Downtown Seattle and the Economic Future
The Emerald City. What could possibly draw more than 900 people downtown at 7:30 on a Thursday morning? The Downtown Seattle Association helds its Economic Forum at the Sheraton with DSA President Kate Joncas, as well as remarks from new Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn, Jeff Finkle, President/CEO of the International Economic Development Council, and Russell Investments President/CEO Andrew Doman. Straight up? The news isn’t all that good. But it’s not an entire disaster. There is, however, a lot of work ahead to keep Seattle a vibrant, successful city.
Good news, first. Overall, Seattle has 11 diverse neighborhoods that make up the downtown area, from the waterfront, to South Lake Union, to Belltown and the International District. The DSA’s objective is to make each neighborhood a great place to live, work, shop and play. Seattle has a distinct and positive ‘brand’ nationally as a green city, with highly educated residents who live in a beautiful setting on the Pacific Rim. Seattle is the center of Global Health outside of Switzerland. And, here’s a little known fact: it’s the best place to find single men. (Who knew?)
Now, what you already know, but don’t likely want to hear. Yep, it’s the economy. Even though we haven’t been as ‘hard hit’ as say, Detroit, the downtown core has lost jobs. The city faces a budget gap that’s going to make it harder to provide services at a time when more people need them, and we’re facing increased competition from not just around the world, but our neighbors as close as Bellevue. 2010-11 could become known for the crisis in commercial real estate, much like we saw the residential housing market crash in 2009.
So, what to do. Seattle has to be smart. Russell Investments says it re-located here because Seattle’s ‘well-known’ around the country and world, there’s that youthful vibe, with highly-educated people, a Pacific Rim location, and the ability to collaborate with other smart CEO’s and university leaders. Doman believes in ‘clusters of industries’ and he envisions Seattle as a great place to grow investment talent and effective money managers. His company moves into the old WAMU building, now the Russell Investment Center, in October 2010.
This was surprising, and not in a good way. Jeff Finkle, from the International Economic Development Council, points out that successful cities need to be able to tell their stories to recruit new, innovative business. I didn’t get all the other citys’ numbers written down here, but in short, Seattle’s marketing budget, per capita, is way below other metro areas at only $.60 per person. That’s right, 60 cents. All the other cities, such as San Francisco, Phoenix, Orlando, Tulsa, etc. — spend upwards of $2, $4, even $7 per person in marketing costs to bring in new business. Finkle also noted that job creation is the single most important metric going forward, and should take precedence to keep the area’s economy healthy. (Charleston, South Carolina’s campaign to lure Boeing was briefly noted).
What the new Mayor said. This was the first time I’d heard from Mayor Mike McGinn since the campaign. I wasn’t sure what to expect. He has a tough job ahead, but had a clear message. Short term, lack of revenue makes it rough. Longer-term, he says we need to keep developing our Seattle ‘brand’ and invest in our assets. We have clean power with hydro-electricity, a strong education base, cutting edge businesses, and the Port of Seattle. Here’s what he says we’re looking at over the next few years:
- Public schools/improved environment for youth. He’s starting a Youth and Family Initiative to keep Seattle ‘family friendly.’
- Transportation — including a new 520 bridge and the viaduct.
- Process. McGinn says we DO get things done such as housing levies, parks, and expanding transit.
- Decaying Infrastructure. Seattle’s seawall, sewers and storm drains need major overhauls.
McGinn also says he wants to figure out how to get more people to share in our area’s properity, and get rid of old rules that no longer make sense.
In Closing. There’s a lot of work to do, but partnerships and collaboration are going to help us get there. We’re not in dire straits like some cities, but we can’t afford to rest on our past reputation, and need to be aggressive to bring in new business that creates jobs. As Doman pointed out, “Conversation yields innovation.” You can bet, we’ll be talking.