The Portland-Vancouver, Oreg.-Wash. MSA, located just 75 miles from the Pacific Ocean and near the confluence of the Willamette and Columbia Rivers, jumped from a 15th-place ranking among U.S. metropolitan areas last year to No. 3 this year. The largest export gateway on the West Coast, Portland and its surrounding communities continue to attract not only international trade-related businesses but also established and start-up high-tech firms. Anchored by Pentium chip-maker Intel Corp., which employs 11,000 people, the area also is home to Nike Inc. and Tektronix Inc. The two firms together employ almost 9,500 workers. Fort James Corp. and Hewlett-Packard Co. also contribute 2,300 and 2,100 jobs, respectively. Lured by the area's location on the Pacific Rim, as well as its access to natural resources and transportation links, high-tech firms especially have settled in the Portland area. Indeed, combined with a highly educated labor force, the area's natural resources and infrastructure have helped make the Portland metro area the fastest growing center for high-tech employment in the U.S. The Oregon Employment Division reports that between January 1992 and July 1999, high-tech employment increased from 37,400 to 61,200. High-tech exports more than tripled from $1.5 billion in 1990 to $5.4 billion in 1998, according to the American Electronics Assn., Santa Clara, Calif. Employee productivity also is high. In 1997, the most recent year for which data are available, manufacturing gross metropolitan product per employee was $98,775. "We're a small metropolitan area but big enough to have the skills and labor that companies need," says Michael Ogan, manager of business development for the Portland Development Commission. "Land and labor costs are competitive. We have about 20 universities and colleges in the area." Ogan says the region also has available capacity in terms of water, sewer, and power services. "They are priced competitively," he says. "Semiconductor companies use a lot of water." High-tech firms continue to bloom in the area that is known for its myriad rose gardens. Companies announcing recent expansion in the area include Silicon Forest Electronics Inc., a contract manufacturer of electronic assemblies, and Intel, which will continue to develop its new fabrication facility in Hillsboro. The Intel plant will include a 120,000-sq-ft clean room - and will cost about $1.2 billion over the next several years to build and equip. Ogan says the region has not had to offer significant tax incentives to attract new business. Some local tax breaks are available in Portland to manufacturers whose businesses are capital-intensive. A local loan program is attracting small start-up software firms to the downtown area. The state of Oregon also offers some property tax incentives in the region.