At the annual meeting of the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, business leaders celebrated the defeat of the head tax — and looked to ride that momentum into next year’s city elections.
It was an upbeat, almost celebratory mood at the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce’s annual meeting Wednesday as chamber officials and business leaders recounted their stunning June victory over the city’s ill-fated head tax. Before a packed house of nearly a thousand in the Westin Hotel Grand Ballroom, executives talked of using that momentum to remake the city’s political establishment and repair the business community’s public image.
“We have no reason, at all, to apologize for who we are,” said Marilyn Strickland, the chamber’s new president, to sustained applause. “I don’t buy this narrative that business growth is responsible for every social problem that we’re experiencing in Seattle, or that we have to punish companies for being successful, or that we have to write blank checks to government.”
Wednesday’s meeting, the first major business gathering since the tumultuous political events of this summer, comes at a time of growing uncertainty about the region’s nearly decade-long economic boom.
“We’re at the top of the cycle,” said Heather Redman, outgoing chamber board chair. “The day will come when we will not be at the top of the cycle and we will be looking at our employers and worrying about their ability to continue to make payroll, to continue to grow, to continue to supply these great jobs.”
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Most of the discussion emphasized a wave of positive data and optimistic forecasts. Chamber membership is now the highest it has been since the Great Recession—with more than 2,400 companies representing three-quarters of a million employees. The chamber has launched a number of programs to broaden its reach, including programs to elevate small, minority- and women-owned businesses. Keynoter François Locoh-Donou, President, CEO and director of local tech firm F5 spoke of the critical need for managers to find ways to empower minority employees.
But the recurring theme of the afternoon was politics and policy, and the need for the business community to step up its role in the local political process. For example, Strickland wants business and civic leaders to get behind the idea of a “regional housing authority, similar to the three-county district we created for mass transit,” that approaches—and funds—regional housing supply as it were essential “infrastructure.”
In the near term, chamber officials are eager to maintain the momentum from recent political wins–the head-tax, as well as the election victory of Mayor Jenny Durkan, whom the chamber endorsed. Markham McIntyre, who serves as both chamber chief of staff and executive director of the chamber’s political action committee, Civic Alliance for a Sound Economy (CASE), said the chamber is focused intently on city elections next year, when 7 of 9 city council seats will be up for grabs.