It’s no secret that Information Technology is Bellevue’s most concentrated industry. In fact, this sector grew 21 percent from 2013 to 2018, and the city continues to see that number increase with major expansions either just having occurred or on the horizon for Amazon and Facebook.
According to Jesse Canedo, the City of Bellevue’s chief economic development officer, the story of downtown Bellevue is closely tied to the region’s entrepreneurial spirit and the development of infrastructure.
“Downtown Bellevue was originally a very small community of about four blocks,” he said, “which most people don’t realize when they look at what it is today. In the early days, downtown provided services and trading opportunities for the agriculture, logging, and other natural resource sectors working on the Eastside.”
Downtown’s first boom began after the completion of the Interstate 90 and State Route 520 bridges, and the development of Interstate 405. “While those highways helped stitch our region together,” Canedo said, “they also put Bellevue at the center of our transportation network. That ease of access set the foundation for our status as a global retail destination and a major office hub.”
The workforce grew, as the city’s access to Boeing facilities in Renton and Everett led families to move to the city.
“That made it a natural choice for Microsoft to locate on the Eastside,” Canedo said, “which attracted even more talent to drive our tech growth. Over the decades, those early aerospace engineers and tech innovators helped us grow and diversify into medical tech, gaming tech, and many other facets of software development.” At last tally, 17 percent of Washington’s global exports were technology products from the Eastside, and Bellevue alone produced 5 percent of the entire nation’s software jobs. Those numbers are sure to increase with the announcement last year that Amazon will bring about 25,000 employees to Bellevue by about 2025. The company has more than 3,000 employees in the city today.
Canedo believes Bellevue continues to be a future-focused community that’s proactive in adapting to changes in the global economy. “We want our economy to be as diverse and resilient as our residents,” he said. “So, in 2020, we updated our Economic Development Plan and examined our current industry strengths and also looked for opportunities to support emerging clusters.”
The team sees that Bellevue’s retail, tourism, and arts sectors are symbiotic and crucial in helping to maintain a well-rounded economy. Those sectors are led by some formidable players, including The Bellevue Collection’s Bellevue Square, which is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year.
“Tourism was one of our fastest-growing clusters prepandemic,” he said, “and we’re looking forward to welcoming the world back as soon as it’s safe to travel.”
Referencing the impact of this past year, Mason Luvera, Bellevue Downtown Association’s communications manager, said, “While (downtown) went on pause, it quickly jumped back — a strong indication of the city’s vitality.” He views it as a “shifting use case” for downtown, as more entrepreneurs open “cool local businesses” and many young employees choose to live closer to their Bellevue offices. As things evolve, many now ask: “What is the downtown experience beyond the workforce?”
“What’s been inspiring for us,” Luvera said, “is to see how people are discovering all our local businesses.” And as many companies gear up to return to the office, he envisions employees wanting to spend more time out in the community — taking coffee meetings or enjoying lunch with colleagues.
“As our residential capacity grows,” he said, “more folks are spending more time in their city. Again, this gives us confidence that, as things return, we’ll be in an even better position than before.”
Canedo added, “We want to continue being a destination of choice for people from all backgrounds and from every corner of the world. This means working hard to maintain and enhance our exceptional quality of life with more arts, more entertainment, and parks that helps us remain a place people want to be.”
Canedo acknowledges that in tough economic times, like the middle of a pandemic, it would be easy for everyone to scatter and focus on themselves. “In Bellevue,” he observed, “we’re seeing the opposite. The pandemic has really illuminated the heart and soul of Bellevue.”
Bellevue’s residents, companies, and City Council embrace a solution-oriented culture, Canedo said. Employers of all sizes and sectors have remained committed to helping the community by providing grants to local small businesses, supporting Eastside nonprofits, and donating to human services causes. And businesses have supported one another through donations and creative collaborations.
For example, the Bellevue Downtown Association witnessed downtown businesses hurting from the absence of 60,000 downtown employees, so it created the Heart of Bellevue campaign last June. Since then, it has promoted hundreds of local businesses, conducted interviews with downtown residents, and highlighted local nonprofits doing good within the community. Luvera said, “It became this news agency of positive stories downtown.” The Bellevue Chamber is leading efforts on an #EastsideTogether campaign, too.
Canedo loves countless things about this international city he deems “a very warm and welcoming place,” noting that more than 1 in 3 residents were born outside the U.S.
“Roughly half of Bellevue’s population identify as a person of color, including me,” Canedo said. “It helps foster a sense of community where diverse perspectives are welcomed, and that fosters innovation and creative ideas. Walking down the streets of downtown, you hear a mélange of languages, and it fills me with so much joy.”
Canedo encourages folks to stay tuned to developments within the emerging BelRed Arts District and to follow the BDA Heart of Bellevue campaign. He’s continually amazed by Bellevue’s role as a global innovation hub.
“I grew up a Star Trek fan (like Amazon founder Jeff Bezos),” he said, “and when meeting with our companies, it’s like living in that futuristic world. The ideas and technology, and community causes that people are working on is inspiring. What happens here changes the world.”