Leaders from various sectors across the Eastside gathered online on April 29 for the Regional Business Summit.

Presented by Chambers of Commerce from Snoqualmie Valley, Sammamish, Issaquah, Newcastle, and Mercer Island, the event, covered COVID-19, economic resilience, tech innovation, diversity, and more. 

The summit was hosted by the Issaquah Chamber’s chief executive officer Kathy McCorry.

Bryan Clay. Screenshot from event.

After the event kicked off with a general COVID update from Overlake’s Andrea Turner, Dr. Abdul Siddiqui, and Alvera Mandavia, the floor was given to morning speaker Bryan Clay. The Olympic gold and silver medalist and co-founder of fitness company, Eat the Frog, discussed his experiences as an athlete, the adversity he faced growing up, his business, and more. 

Clay highlighted the importance of maintaining a tenacious attitude during challenging times. 

“I tell this to my employees, and even to my executive staff: simple is hard,” Clay said. “But what I want you to do is sit back and think about, ‘where’s my perspective these days?’ The bottom line is, where is your headspace right now, and take a check of that. Because I guarantee your headspace and where you’re at, or your perspective and how you’re seeing all of this…will change the way you do business — it’ll change the way you make decisions…that’s really the reason why our business has been able to grow through 2020 and continue to grow through 2021.” 

After Clay spoke, the summit went into its first CEO panel. This particular conversation — which comprised interim Bellevue College president and former governor Gary Locke, Sen. Mark Mullet, and Washington Economic Development Association executive director Suzanne Dale Estey — was broadly focused on economic resilience. 

Regarding what the future of higher education could look like, Locke said that one struggle is trying to figure out what the “new normal” will be once COVID restrictions are lifted. Nonetheless, he expects that many innovations brought on by pandemic-related restrictions will continue to have lasting ramifications. 

Clockwise from top left: Gary Locke, Dale Estey, Mark Mullet, and Bob Green. Screenshot from the event.

“The pandemic has actually accelerated the transformation of education,” Locke said. “With the advent of technology, there’s no reason why a person in Africa could not be taking a course from Stanford University or the University of Washington and have courses that are applied online, where people can take it at the time of their leisure and at the time of their convenience…I suspect that the new normal is going to be based off of today’s online COVID experience, where more courses will be offered asynchronously.”

Locke added that in tandem with this technological progression, he anticipates that employers and companies might form more partnerships with community technical colleges to offer short-term courses for current employees.

When asked what was on his priority list for the business community and federal stimulus funds, Millet said that with the “billion of state money and billion of federal money still on the sidelines, my two favorite places to spend it would be (unemployment) support, but transportation investments are the other ones.”  

Later in the discussion, Washington Chamber of Commerce Executives CEO Bob Green, who moderated the panel, asked Estey for her insights on economic recovery. 

Estey said that in lieu of a crystal ball, she has a strong network of experts who have shared their projections with her over time. She anticipates a five-year recovery period for hospitality and entertainment, though she is comparatively optimistic about manufacturing. 

“I think we’re in it for the long haul,” Estey said, adding that millions of jobs lost may likely never come back. “It’s going to be reliant on our education systems to retrain workers and help them figure out how to pivot.”

Following the CEO discussion, attendees were given the option to choose from three roundtable discussions focusing on either business model innovation, customer engagement, or technology’s role in growth and increasing efficiency. Afterward, they were invited to check out four different “quick tip” presentations that focused on topics ranging from workplace equity to data security.

Clockwise from top left: Renée Sunde, Kemper Freeman, and Alan Stephens. Screenshot from the event.

The event closed out with another CEO panel. The discussion — centered around how the business community can rally the region to drive economic recovery — was moderated by Association of Washington Business strategic engagement director Dru Garson and included speakers like Kemper Development Company chairman and CEO Kemper Freeman, Columbia Hospitality director of operations Alan Stephens, and WA Retail Association president and CEO Renée Sunde. 

In keeping with the first CEO discussion, the inaugural question solicited predictions regarding economic recovery — and, like Estey’s response, projections uniformly took to the tune of cautious optimism.

When specifically asked about the unprecedented growth in Bellevue, Kemper said that in his decades in the industry, he’s never seen growth like Bellevue’s, largely on account of the fact that two trillion-dollar companies — Amazon and Microsoft — are headquartered there. 

On the topic of potential inflation in the coming years and its effect on retailers, Sunde said that she envisions shortages and supply chain bottlenecks — things that could also affect consumer spending. She anticipates, in the meantime, retail sales increasing between 6.7 and 8.2 percent in the coming year via the National Retail Federation. 

“I think the challenge for retailers is trying to predict what people are going to buy in the coming year when our world has become really unpredictable,” she said. 

At the end of the discussion, Stephens highlighted the work of hotel and restaurant workers.

“They’ve come to work every single day through this pandemic,” he said. “I’m just so proud of our industry, going through the ups and downs. We’ve seen the best of our team members through this. If you have a moment the next time you’re in a hotel, next time you’re in a restaurant, tip a little more, thank a little more — they’ve done an incredible job.”