Two weeks ago, I laid out some markers — not predictions — for the new year. Now I’d like to drill into some specific issues that will affect Seattle and Washington.

Amazon. The city and state’s largest employer faces many challenges beyond the antipathy of the Seattle City Council. With founder Jeff Bezos stepping aside to focus on his other ventures, the company has only its second chief executive, Andy Jassy, who headed the cloud computing division.

It’s facing greater regulatory scrutiny worldwide, including from President Joe Biden’s head of the Federal Trade Commission, Lina Khan, who is expected to look at antitrust issues. Competitors such as Walmart and Microsoft are formidable in retail and cloud computing.

Boeing. Even though Amazon has surpassed Boeing as Washington’s largest employer, the aerospace company still has a massive footprint here. This will be an important year as the company seeks to right itself from the 737 MAX disaster and other setbacks.

Yet in exclusive interviews with my colleague Dominic Gates, top executives didn’t project enough vision and confidence to convince industry analysts that all will be well. MAX orders trail Airbus’ competing airliner, debt is heavy, and a breakup of defense and commercial airplanes is not unthinkable.

A big question is whether top executives can free themselves from the Jack Welch management culture that dominated Boeing in recent years and return to an emphasis on engineering excellence? Or will “shareholder value” to Wall Street still be Job No. 1?


Bruce Harrell. Seattle’s new mayor inherits a raft of challenges from a homeless crisis that has worsened as more money has been spent, to rising crime that is threatening the city’s quality of life.

He’s got the chops and temperament to make a big dent in the city’s problems — if he can establish a working relationship with the City Council’s hard-left activist majority. Seattle badly needs a successful mayor.

One key measure of Harrell’s tenure will be establishing communications and relationships with business early. That ranges from Amazon to the one-person shop far from the central core. Business is an ecosystem that includes both. Small businesses need big ones and vice versa.

China and trade. Washington’s merchandise exports fell from $60.3 billion in 2019 to slightly more than $41 billion in 2020, lower than even a decade earlier. Exports to China, our largest customer, were down about half from where they stood in the mid-2010s.

One profound effect: Washington was the ninth largest exporter among the states in 2020, down from third a few years ago.

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The pandemic is partly to blame (exports to Canada, Japan and others also fell), but the Trump trade war with China is the big offender. Both U.S. political parties have hardened a stance against Beijing on everything from human-rights violations and military buildup to a mercantilist trade policy that works against American interests.

China faces several crises of its own: A shrinking working-age population, real-estate meltdown, tighter political control over the economy by Xi Jinping and continued COVID-19 stumbles. None of these presages better trade numbers for Washington.

Data compiled by WiserTrade, an international trade research firm, offers some hope. Through October 2021, export of all commodities from Washington was up more than 28% in total from the year before and up 33% for China.

Cultural institutions. Recovery of the Seattle Symphony, Seattle Art Museum, theater, live shows and other cultural assets is critical to the city’s health and attractiveness. COVID-19 gets a vote — will it force a shutdown or not? So far, when I’ve been to Benaroya Hall, they check vaccination proof and audiences are masked.

Gates Foundation. With the divorce of Bill Gates and Melinda French Gates, Seattle’s most influential, world-spanning nonprofit enters a period of uncertainty. This is one to watch. Still, the pair gave $15 billion this past year, increasing the grant-maker’s endowment to $65 billion. For now, they are working together.

Real estate. Despite all its troubles, Seattle managed to stay in the Top 10 most desirable real-estate markets in the influential Emerging Trends 2022 report from PwC and the Urban Land Institute. At No. 9, it’s the last West Coast city not to have fallen out of the top (it was No. 1 in 2018). Homebuilding prospects are strong.


But not all the details provide comfort. Only 15% of real-estate executives polled rated retail properties as a “buy,” while 54% were “hold” and 31% were “sell.” The latter two numbers were even higher for office properties.

Still, the report stated, “One local interviewee said Seattle’s ‘expanding diversity of population is a catalyst to attracting more diversity and the best talent,’ while another points to the ‘rich history of entrepreneurship from Boeing to Paccar’— not to mention Amazon, Microsoft, Weyerhaeuser, and retail giants Starbucks, Nordstrom, and Costco, among other local legends. Significant projects underway include a major redevelopment of the central waterfront and expansion of the convention center, as well as headquarters projects for Microsoft and Amazon.”

Note that not all of these are in the city.

Return to the office. Coronavirus variants keep pushing this back or amending safety protocols. I think a return is inevitable and already happening on a limited scale (some vehemently disagree with me). Without it, much of the city’s employment and tax base will be wounded.

Supply chain. Our piece of this pandemic-tangled mess is the Northwest Seaport Alliance and its rail and truck connections. A good sign: Phase one of Terminal Five in Seattle opens this week for large vessels. Four new Super-post Panamax cranes are ready to work the first ship to call, MSC Monterey.

Third Avenue. This main downtown thoroughfare was filled with businesses in 2019. Now it’s turned into a linear slum of boarded-up shops, tents, people struggling with addiction, and open-air drug dealing. The pandemic again played a role but the biggest driver was crime, including organized and widespread shoplifting. This caused the demise of Macy’s, Columbia Sportswear, IGA Kress, Bergman Luggage and more.

In 2022, I’ll be watching to see if Third can make a comeback. It’s a marker for all of downtown and public safety citywide.

Upcoming election. Democrats seem likely to lose control of the U.S. House and maybe the Senate. Our blue bastion will remain. But GOP victories will hurt our funding for infrastructure and social services, stymying the Biden agenda. I hope I’m wrong.

What did I miss? The comments section awaits you.