by more closely mimicking sunlight, more organizations intent on optimizing productivity might give LED a try. Speaking of office lighting, the Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance (NEEA), headquartered in Portland, is making a massive impact on the region’s corporate energy consumption, positioning Portland as a paragon of both economic growth and environmental advocacy.

One of the biggest reasons that Portland’s economy and influence are continuing to grow is because the city is a hotbed of Market Invention. Whether it’s reimagining office furniture as an investment in productivity or helping vendors to dominate Amazon, market inventors see opportunities where others saw only the unquestionable status quo. If you want to learn more about the machinery behind Market Invention, and how you can leverage it in your business, you can read more here.

About Merit

Merit is the global leader in market invention. More often than not, our work carves out an entirely new market and transforms industry through research and strategy, communications, creative, and technology. For a company to succeed in the new era of marketing, it needs Merit.

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