Left to right, Hopelink CEO Lauren Thomas, Wright Runstad & Co President Gregory Johnson, Puget Sound Energy President & CEO Kimberly Harris, Leadership Eastside CEO and moderator Jame Whitfield, take part in a rapid-fire question round during Leadership Eastside's 10th anniversary lunch. Photo courtesy Leadership Eastside.

Left to right, Hopelink CEO Lauren Thomas, Wright Runstad & Co President Gregory Johnson, Puget Sound Energy President & CEO Kimberly Harris, and Leadership Eastside CEO and moderator Jame Whitfield, take part in a rapid-fire question round during Leadership Eastside’s 10th anniversary lunch. Photo courtesy Leadership Eastside.

Leadership Eastside celebrated its 10-year anniversary Thursday with a well-attended luncheon and dynamic discussion about the state and future of the Eastside.

The panel featured Puget Sound Energy CEO Kimberly Harris, Wright Runstad & Co. President Gregory Johnson, and Hopelink CEO Lauren Thomas. Each panel member presented their vision for the area’s future and took part in a discussion moderated by James Whitfield, Leadership Eastside’s CEO.

Former Washington state Attorney General Rob McKenna opened the event by praising how far the organization had come in 10 years, from holding monthly meetings in a borrowed conference room to filling a large reception hall at the Meydenbauer Center with engaged leaders. He called on those in attendance to present a unified voice to the federal, state, and local governments on relevant and important issues of the day.

Two of those issues, transportation and land use, were common themes throughout the event.

Harris spoke about Puget Sound Energy’s Green Power Program, in which customers are able to choose to receive power from renewable energy sources by paying a little more on their monthly bill. With 45,000 subscribing customers in the Puget Sound area, the program is the fifth largest in the country.

Harris said Puget Sound Energy is the second largest utility company in the country to own and operate its own wind resources. She said that 27 percent of the wind resources in the state of Washington are owned and operated by PSE.

Harris reported that large customers also are buying into the Green Power Program, with Boeing being one of the largest to participate. Boeing recently purchased enough renewable energy credits to power its Renton plant.

PSE has also delved into the transportation fray. Harris said the utility recently entered into an agreement to supply Alaska trailership operator Totem Ocean Trailer Express with liquefied natural gas at Port of Tacoma, which sends large container ships enroute to Alaska twice weekly.

Johnson discussed transportation and how it plays a role in the Spring District, which Wright Runstad is building. He commended the city’s approach to redeveloping the Bel-Red corridor area along the eventual East Link light rail.

“When you start thinking about a transit line where the stations have been placed in advance of the development to take advantage of the public investment in light rail, and to induce the kind of land use that’s going to be most productive when it comes to matching public investment with private investment, to put it simply, it’s exciting,” Johnson said.

The Spring District covers 16 city blocks, and Johnson said the development was designed and planned to complement existing neighborhoods and retail districts, while taking advantage of Sound Transit’s East Link extension from Seattle’s Westlake Station to Overlake in Redmond.

Spring District will allocate 10 percent of its housing units to affordable housing, consistent with the city’s building requirements. Thomas, Hopelink’s CEO, said providing affordable housing is a step in the right direction but does not begin to cover the needs of Eastside’s communities.

“Each day when I leave my house, I’m relieved to know that I have a place to come home to and my family has food to eat every single day. That routine might be very similar for most of you, but for those who come to Hopelink every single day, they are worried about those issues,” Thomas said.

Thomas said that of the Eastside’s 614,000 residents, 86,000 of them live in poverty, and one in five Bellevue children is eligible for free or reduced lunch. Hopelink served 60,000 people in 10,000 households last year. Of those households, more than 80 percent have an annual income of less than $30,000, which Thomas said is less than half of the $74,000 annual income required to be economically self sufficient in this region.

“What I see on the Eastside is that we’re known as smart, informed, and passionate people who are committed to growing businesses and having a thriving community,” Thomas said. “We’re both a data-driven culture that really believes in equity and justice and fairness for everyone in our community. Because of this, I predict that the confluence of smart people using the latest information will work to change the policies, change the systems, and increasingly provide the effective services that are needed to make us a stronger community.”

Thomas said it is important to have conversations about race and income disparity so that communities can openly discuss what can be done to resolve systemic inequities.

“We are fortunate to live in an area where we enjoy a lot of prosperity and economic growth relative to other parts of the county, and really what that requires that the people in this gene plan for things in future generations,” Johnson said, stressing the importance of cities and communities taking the long view when planning development.

“Everything you do should be intentional,” Johnson said.

During the panel discussion, Whitfield discussed the Global Innovation Exchange, a potential partnership between the University of Washington and an unnamed Chinese university to offer an MBA program in collaboration with large companies like Microsoft. If current plans stay on track, the program will open in 2016 in Bellevue.

Whitefield also spilled the beans about a new Hopelink program, which Thomas said is still in the “quiet phase.” The hushed project is a capital campaign to drive down poverty on the Eastside, including developing service centers and housing units. Thomas did not offer further details about the project.