Portland is losing ground at an “alarming” rate, according to a new study examining nearly 30 indicators of where the city’s economy is headed.

Portland’s Economic Scorecard 2014-2015, to be released Tuesday by the Portland Community Chamber, shows that the city has experienced lackluster improvement – or no improvement – in 14 of the 28 economic indicators, including job growth, average wage, property taxes, population growth and affordability of housing. Despite the nation’s overall economic recovery, several components of Portland’s economy have gotten worse over the past year, it found.

Bill Becker, president of the Portland Community Chamber, who called the results “alarming,” said the study will help city officials and business leaders identify the barriers preventing businesses and people from moving to Portland. Ultimately, chamber officials hope to use the data to affect policy decisions within the city, he said.

“Our job as a chamber is to take this data and act on it,” Becker said.

Results of the study should serve as a warning to local elected officials, business leaders and residents that Portland’s economic-growth strategy needs improvement.

“We don’t want to go through another boom and bust,” said Christopher Hall, CEO of the Portland Regional Chamber. “If we don’t improve these lagging indicators, we will.”

The study was scheduled to be distributed at the monthly Portland Chamber Eggs and Issues breakfast at the Holiday Inn by the Bay. It was prepared by Camoin Associates of Scarborough, which has researched the three previous scorecards.

Some of the data was sobering. Although Portland had job increases in certain sectors, overall job growth was sluggish. Total employment decreased by 0.1 percent in Portland from 2012 to 2013, compared with employment growth of 0.2 percent for Maine and 1.2 percent for the U.S., the study found.

Job growth is important to the economy because it determines how easy or difficult it will be for residents to find work, the study said, adding that steady employment growth is a sign of economic stability.

Another weak area for the city was the average annual wage, the study found. While the city’s 2014 average of $44,289 was higher than the state average of $37,215, it was nearly 7 percent lower than the national average annual wage of $47,451.

The average annual wage reflects whether the city has an adequate number of higher-quality, professional jobs. Hall pointed out that while Portland’s unemployment rate continues to fall, so does its average wage, which signifies that a growing share of jobs are low-paying.

High property taxes are a major red flag for employers and workers considering Portland as a place to locate, Hall said.

The study found that the average home-owning household in Portland spends about 10.1 percent of its income on property taxes, compared with 5.1 percent in Maine overall. The average property tax among all the larger cities in Maine is 7.5 percent of household income.

A high property tax decreases the attractiveness of a city to outsiders, which deters in-migration and stifles economic growth, the study said.

“Just to be blunt about it, we need to get more people to move here,” Hall said. “And so we need to set the table for that.”

One indication of the deterrent effect of high property taxes is Portland’s low population growth rate. According to the study, the city’s population grew by 0.1 percent from 2012 to 2013, compared with U.S. population growth of 0.7 percent.

From 2009 to 2013, Portland’s population shrank by 0.1 percent, compared with 3.1 percent growth nationwide. Maine’s population during the same period also decreased by 0.1 percent.

A healthy level of population growth ensures there will be sufficient workers to fill the jobs needed to support a growing economy, the study said.

Affordability of housing also should be a major concern for Portland, Hall said. The study found that the average cost of owning a home in the city was far higher than in both Maine and the U.S.

The average homeowner spent about 26.7 percent of annual income on housing in 2012, compared with 24.1 percent of income in Maine and 24.5 percent nationwide, the study said.

Renters fared better. The average renter in Portland in 2012 spent about 31.1 percent of household income on rent, compared with 33.1 percent in other major cities nationwide.

Not all of the scorecard’s findings were negative. Portland scored better than the national average in areas such as unemployment rate, education level, property value increases and low crime, among others.

Hall said none of the previous three scorecards have led to policy changes, but this fourth installment is significant because it includes five years of data that show clear historical trends.

Hall said city officials need to come up with more specific goals for economic development using input from business leaders and residents. The chamber plans to hold a series of meetings over the coming year to gather that input, he said.

Hall noted that the study and its negative findings should not be interpreted as a swipe at Portland’s government leaders.

“I hope people don’t read this scorecard as some sort of indictment of city officials,” he said. “We all own these numbers.”


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