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New Study Measures Size Of Region's Food Economy

It’s not just your imagination: There are a lot of restaurants in Portland. In fact, at least one out of every 10 people in the region are employed in the food economy. And the overall industry brought nearly $6 billion in profits to the local economy. All of this is according to a new report from Portland State University.

"I think a lot of people don't necessarily think about food as this really big part of the local economy," said Jamaal Green, a doctoral student in the Department of Urban Studies and Planning at Portland State University, and one of the main authors of the report.

The food economy in the city of Portland grew at nearly twice the rate of the rest of the economy between 2010 and 2012. The vast majority of that growth was in food services — grocery stores, restaurants and so on.

"It's never a bad thing to have a robust growing set of new jobs," Green said, "but unfortunately those happen to be the least well paid jobs ... where the average wage is around $20,000. ... It's just not necessarily a very sustainable way of absorbing new members of the city by putting them into relatively low paying jobs."

Some sectors of the food economies do pay better than others. Processing and distribution doesn't employ the largest number of food workers, but those sectors tend to pay an average of $50,000 a year.

The report also found that food economy employs a higher percentage of women and people of color than the larger economy, especially in the service sector.

"The food economy offers us some really great opportunities to not only make our region more sustainable, but also to help out a lot of workers that we quite often don't necessarily see," Green said. "These sectors matter."

<p>Jason Ball, research chef at the Food Innovation Center, Portland, Oregon prepares dishes made with the ingredient dulse.</p>

Stephen Ward


Jason Ball, research chef at the Food Innovation Center, Portland, Oregon prepares dishes made with the ingredient dulse.

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