Eastside business leaders are optimistic about the local economy and expect to see strong revenues and increased hiring in 2018, according to an annual report released this week by the Bellevue Chamber of Commerce.

A survey included in the Chamber’s 2018 Eastside Economic Strategy Guide — which aims to provide market intelligence and business insights — asked local business leaders to gauge the local economy. It was released during the Chamber’s  24th Annual Eastside Economic Forecast Breakfast, which drew 350 people to Meydenbauer Center in downtown Bellevue.

Highlights from the survey include:

Overall Optimism: 78 percent of survey respondents expect the Puget Sound economy to expand in 2018.

Revenue: 73 percent of survey respondents expect revenues to be stronger in 2018 than in 2017, while 22 percent of survey respondents expect revenues to remain static.

Job Growth: 53 percent of survey respondents expect to hire staff in 2018, with companies of 100 to 250 employees expecting to grow by 80 percent, and companies of 11 to 50 employees expecting to grow by 69 percent.

Challenges: Survey respondents cited transportation infrastructure and congestion; employee health care costs; business taxation, regulation, and utilities rates; regional economic climate; and the ability to attract and retain employees as the biggest concerns or factors that could impact their businesses next year.

Areas of Expansion: Workforce sectors expected to do the most hiring next year include marketing and sales positions; administrative positions; and industry/technical specialists.

Bank of America chief market strategist Joseph Quinlan returned to the Eastside to deliver a keynote speech on the state of the national and global economies. It’s something he has done every year for the past decade.

“Bellevue is so dynamic,” said Quinlan. “It’s high energy here, which is great. I’ll be honest with you, but Bellevue is going to be my canary in a coal mine. If things start to slow down in Bellevue, if Bellevue starts to see problems, then what does that mean for the other cities, states, and national economies?”

Quinlan said the United States economy is “firing on all cylinders,” and pointed to several factors as evidence: In the last year, the U.S. market cap expansion grew by nearly $2 trillion, and unemployment dropped from 4.6 percent to 4.1 percent; consumer confidence is high (as an amusing example, Quinlan noted Americans spent $9 billion this year on Halloween); and the U.S., on average, is exporting nearly $200 billion per month.

In his view, businesses and entrepreneurs who “drive and embrace change” will do well in the current economy, and our region is positioned well thanks to its strong tech industry presence.

As for challenges, Quinlan said, “This is as good as it gets. Enjoy it.” He noted low unemployment could put skilled labor at a premium. “Right now we have six million job openings,” said Quinlan. “Where are the workers?” And Americans are saddled with outstanding credit card, automobile, and student loans that total more than $3.5 trillion, combined.

Other event speakers included Bellevue Chamber CEO Betty Nokes Capestany, U.S. Trust managing director Dan Duke, and Kidder Mathews senior vice president Gary B. Guenther.

Finding Class A office space in Bellevue’s central business district remains a challenge. Guenther pointed to three high-rise office towers — 929 Office Tower, Centre 425, and Lincoln Square — that recently opened.

“It looked like at one point in time, at least to a lot of people, that we might have an oversupply,” said Guenther. “Well, fast-forward to today, and all those developers look like geniuses. That 1.5-million square feet is 95 percent leased to a great roster of national and local tenants— thus, leading us to the next wave of speculative development.”

 

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