The Great Recession was declared over by many experts in 2008, but recovery, of course, wasn’t immediate. Some areas of the country are still trying to get back on track. Bellevue, for example, has returned to pre-Recession construction levels, but unemployment and commercial leasing have yet to catch up.
Suzanne Dale Estey, president and CEO of the Economic Development Council of Seattle and King County, says the Puget Sound area has been too reliant on aerospace in the past, but since the Recession, the job market has diversified by growing jobs in technology, healthcare, and manufacturing.
During the past 10 years, the Eastside has added thousands of positions in healthcare and technology, all while staying strong in the aerospace field. The area saw approximately 11 percent job growth during that time.
Boeing still is the largest employer in King County, with 85,000 jobs. Microsoft is second with 41,664 jobs, followed by the University of Washington, Providence Health and Services, and Amazon. The fact that two of the area’s top five employers are tech companies makes some wonder: Will tech soon become dominant enough that the area will again lose its economic diversity?
“I don’t think there’s an alarming over-reliance on IT, but it’s a cautionary tale to be watchful of,” Estey says. “It’s a reminder to make sure we hold on to manufacturing jobs, and make sure our healthcare sector survives through the radical changes it’s undergoing.”
Up-and-coming job sectors include financial services, and professional, scientific, and technical services.
Eastside unemployment is down to 4.7 percent, but that’s still nearly a point and a half higher than the 3.3 percent of 2007. Sandeep Kristhnamurthy, founding dean of the School of Business at University of Washington Bothell, says unemployment rates for college graduates have lowered, but many of them are underemployed and their college debts are still unresolved.
Kristhnamurthy sees many encouraging signs for the Eastside, including that some of the biggest companies in the state are headquartered here. He also likes how tech companies such as Concur and Apptio have surged ahead.
“It’s possible for companies to grow and thrive and become world leaders in our backyard,” he says.
Kristhnamurthy highlighted the Eastside’s cultural diversity, calling it exciting and a key factor in continued growth and development.
“We are a collection of an amazing group of communities,” he says. “Diversity brings energy, innovation, and different perspectives. This is a big thing we have going for us.”
Estey says for recovery to continue on its current course, communities need to work together to support transportation infrastructure, including roads and transit systems. Approximately 15 percent of the Eastside’s workforce, 39,889 of 256,092 workers, commutes across Lake Washington from Seattle. Roughly 10 percent of the workforce comes from Bellevue, with Redmond, Kirkland, and Sammamish close on its heels. Estey says the number of workers that commute to the Eastside from South King and Pierce counties is also significant.
Approximately 60,000 Eastside residents work outside the area, Estey says.
While the EDC does not do advocacy work, Estey says she will speak up when data reveals an issue that could affect job-market competitiveness.
“The transportation infrastructure, both roads and transit, is absolutely critical and a huge competitiveness issue,” she says. “Do we have systems that really make sense, and jobs where people are living?”
Another critical issue is cultivating talent.
“We need to take very seriously the challenges … of talent and transportation, and if we don’t we won’t be on the trend line that we’re on,” Estey says. “But the trend line is quite solid.”