Silicon Forest - Portland, Oregon(USA)

Silicon Forest - Portland, Oregon (USA)


The high-technology industry in Oregon grew in response to the need for an effective and efficient management system that would assist in protecting the state's vast, natural resources. In the 1930s, the Portland branch of the U.S. Forest Service Radio Lab hired two innovators, Douglas Strain and Howard Vollum, to engineer an effective communication system that connected the fire lookouts dotted across Oregon's heavily forested landscape.

Later, Strain and Vollum developed Oregon's first two players in the world of high-tech. Strain became CEO of Brown Engineering, which eventually became Electro-Scientific. In 1946, Vollum founded Tektronix, the world's largest manufacturer of oscilloscopes, which maintained its status as Oregon's largest employer for the next two decades.

In 1963, Silicon Forest experienced its next growth spurt when the Oregon Graduate Center, a hub for education, research and development, and manufacturing, was established by Oregon's state government. Then, in the early 80's, many of the scientists and engineers that had worked for Tektronix took advantage of their experience and prosperity by spinning off their own ideas as entrepreneurs for their own businesses.

Finally, when silicon chip manufacturing giant, Intel, attracted by the area's inexpensive land, easily accessible water and utilities, and highly-educated and skilled talent, moved its research and development as well as manufacturing operations to Washington County from Mountain View, California, the name Silicon Forest was all but attached to this bucolic region of western Oregon.


Technology accounts for approximately 20 percent of Oregon's economy. The designation, Silicon Forest, often refers to the many technology-rich, commercial enclaves throughout the state, such as Bend, Corvallis, and White City, which host large clusters of economic activity with emphasis in computer components, software development and networking. Still, when referenced in trade publications and other sector-specific media, the nickname is most often associated with the western Portland Metropolitan area.

Statewide, it is estimated that close to 60,000 people are employed in high-technology jobs. Hardware remains the core product in the region with semiconductors continuing to lead in total output. However, a definitive shift is taking place with venture dollars being allocated to entrepreneurial prospects in the medical technology and internet solutions.

Job growth in Silicon Forest has remained stagnant over the last 15 years. There are several theories as to why this is occurring.

Unlike many other technology centers in the U.S., many Silicon Forest firms hurt by the dot-com bust of 2000-2001 ceased operations or never fully recovered to prior strengths. Persistent uncertainty about economic conditions within the U.S. and abroad played a key role into sluggish job creation as well. Recently, however, workforce reductions suffered in dot-com downturn combined with additional declines in 2008 have been negated by a slow, steady recovery.

In addition, venture capitalists have never flocked to the area with any intensity. While post-2008 recession seed monies and start-ups contributed an estimated average of $125 million per year to the economy and added a modest 3,600 jobs, only a handful of start-ups are targeted for more than $1 million by capitalists.

It is not a lack of superb talent. Silicon Forest's young innovators are brimming with appealing new ideas, but these ideas trend toward social media development and no-cost open source platforms. While new and cutting edge, these technologies require less in the way of capital and human resources to get off the ground.

Portland-based Janrain, a social media software company, has been an exception. The company recently acquired over $30 million in new venture capital. Other successes include Act-On Software and Elemental Technologies, each having raised $10 million.

The region's biggest employers are headquartered out-of-state. Intel is the largest, private employer in Silicon Forest. With over 17,000 employees, the Silicon Forest location is Intel's chief operating facility. Providence Health & Services is Portland's second major employer with approximately 15,000 workers.

Mentor Graphics, TriQuint Semiconductor, and FEI Co. are a few other top technology companies adding a total of roughly 10,000 jobs to the labor pool. Networking giants such as Ebay, Google, Yahoo, and Facebook have a small presence as well.


Portland is championed as one of the leading eco-friendly cities in the U.S. The city's emphasis in clean living is emphasized in land use and transit planning.

TriMet is a mass transit system that provides bus, commuter train and light rail service. Environmentally-friendly means of commuting, such as walking and biking, are encouraged and popular throughout Oregon. In fact, at 10 times the national average, Portland leads the U.S. in commuting by bicycle.

There are four major airports that serve the Portland area. The second largest, Portland-Hillsboro Airport (HIO), is the closest to the Silicon Forest area. Over 20 hotels and motels can be found within 10 miles of HIO. Located 20 miles east of Portland is the state's main air transportation facility, Portland International Airport.

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