The Pacific Northwest is famously progressive and innovative, even as it makes a point of celebrating traditional cultures, natural resources and old ways of doing things. The region's cuisine has become famous, while its politics remain liberal, and though the economy has seen its ups and downs over the last few decades, new pioneers arrive every day.

Recent Times

After a bit of a rough start to the 2000s, partly thanks to the bursting of the high-tech bubble and then the housing crisis, the Pacific Northwest seems to be getting back on its feet. Unemployment numbers have drastically improved from a few years ago, and populations are growing – in fact, demand for housing has outstripped supply in many cities in the region.

One dark cloud on the horizon is the prospect of an enormous earthquake, followed by a tsunami, hitting Cascadia – it's predicted that it would be the largest natural disaster ever to occur in the USA. And while such a 'megaquake' has long been anticipated by experts, and in fact is now overdue, it's only recently that the general population has begun to take it seriously.

Not that anyone here is especially bothered about it, mind you. This region was largely populated by and has always attracted the bold and adventuresome. Today's adventurers might be driven by espresso rather than the desire to chart new territory, but there remains a culture founded on restless idealism and the sense that everything is going to be just fine.

Small Talk

Mention the Northwest to folks outside this area and you'll start a conversation on the region's lush forests, snow-dusted volcanic mountains and amazing waterways and coastlines. Then you might move on to the region's high real-estate prices, its high-profile culinary scene, and, last but not least, those drizzly skies and all that rain!

For the locals, politics is always a good topic (generally left-leaning on the west coast and right-leaning on the eastern side). How could anyone resist commenting on new laws legalizing gay marriage and recreational marijuana use? Or voicing an opinion on the Democratic nominee for president – and let's not forget that Portland actually did 'put a bird on it', when Bernie Sanders spoke at the Moda Center and one landed on the podium. You'd have trouble planning a better illustration of what delights and/or aggravates the people of this region.

Sustainability is such a presence in the Pacific Northwest that people at parties might be chatting about hot composting, keeping chickens and/or goats, city growth boundaries and – of course – the environment and what to do about it: paper or plastic? Local or organic? Hydroelectric power or salmon migration?

Sports talk is a no-brainer in this outdoor-loving region, even though Washington and Oregon only have a few major-league teams: the Seattle Seahawks (football) and Mariners (baseball), the Oregon Trailblazers (basketball) and the Portland Timbers (soccer). Hockey-loving BC, meanwhile, loves to gab about its Canucks.

Economic Biggies

Once covered in lush forests, it's no surprise that the Northwest, with its rich natural resources, invited colonization. Today Oregon and Washington continue to lead the USA in lumber production, while BC contains most of Canada's marketable timber.

The Columbia and other Northwest rivers were once teeming with salmon, but overfishing, dam building and deforestation have nearly wiped out the species (conservation efforts are ongoing). Though much diminished, commercial and sport fishing still plays an important role in the regional economy.

The high-tech industry has redefined the region's personality by creating jobs and enriching support industries. The Seattle area continues to be headquarters for many big companies like Microsoft, Nintendo and Amazon.com, while Oregon's 'Silicon Forest' is supported by campuses of Intel, Tektronix and Google. BC has its own high-tech niches, but Vancouver's vibrant film industry tends to steal the economic spotlight. Outdoor clothing and shoe companies like Nike, Columbia Sportswear and Adidas (North America office) are all based in Oregon. With the region's high precipitation, hydroelectric power is another big industry.

Agriculture flourishes along the moist valleys of the Rogue, Umpqua, Skagit and Fraser Rivers. The valleys along the Pacific Coast are famous for their dairy farms, and along the Columbia and Okanogan rivers are vast orchards of apples, cherries, peaches and pears. And let's not forget the grape: Oregon's fertile Willamette Valley yields its famous pinot noir, while the irrigated vineyards of Washington's Columbia, Walla Walla and Yakima Valleys produce world-class chardonnays and merlots.