Every company today is a technology company, from railroads to real estate. The trick for a competitive metro area is to be at the headwaters of technology and on its leading edge.
Facebook dips its toe in with a small engineering office that now employs 500. It is moving to a new building — interiors designed by starchitect Frank Gehry — with room for 2,000 workers.
Best Buy picks the city over Silicon Valley to open a development center for its second e-commerce hub outside of its Minneapolis headquarters. The initial head count is expected to be 50, but see the previous paragraph about potential.
Software outfit K2, a tiny startup a few years ago, raised $100 million to grow. It already has 1,500 customers worldwide.
These coups would be a good brag list for most metro areas’ annual economic-development report cards. Instead, they represented one day’s news last week here.
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The boom in Seattle and the Puget Sound area has legs beyond construction cranes, engines other than Amazon.com and Microsoft. To the list above, we can add offices of Google, Apple and Alibaba. Among the locally grown success stories is F5 Networks.
Software, cloud computing, e-commerce and other technology ecosystems are growing here. We are a sweet spot for startups and all stages of angel, growth and venture capital. And the assets we are attracting and growing are not data centers minded by a few, but top-end technology-engineering and research offices, as well as homegrown headquarters.
Over the past five years ending in December, 12,100 jobs were added in computer-systems design and related services for Seattle-Bellevue-Everett. Software publishers added a more modest 2,300. But in the broad category of information jobs, the metro area had 90,500 jobs in December, close to a record and well above 1999.
In the broad category of information jobs, the Seattle metro area had 90,500 jobs in December.
All those who looked anxiously at Southern states and wondered why Washington couldn’t be cheap can take heart.
This is one of our advantages. We are cheaper than Silicon Valley, New York, Boston and L.A.
Yet we have the talent, a leading university, deep knowledge in software, cloud computing and e-commerce, a cool city and spectacular setting that the world’s leading companies demand for their brainpower.
With Microsoft and Amazon, the region has an abundance of experienced, highly skilled and potentially restless workers that can be poached by another company.
It’s an impressive combination that is driving this expansion and solidification of Seattle as a technopolis. No wonder a recent Brookings Institution report found that Seattle had the second largest share of advanced industries as part of total employment, after only Silicon Valley.
This golden moment didn’t happen overnight. Microsoft has been here for decades. Amazon was founded in 1994. A reader reminded me that Boeing founded a computer division years ago. And you don’t get a more advanced industry than aerospace.
With Boeing building the 777X in Washington, we have the chance to leverage the wing plant into a wider carbon-composite sector.
The reality is that every company today is a technology company, from railroads to real estate. The trick for a competitive metro area is to be at the headwaters of technology and on its leading edge.
The Seattle growth plans of Facebook, Best Buy and K2 are all reasons to celebrate. They are not excuses to be smug.
Few American metros are in this fortunate spot. But it ensures good jobs, as well as attracting capital and talent at a time of slow growth nationally and globally.
As I have written before, the Seattle area is deep in software and aerospace. It is developing great strength in cloud computing. In celebrating the Best Buy location, Gov. Jay Inslee said we were the “Cloud Computing Capital of the World.” It’s a great aspirational statement, but we’re not there yet.
Similarly, we’re strong in biotech and biomedical, but not in the first rank. We are making a run at clean technology but early in the game.
We’re deep but not broad.
The region’s challenge is to widen its portfolio of advanced industries rather than sit on the existing assets.
For example, MIT just released its prediction of 10 breakthrough technologies for the year. They include Magic Leap 3-D imaging, car-to-car communications to improve safety and the Internet of DNA. While Boston, for example, is leading in most of these, Seattle is barely on the field.
So Facebook, Best Buy and K2 are all reasons to celebrate. They are not excuses to be smug.