In the last several recessions, Seattle has lagged the national recovery, sometimes by as long as a year. But, in this recession, we are at the leading edge of recovery. Washington’s official numbers show the state’s unemployment rate at 8.2% in February, about equal to the national average – but that the Seattle area rate had dropped to 7.4%. A study by the W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University, reports that the number of jobs increased by 2.2 percent in the Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue area between January 2011 and January 2012, making Seattle the fifth fastest growing job market in the nation during that period.
Seattle Office of Economic Development (OED) estimates are that the rate in Seattle itself may be as low as 6.6%. This is based on numbers showing that Seattle has recovered more than half of the jobs lost in the 2008-2009 recession, and that employment is continuing to grow.
While we still have a lot of work to do to reach full levels of employment, this is all good news. And, while the actions of City government are only one of the reasons that Seattle is doing better, these numbers do seem to indicate that we are following the right strategy and working well with our business community in finding ways to foster a healthy economy.
Some of the actions that Seattle has taken in direct response to the recession have contributed to the recovery. The Council has approved two resolutions (31135 in 2009 and 31282 in 2011) laying out economic recovery strategies, and many of these measures have been implemented. Steps like accelerating Parks Levy projects and working closely with the State and Sound Transit to move transportation projects forward have directly created jobs. Other actions, like supporting expanded job training and creating new programs to encourage people to visit neighborhood business districts (“Only in Seattle”) have helped workers and small businesses to improve their prospects. And attention to the basics, like delivering high quality electricity at some of the lowest rates in the country and giving public safety and the human services safety net budget priority, have also helped foster economic confidence and security.
But it is our long-range strategies that have laid the groundwork for economic success and that will continue to do so in the future. Seattle is committed to the new urban model – encouraging a diverse downtown that mixes economic activity and housing, supporting growing sectors like technology and biotech, sponsoring a welcoming environment for creativity that attracts young urban professionals, assisting business retention both small and large, developing the framework for a citywide network of ‘urban villages’ linked by diverse transportation options, and reworking City regulations and investments to become more nimble and effective.
That’s why economic thinkers like Richard Florida predict a bright future for Seattle. Noting that “Seattle has seen more residents move into its downtown core since 1990 than Boston, Denver, Philadelphia, Portland, San Diego or even San Francisco.”, Florida suggests that “Seattle provides a good example of the back-to-the-downtown trend that is reshaping cities across the United States as workers relocate to formerly neglected urban cores that offer transit, walkability and central location.” He continues: ”As I wrote in The Great Reset, “A new spatial fix – a new geography of working and living – will be our only path back to renewed economic growth, confidence and prosperity.” That’s exactly the path Seattle is following.”
The new economy demands great agility and continued attention to both the big picture and the myriad of details that running a big city requires. Our continued success will depend on our continued effective commitment. It will also require us to tackle and resolve big issues like public safety concerns as well as the challenge of repairing the Seawall and creating a waterfront that will be the next major step forward in the vision for a vital and sustainable city – while maintaining the confidence and support of the Seattle community.