Amazon delivered a surprise punch to Seattle last week. It was as if an attractive, wealthy spouse asked for an open marriage. A shocker. Kind of like when Boeing moved its HQ to Chicago in 2001.
Some say the company is responding to civic leaders who pile Seattle’s woes on Amazon (traffic, housing costs, homelessness). Amazon is definitely the preferred punching bag for our elected officials. Amazon may also be responding to Seattle’s very left wing policies such as regulated worker scheduling, $15 minimum wage, Uber unionization and a proposed income tax. Although that seems less likely because other than the income tax, the regulations are window dressing for pols and don’t impact Amazon workers much.
For sure Seattle leaders, especially the city council, go out of their way to out-liberal each other. But that’s the way the game is played in Seattle, especially when the tax coffers are full.
But look back 10 years and you’ll see a different city. Back then the problems weren’t traffic jams. The problems were the highest post-Depression unemployment rate, seniors forced into retirement, and city, county and state governments that were completely broke.
In 2009 the City of Seattle laid off employees and cut capital project plans due to a $43 million shortfall. Meanwhile the county was dealing with a $50 million shortfall and the state a $9 billion shortfall. An interesting anecdote from 2010, of roughly 1,500 carpenters in the local union, nearly 600 were out-of-work in, a Depression-era jobless rate of more than 35 percent. City unemployment spiked at 8.7 percent and state unemployment was higher than 10%.
These historic anecdotes bring Amazon’s announcement into sharp relief. Seattle has to find a balance to keep the city livable without pushing its corporate citizens into the arms of a desperate city. The city’s population and budget have grown, but the budget has outgrown the population by about 12%. What should we do with the extra money?
- Seattle 2010 budget $3.85 billion population 608,660 budget per capita $6,325
- Seattle 2017 budget $5.06 billion population 713,700 budget per capita $7,089
Amazon’s announcement might be a wake up call to use these salad days wisely. Seattle is at a moment where it can do powerful things to secure the city’s future. We’re already committed to a $54 billion light rail project. But we’re in need of schools in the urban core. We need massive housing stock to fight homelessness. We need more tech workers trained and educated here, not imported.
Mostly we need leadership that sees this is the opportunity of a lifetime to make huge leaps in Seattle for its citizens and companies. Do that and you’ll keep the spouse.