Digital

Airbnb Opening Large Operations and Customer Support Center in Portland, Ore

Mar 17, 2014 6:00 am

Skift Take

Will Airbnb’s leaders avoid the illegal listings in Portland when they stay for a visit? History in New York says no.

— Jason Clampet

Free Report: The Changing Business of Extended-Stay Hotels


Airbnb, the San Francisco startup whose online listings turn homeowners’ extra space into vacation rentals, confirmed Friday that it plans to open a big Portland outpost this year in Old Town.

The fast-growing company said it will hire 160 employees in the coming months for a variety of positions focused on customer service and support work.

The Oregonian reported in January that Airbnb was seeking real estate in the city and had posted a handful of Portland-specific job listings on its website.

Portland will be Airbnb’s operational headquarters for North America, overseeing service for customers across the continent. The company has a similar office in Dublin overseeing European operations.

Airbnb’s online job listings currently list seven different positions in Portland, all focused on customer service and related managerial work.

Oregon has long been a second home to big tech companies based elsewhere; Intel and Hewlett-Packard Co. anchored an earlier era of Oregon technology.

Now, a new generation of software and Internet-oriented companies has discovered Portland — taking advantage of relatively low operating costs and the state’s proximity to the San Francisco Bay Area.

Some, such as eBay and San Francisco web startup New Relic, are operating large software divisions here — a field that pays an average wage around $100,000 annually. Others, such as New York-based website developer Squarespace, are making Portland a customer service hub.

The influx of companies from outside the state is an outgrowth of Portland’s maturing startup scene, said Jared Wiener, the Portland Development Commission’s software industry liaison. A cluster of young companies are demonstrating the the city has enough tech talent to attract larger businesses.

“It means that people are realizing that what’s happening here is something real,” he said.

Airbnb said it received no state or city incentives for its Portland office.

The company wouldn’t disclose a pay range for its Portland jobs, but customer service work in Multnomah and Washington county paid an average of $36,115 annually last year. The pay range varied widely, though, and tech work like Airbnb likely tends toward the high end of that range, which approaches $50,000 a year.

Pablo Hernandez, previously a manager at Yahoo’s customer service office in Hillsboro, will be project manager overseeing the opening of the Portland office.

Airbnb officials said the company already has a number of Portland employees, working remotely. They said they chose the city for its expansion because of its proximity to headquarters in San Francisco and because Portland’s sustainable ethos and embrace of the “sharing economy” is a good cultural fit for the company.

Ironically, current city regulations generally don’t allow the kind of short-term rental that Airbnb’s business enables. The company is lobbying to change those rules, but Airbnb said those talks are “totally independent” of the company’s decision to open its Portland office.

Founded in 2008, privately held Airbnb has swelled from just 130 employees in 2011 to several hundred now.

For Portland, Airbnb picked a 27,000-square-foot office in an Old Town building known as the Blagen Block, near the University of Oregon’s Portland facility in the White Stag Block. Airbnb said it picked the spot because of its proximity to the waterfront mass transit — the MAX light-rail runs right by the site.

The company will occupy the first three floors and has an option to expand into the remaining floor, said Trevor Kafoury of brokerage CBRE, who represented the building’s owner.

Before moving in this summer, Airbnb said plans to customize its office to make it a community space to welcome “our hosts, guests and travelers.” The company said it’s too soon to say exactly what form that community space will take.

“If you look at their headquarters, it reminds me a lot of where they’re looking” in Portland, said Jill Miles, a recruitment officer for Business Oregon who had been courting Airbnb since October 2012. She recently visited the company’s San Francisco office and said the culture and vibe there is very reminiscent of Old Town.

“It’s just a nice fit,” she said.

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