Journalists are supposed to be objective, skeptical, questioning. So, it’s with some embarrassment that I confess a tendency to being somewhat uncritical when it comes to Seattle. Ever since I moved here three decades ago — long before becoming editor of Seattle Business magazine in 2009 — I’ve loved just about everything about this city.
I love the kindness and civility of my fellow Seattleites. There is no presumption here that you don’t count if you didn’t go to an Ivy League school, something I used to sense in Boston where I worked for many years. Unlike my home town of Yokohama — a working harbor like Seattle — this region has done a good job of expanding its wilderness area and protecting its coastline. And while the Bay Area, where I went to college, is a match for Seattle in physical beauty, it lacks Seattle’s sense of community.
As a member of the Community Development Roundtable, a luncheon group made up of many leaders in the business and nonprofit community, I’ve been impressed by its strong commitment to making Seattle a better place to live. Our leaders are willing to push for higher taxes to support mass transit, libraries, education and a cleaner environment.
To be sure, that commitment is being tested by the worsening homelessness problem, the lack of affordable housing and continued challenges in our schools. But Seattle can draw from its strong history of effective civic engagement. That tradition is best crystalized in the person of Jim Ellis, this year’s Lifetime Achievement honoree in our annual Community Impact Awards program. Ellis, an attorney, has been instrumental across several decades in the promotion and development of a broad array of public projects that included the cleanup of Lake Washington and expansion of our parks system.
"I feel fortunate to have the opportunity to work with so many warm and talented people. I don't think there is a more dynamic, caring business community anywhere in the world."
Such activism by private individuals like Ellis has been married in Seattle to a corporate ethos of social responsibility widely embraced by local companies. Starbucks, which is another Community Impact Award winner, is a national leader in sustainability and civic engagement.
Not all begin so committed. I was a little taken aback a few months ago when a Boston friend expressed disgust at Amazon’s treatment of its workers. But Seattle seems to mold its leaders to its community values. Bill Gates, who had no time for philanthropy as CEO of Microsoft, is now the world’s leading philanthropist. Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, too, is making progress. He recently contributed $2 billion to a fund to help address homeless families and improve early education. And the company recently raised its minimum wage nationwide to $15 an hour.
We are fortunate to live among so many warm and talented people. There isn’t a more dynamic, caring business community anywhere.