After one of the most volatile weeks on Wall Street in recent memory, and more financial challenges ahead, members of the Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce gathered Friday for an annual lunch meeting at the Westin Hotel. The economy was on everyone's minds.

Share story

After one of the most volatile weeks on Wall Street in recent memory, and more financial challenges ahead, members of the Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce gathered Friday for an annual lunch meeting at the Westin Hotel. The economy was on everyone’s minds.

Departing Chairman James Warjone began by reading a headline:

“Wall Street alarmed by a succession of failures. Two banks and seven firms go under. Disquieting rumors prevail,” he said.

While it might sound familiar, that headline was actually 124 years old, he noted. It was taken from a news story in 1884, just two years after the Seattle chamber was formed.

“It’s amazing how many times we go through these cycles,” said Warjone, chief executive of Port Blakely Companies. “The good news is we survive and prosper afterward.”

Even as they predicted more tough times in the near future, the chamber’s business leaders outlined a strategy to confront economic challenges with innovation and take advantage of new opportunities.

They identified clean technology and global health as promising new sectors, and called on members to work together to find solutions to problems of climate change and emerging and neglected diseases.

In the coming year, the chamber will seek to enhance a business-friendly climate in Washington state; improve regional transportation, including funding for the Alaskan Way Viaduct and Highway 520; support urban density and housing affordability; advance sustainable development; and strengthen the region as a center for global health.

“We live in interesting and very unsettling times,” said Tayloe Washburn, incoming chairman of the chamber and a land-use lawyer with Foster Pepper in Seattle. He called next year “a critical turning point for the future of the region,” and said protecting the natural environment and sustaining innovation are key.

“Our region is well-positioned, if we do the right things, to provide vitally needed solutions that the entire world needs in two areas: climate change and global health,” he said. “Roll up your sleeves and get to work.”

The chamber and Mayor Greg Nickels unveiled a new tool called Decision Commons, which the chamber developed in collaboration with Microsoft and the city of Seattle.

Decision Commons is a virtual mapping and communications tool that lets urban planners create and see three-dimensional views of the city, from street-level to high above the buildings, with potential new developments imposed onto the existing landscape.

Washburn had the audience put on 3-D glasses to see a photo simulation of downtown Seattle. The region will grow by 1.7 million people by 2040, requiring new investment in infrastructure, transportation, housing and other areas, he said.

Even with the increase in population, high-density land use could reduce greenhouse-gas emissions by 23 percent, he said. Seattle has a chance to “show the nation and world how to successfully cope with climate change,” he said.

Institutions in Washington are reaching well beyond the state with investments and research to benefit the health of people throughout the world. But a declining U.S. economy could mean fewer grants for global-health research or venture capital for related startup companies.

While “capital formation may be more difficult for a while,” the momentum built up over recent years is so significant and global that a major slowdown seems unlikely, said Jack Faris, president of the Washington Biotechnology and Biomedical Association.

The chamber showed a short film clip by the Washington Global Health Alliance, which found that the emerging global-health sector has created 3,600 jobs in the state and supports 43,000 more jobs indirectly. The alliance predicted that 750 new jobs will be created by 2012.

Leroy Hood, president of the Institute for Systems Biology, introduced a new model of medicine he is pioneering called P4, with the P standing for predictive, personal, preventive and participatory.

Hood, who has played a role in founding more than 14 companies, including Amgen, Applied Biosystems and Rosetta, said the current approach to health needs to change from one that reacts to disease to a predictive model. The institute is working with international and national partners on a system to help determine “pre-clinical hints of disease” by assessing proteins in the blood that are unique to each organ.

In 10 years, people will all have their genomes sequenced, use a handheld device to take a tiny blood sample and send it wirelessly to a server to assess their health, he said.

Kristi Heim: 206-464-2718 or