The Oregon state motto, “She Flies with Her Own Wings,” reflects not only the independent spirit of her early pioneers, but also the proactive nature of more contemporary Oregonians. The Beaver State was the first in the Union to require statewide voter registration and the first to elect its US senators by popular vote. Other firsts include a workers' compensation plan and an eight-hour work day for women. Environmental issues have also figured prominently in Oregon, which has made all of its ocean beaches public, restricted non-returnable bottles and cans and created state-funded bicycle paths.
Yet Oregon has long been a hotbed of conflict: British fur traders versus Native Americans, settlers from England against those from the U.S., farmers at odds with ranchers, ranchers at odds with the government and environmentalists versus the lumber industry. In 2016, the state made headlines when an armed group of ranchers led by Ammon Bundy took over a wildlife refuge in eastern Oregon to protest the government’s management of local land. In keeping with this history, citizens from both ends of the political spectrum have, at one time or another, advanced proposals to secede from the Union.
Early European explorers from England and Spain probably sighted the Oregon coast in the 1500s, but it wasn't until 1792 that the region was claimed for the U.S. by Captain Robert Gray in his ship, the Columbia. The lure of a Northwest Passage and the desire of then-President Thomas Jefferson to explore the west and the newly-acquired Louisiana Purchase led Congress in 1803 to appropriate funds for the Lewis and Clark expedition. They were charged with finding an overland route to the Pacific, which Congress hoped would provide information about the Native American inhabitants and help secure U.S. claims in the region. Indeed, the expedition proved to be pivotal in opening the area to settlement and in 1848 Oregon became a U.S. Territory. It was admitted to the Union as the 33rd state eleven years later in 1859.
Oregon's landscape is a study in contrasts. Depending on the location, you may be surrounded by steep mountain slopes covered with dense forests, arid flatlands devoid of trees, rushing streams or fertile valleys perfectly suited for agriculture. The mountains of the Cascades and of the Coastal Range are the determining factors in the damp, lush climate of the western third of Oregon – home to most of the major cities, including Portland, Salem, Eugene and Medford – as well as the dry conditions that prevail over the more rural eastern two thirds of the state.
With a population of over 3.9 million people, Oregon is the 16th fastest growing state in the country, thanks to a population growth rate of over 5% between 2010 and 2015. Approximately 85% of Oregonians are white, 11% are Hispanic, 3% are Asian, 3% are multiracial, 1% are black and 1% are Native American. In addition, nearly 1 in 10 residents are foreign-born. As of early 2016, the statewide median household income was $50,229 – roughly $3,000 less than the U.S. median – with approximately 16% of the population living below the poverty line. As for educational attainment, 89% of Oregonians are high school graduates, and 29% have undergraduate degrees
More than half of the state’s total population resides in or around Portland, the 24th largest metro area in the country. Situated along the border with Washington State, the Portland metro area has more than 2.3 million residents across all suburbs, including Beaverton and Hillsboro in Oregon and Vancouver in Washington State (not to be confused with Vancouver, B.C.). Because Oregon is one of only five states with no sales tax – which it compensates for with a higher income tax – many Washington State residents cross the border into Oregon to purchase everything from groceries to cars.
Like its landscape and politics, the Oregon real estate market ranges widely. In early 2016, the statewide median home value was $289,692 – more than $100,000 above the national median – while the median rental price was $1,050. Of the over 1.5 million housing units in Oregon in early 2016, 63% were single-family detached homes and 60% were owner-occupied. As to be expected, Portland real estate is valued even higher, with a median home value of $358,535 within the city limits in early 2016. In Salem, Oregon’s capital and second-largest city, homes were more affordable, with a median home value of $211,482 for the same time period.
With 41 inches of average annual precipitation, agriculture remains one of Oregon's most important industries. A state government website relates that Oregonians have boasted for generations, “Drive a nail in the land and it comes up green.” Leading agricultural products include greenhouse and nursery plants, cattle and calves, dairy products, hay, ryegrass, berries, pears, green peas, onions, snap beans, sweet corn, Christmas trees and hops. Notably, Oregon produces 99% of the U.S. commercial hazelnut crop and has about 650 family hazelnut farms.
Nearly one half of Oregon is forested, helping to propel large lumber, wood products and paper manufacturing industries. Oregon's salmon-fishing industry is one also of the largest in the world. With its low-cost hydroelectric power, Oregon has developed numerous manufacturing enterprises and facilities that produce everything from athletic shoes (Nike) to computer chips (Intel) to electronic equipment (Tektronix). Thanks to the growing high-tech industry, Portland’s industrial corridor has been nicknamed “Silicon Forest.”
In 2015, CNN Money ranked Oregon the sixth fastest growing economy in the nation thanks to a state GDP growth rate of 3.6% during the previous year. A 2014 study by United Van Lines also found that Oregon was the #1 destination for its relocating clients, providing another positive economic indicator.