Editor's Note: Selling Seattle


Every year, many of our city and state leaders gather to discuss issues of concern to our regional business community. One perennial topic is the fear that Seattle isn’t doing enough to promote its brand.

It’s an odd concern, given that Seattle gets more than its share of laudatory national coverage from the likes of Atlantic Monthly and The New York Times. College graduates regularly choose Seattle as the city they most want to move to, and a surge of in-migration in recent years has made the city one of the nation’s fastest growing.

The Reputation Institute, a global consultancy, puts Seattle among the world’s top 50 cities, based on its economy, its living environment and its governance. The city gets free advertising every time someone walks into a Starbucks, rides a Boeing jet or shops at Nordstrom. While Seattle Business covers Washington state, we love carrying the Seattle brand because it projects the values of sustainability, innovation and consumer friendliness that are fundamental to the region’s economic prosperity.

So why fix something that isn’t broken? For one thing, says Suzanne Dale Estey, CEO of the Economic Development Council of Seattle and King County, we do a terrible job of attracting foreign direct investment, which becomes increasingly important as foreign companies account for a growing share of total growth. We’re only 14th in the nation in terms of the number of jobs provided by foreign-owned establishments, and only about 20 percent of those jobs are in advanced industries; it’s 44 percent in San Diego, 33 percent in Portland and 50 percent in Austin, according to the Brookings Institution.

Brookings is currently working on a plan with the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce — with support from Chase — to create a plan to attract more foreign investment, whether it’s in manufacturing or real estate.

 Managing Seattle’s brand must be part of that plan because reputation affects our ability to attract foreign students, talented workers, tourists and foreign dollars, and therefore, our ability to create jobs.

The Reputation Institute argues that perception of a city is dependent on three things: an advanced economy, an appealing environment and an effective government. We have long had an innovative economy, as Peter Blecha suggests in his story on Washington inventions (page 34). And for all its development, Seattle remains an appealing place to live. But we could use some work when it comes to effective governance, particularly on things like traffic, police and education. Alex Alben offers ideas from five other cities we would do well to emulate (page 30).

If we fail to implement innovative ways to tackle our problems, the bad news will travel fast and no effort to build our brand will have any chance. But if we succeed, the word will get out.

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