Phil Bussey sees risks in region's education support, anti-business regulations and lack of infrastructure investments.
When Phil Bussey became president and chief executive of the 2,200-member Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce in April 2009, the Great Recession had arrived here in force.
Washington Mutual had collapsed in the nation’s biggest banking failure, Safeco had been bought and the local economy was bleeding jobs.
At the time, he called the recession “tectonic” and saw Job One for local leaders in preserving the Puget Sound aerospace cluster. Bussey proved to be a highly effective leader, especially behind the scenes, heading up one of the nation’s most progressive chambers.
This month, he moved to a new job at Puget Sound Energy, where he formerly worked. He agreed to give me an exit interview about his experiences since 2009.
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Question: What are the biggest advantages the Seattle region has for business and the economy?
Answer: Talent; innovative and creative sectors that continually drive new ideas and opportunities; top quality higher-education institutions, and a wonderful culture and environment to live in.
Q: What are the biggest risks we’re going to face in keeping a robust, diverse economy?
A: There are three that come immediately to mind:
First, education. The loss of the quality and talent at our higher-ed institutions that will come if we don’t continue to invest in them.
Second, a continually increasing “hassle factor.” By this I mean there is a steady pace of continually placing more burden on business, through regulation, taxes, rates and fees, and decisions that make it harder for businesses to be nimble and responsive.
It is not any one single decision or issue, but the accumulation of many that ultimately hinders and slows business to the point they redirect their growth elsewhere.
Third: Failure to invest in infrastructure. Transportation, parks, the arts, law enforcement all make up essential parts of our region’s infrastructure and maintains not only our economy but our quality of life — which is important to business.
All three of these are top priorities for the Chamber. We’ve made some headway of late — especially in the area of transportation with the Alaskan Way Viaduct and SR 520, but we have more to do and will continue to do so for years to come.
Q: What should our priorities be to avoid those risks?
A: First, we need to step up and invest in higher-ed and really pursue legitimate reforms at the K-12 level. Both systems are at critical junctures, and if we fail to respond, we will pay a lasting price.
Second, elected officials’ actions need to better reflect the cause and effect — both individually and cumulatively — of their actions on the ability for business to provide and maintain jobs. Jobs create tax revenues and make citizens providers to — and not users of — public support systems.
Some type of mechanism should be implemented where not only the social and environmental impacts of their actions are measured and factored in, but also the economic impacts of those same decisions.
Q: What most surprised you during your tenure at the Chamber?
A: Just how uniquely positioned Seattle is for greatness. It has always been a special city and region.
But given our geographic location, quality of the corporations that call Seattle home, the creative class that it attracts and retains, and the surroundings that make it such a wonderful place to live.
Yet we are very passive about leveraging these assets for growth and job expansion. Yes, there is plenty we can do better, but we need to approach things from a position of strength and we need to be better self-promoters.
The Chamber has a great role to play here. I think what we want and need — good-paying jobs, vibrant neighborhoods, great education, reliable and safe transportation, a sustainable environment, and a welcoming and diverse culture — are shared values for the community as a whole.
When I first joined the Chamber, I was surprised at how little awareness there was of these shared values, and the role the Chamber could play in bringing diverse constituencies together to help move us forward in these areas.
In the nearly three years I’ve been at the Chamber, we’ve made substantial progress in working together and shown just how effective we can be. That being said, there’s more to do.
I’m sad to be stepping aside from it, but I know that I’m leaving it in great hands. And I’ll continue to be involved as a member.
Q: You’ll still be around. Can you talk about your new job and what it will entail?
A: My new position will be senior vice president and chief customer officer. It is a newly created position at Puget Sound Energy. PSE has always cared about its customers and now under CEO Kimberly Harris, I’ve been asked to increase that focus and take it to new levels.
Specifically, I’ll be responsible for PSE’s customer solutions, corporate affairs and federal and state government relations. If you think about it, within each one of those areas are customers and constituents that we have the opportunity to interface and work with. I’m very excited about the opportunity this presents and feel honored that PSE would ask me to lead it.
You may reach Jon Talton at firstname.lastname@example.org.