October 1995, Volume 1, Number 4
Oregon and Washington Rural Towns Changing
The 110-mile long Willamette Valley south of Portland has become
home to a dozen computer chip manufacturing factories, one reason
President Clinton visited the area in June 1995. Most analysts cite
cheap land, cheap water, and cheap labor as the major reasons why the
area has become "Silicon Forest." Oregon now has about 60,000
chip-related jobs, versus 52,000 forestry-related jobs.
Some Oregonians worry that they are giving huge tax breaks to
companies that may provide only short-term jobs. Chip-making
equipment has about a three-year life, so that, after three years,
the equipment is typically sold to southeast Asian companies, and the
chip maker must decide whether to install new equipment or let the
plant remain idle. Oregon chipmakers will confront this decision for
plants being built now in the late 1990s.
The Willamette Valley is also the place in which most of Oregon's
strawberries, and many of its nurseries, are hiring so-called new-new
migrants from southern Mexican states such as Oaxaca. In the early
1980s, the harvest work force was dominated by local teens and Texas-
and California-based US. citizen migrants.
As the migrant share of the harvest labor force increased, so did
problems finding adequate farm worker housing. Without local Hispanic
communities to absorb a seasonal influx of migrant workers, local
farmers in the early 1990s worried that they would have to construct
housing in an area of rapidly rising housing costs. However, Hispanic
communities such as Woodburn grew rapidly, so that seasonal workers
who enter the area are increasingly housed off the farm.
In some cases, new-new migrants in the US have created formal
linkages to their areas of origin. The Bi-National Indigenous Front
of Oaxaca (FIOB) was created in Los Angeles to maintain links with
relatives in Oaxaca. The FIOB estimates that as many as half of all
recently-arrived seasonal farm workers in California are from Oaxaca,
and that there are 120,000 natives of Oaxaca in the Los Angeles area.
The Yakima area of Washington had rapid increases in welfare
caseloads over the past decade. Local leaders estimate that 35
percent of adults 25 or older in around Yakima have less than a
ninth-grade education, and nearly half lack high-school diplomas.
Some white welfare recipients in Yakima say that they have trouble
finding jobs because they speak only English.
Bill Richards, "For Oregon, the boom in high tech brings jobs and
handwringing," Wall Street Journal, August 4, 1995. Rachael
Zimmerman, "Oregon's Silicon Forest Lures Factories Fast," New York
Times, June 26, 1995. Kery Murakami, "Welfare woes more complex than
they seem," The Seattle Times, June 25, 1995; Peter Costantini,
"Native Mexicans change worlds to keep up," Inter Press Service, May