Last month, the Puget Sound Regional Council (PSRC) published final employment data for the region for 2011. They showed that Seattle has become the driver for economic recovery in the region, with employment growth far exceeding that of other areas. While total employment in the region increased by only 1% (from 1,673,000 in 2010 to 1,697,000 in 2011), the number of Seattle jobs increased by 3%.
The numbers showed that, like other areas of the country, recovery is proceeding in the Seattle region, but much more slowly than would be optimum. The drag on the economy has become public sector employment, which declined by 2,000 in the region, although only a few hundred of that was in Seattle. In contrast, private sector employment increased by 26,000 in the region, almost 12,000 of that in Seattle. Based on recent increases in sales tax revenues and building permits, we suspect that the recovery is accelerating this year in Seattle, and that we will see further job gains as public and private investment continues to grow.
Downtown Seattle is the key, with virtually all of the employment growth taking place in downtown, especially in South Lake Union and the Denny Triangle. This is further evidence that the continued investment in downtown infrastructure and changes in zoning and City policies are paying off for thousands of Seattle residents who now can go to work. The Lake Union submarket had an office vacancy rate of 17% in 2009. Now it is down to 6%, despite the addition of new buildings (including the Amazon complex).
Seattle has put together a series of policy and investment initiatives since the recession hit in 2008 to try to stimulate economic recovery. In past recessions, Seattle was usually affected later than most parts of the country, but also recovered much more slowly. In this recession, we again slid into decline later than other areas, but we are leading the recovery. While the innovations and energy of the private sector have driven this, our determined and deliberate public policy approach has helped to make it possible.