BBC Capital

Business Traveller

Doing business in Portland? Unbutton that jacket

  • The skyline at sunset
    Portland, Oregon is one of the few US cities without a sales tax so scores of visitors pour in to shop. (Thinkstock)
  • Outdoor activities abound
    With the Willamette River running through the city, taking a day off work to go paddling is a constant temptation. (Thinkstock)
  • Mountain views abound
    Many office buildings in downtown Portland have a view of Mount Hood (Chris Boswell-Getty)
  • Bike city
    Those unfamiliar with driving in Portland need to be particularly aware of cyclists. (Tracy Fox-Thinkstock)
  • A rare quiet moment in Pioneer Square
    This popular meeting spot downtown is a hub around which many hotels and office buildings are arrayed. (Steve Lewis Stock-Getty)
  • Kicking it out of the park
    Nike is one of several global corporations that are based in or around Portland (Doug Pensi-Getty)

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Portland’s secret is out. Once the sleepy country cousin of Washington State’s Seattle, Portland, Oregon now lures visitors with its own boutique hotels, craft breweries and chic restaurants. The west coast city’s creative and free-spirited atmosphere also draws some of the world’s largest companies.

What fuels this hipster vibe and brings small and large companies alike? Perhaps the city's energy and independence is a carryover from the pioneers who arrived in the 1850s. These days, huge brands such as Nike, Adidas, Columbia Sportswear and Keen Footwear have picked up on Portland’s fresh, creative atmosphere and moved their headquarters to the city or nearby suburbs.

With the Oregon Convention Center's massive size of more than half a million square feet (the largest in the Pacific Northwest), Portland now hosts mega gatherings including many focused on the environment from the American Society of Plant Biologists to the Geothermal Resources Council.

Oregon is one of the few US states without a sales tax (meaning a book that is priced at $3.99 is exactly $3.99, no tax is added as in most other states), which is a boon for business. Scores of visitors from across the state's borders pour into Oregon to shop, which adds more energy to the already boiling pot of commercial energy.

Airport

Portland International Airport, nine miles northeast of downtown, is a hub for the US Northwest and West Coast. Traffic from overseas is growing steadily thanks to non-stop flights by Delta Air Lines to Tokyo and Amsterdam. The airport is easy to navigate thanks to moving walkways, excellent signs and gates which are a 10 minute walk to baggage claim. It is worth arriving early for your flight to pay a visit to Laurelwood Brewing Co for one last local ale or shop at the Real Mother Goose gallery of locally made art and jewellery.

The taxi fare from PDX (the airport's IATA code, but also common nomenclature for the city) to downtown's Pioneer Courthouse Square (the downtown square known as Portland's "living room") is roughly $35. Alternatively, travellers can take the MAX light-rail train (red line) that runs from the airport to Pioneer Courthouse Square for $2.50.

Money matters

Credit cards are accepted almost everywhere including on the MAX tramway system and in most taxis. A breakfast of locally roasted coffee and homemade doughnuts can cost less than $8, and a good dinner of locally-grown ingredients goes for about $20.

Cultural know-how

Portlanders are extremely environmentally conscious. Visitors should use the appropriate recycling bins found in restaurants or on the street. Don't be surprised to find a local rearranging your paper products, bottles, or cans if placed in the wrong bin.

Renting a car is a good option as local drivers are generally friendly and courteous, and roads are well marked.

Those unfamiliar with driving in Portland need to be particularly aware of cyclists. Bike lanes wind through the entire city and are filled with pedalling commuters day and night. Always look for bikes before turning.

Hotels

A popular choice The Nines, a 331 –room luxury hotel is directly opposite Pioneer Courthouse Square and houses one of the city's hippest rooftop bars. All guest rooms include environmentally-friendly toiletries dispensed from communal bottles in the shower or paper packages by the sink. The hotel also has its own team of bees brewing honey on the  rooftop.

A rare quiet moment in Pioneer Square

This popular meeting spot downtown is a hub around which many hotels and office buildings are arrayed. (Steve Lewis Stock-Getty)

Inside the remodelled Sentinel Hotel, near Pioneer Courthouse Square, modern artwork and vintage photographs pay homage to rebellious celebrities who challenged the status quo such as John Lennon and Steve Jobs. Nearby, the recently updated 128-room Hotel Lucia, keeps customers happy with organic minibars, natural brand toiletries and in-room menus offering, pre-loaded iPods and books.

Residence Inn has opened the first hotel in the Pearl District, the city's neighbourhood of upscale cafes, galleries, shops and micro-breweries in historic warehouses. Ask for a corner room for the best views of the Willamette River.

Dinner for one

Eating out in Portland is a primary attraction for out-of-town visitors. Restaurants pride themselves on offering organic, locally-raised produce or meat. A productive day should always start with breakfast at Tasty N Alder, a downtown brunch staple only a few blocks from Pioneer Courthouse Square. The menu is dominated by egg-topped dishes, many of which have subtle Korean or Japanese inspiration.

Food trucks are a Portland staple, often found in clusters and offering a wide variety of international cuisine. Vietnamese, Thai and German are ubiquitous, but Lardo is one of the city's best success stories. Originally a food truck, it is now so popular it has two brick-and-mortar locations, offering delicacies such as a pork meatball Vietnamese banh mi sandwich with sriracha mayo.

A reservation at Ava Gene's on southeast Division Street will impress clients with its house made pasta and cured meats.

Save room for dessert at nearby Salt and Straw, the artisanal ice cream shop down the street from Ava Gene’s. Flavours include sweet and savoury options such as salted caramel cupcake or olive oil.

Off the clock

Business visitors with a few hours to spare can jump on the MAX tram (red or blue lines) and visit Washington Park, one of the US’s largest urban parks. The park includes the Oregon Zoo and a prized Japanese garden, which was designed by gardeners from Portland's sister city, Sapporo in Japan.

Outdoor activities abound

With the Willamette River running through the city, taking a day off work to go paddling is a constant temptation. (Thinkstock)

Art lovers should head for Portland5, a section of town just a few blocks away from Pioneer Courthouse Square, which holds museums including the Portland Art Museum and the Oregon Historical Society.

Special considerations

There are lots of cafes and pubs that host tourists, but there is also a second layer of hidden coffee shops and cafes that are mostly popular with locals. It’s worth getting the inside track. While tourists queue up at the famous Voodoo Doughnuts, Portland's foodies show up at Blue Star Doughnuts for sweet pastries such as candied ginger glazed doughnuts. Ask a local for their favourite food cart or coffee shop to find out the latest hot spot.