At an event recently, a prominent business executive told me in no uncertain terms what was wrong with the Puget Sound region. “We don’t brag,” he complained. “We’ve got some incredible things going on here, but we don’t tell the world.” He’s right. The business community here is much too modest.
Maybe it’s because we’ve never shaken the humbleness exemplified by our settlers from the Midwest. Perhaps it’s that passive-aggressive “Seattle Freeze” thing. Maybe it’s the ongoing cultural struggle that simplifies political issues as social justice vs. big business.
Whatever it is, the region historically has done a very poor job of selling itself to the outside world. That’s a particularly strange flaw in a place diligently striving to become a global leader in everything from trade to retail to technology.
As my colleague John Levesque wrote last summer, researchers have showered the region with praise. Seattle is No. 1 for STEM professionals and ranks highly for its economy and its business climate. Washington state earned exceptional grades for innovation and education. Other organizations laud the region for its tourism and environmental sensitivity.
There’s a lot to brag about.
The dilapidated viaduct will finally come down this month, and the Seattle Waterfront project will break ground this spring. Both actions will transform the central waterfront, improving connections throughout the downtown area and leading to all kinds of business opportunities.
The Port of Seattle is launching major redevelopment plans, including a $340 million investment in cargo facilities. Thanks to geography, trade with Asia is robust — especially Japan and China, where Starbucks operates more than 3,500 coffee shops and is opening a new store on average every 15 hours.
Seattle’s skyline is also changing rapidly, with more construction cranes — 65 — than any city in North America besides Toronto, according to project management and advisory services firm Rider Levett Bucknall, creating economic ripple effects across the city. And a new economic development organization launched by former Governor Christine Gregoire and backed by the region’s most powerful companies, including Amazon, Boeing, Microsoft and Alaska Airlines, could become the most influential and effective in state history.
The Puget Sound region isn’t perfect. Seattle, like other large urban cities, struggles with homelessness, growing income inequality and a lack of affordable workforce housing. Despite billions in investment, the transportation infrastructure remains a mess. Those problems, daunting as they may be, don’t overshadow the positive economic momentum created by hard-working business and political leaders. There are many good things happening here.
Though I’ve lived in the Northwest my entire life, I’ve worked for media companies headquartered on the East Coast and in the South. Nobody mentions Seattle’s roaring tech scene, our cluster of global retailers, our maritime industry or our thriving aerospace sector. Instead, they wonder if it rains every day.
Now is the Puget Sound region’s time to put up and not shut up. The area is on the cusp of becoming a true global city. As I embark on my new position as editor in chief of Seattle Business magazine, I urge the region to not keep it a secret any longer.