Challenge Seattle is a godsend to a region enjoying prosperity but struggling to cope with its growth and lacking cohesive, regional leadership.
SEATTLE has a new Legion of Boom that could carry the day for the region’s economy and quality of life.
Called Challenge Seattle, it’s a coalition of chief executives from more than a dozen of the region’s largest companies, including Satya Nadella of Microsoft, Jeff Bezos of Amazon.com and Ray Conner of Boeing Commercial Airplanes. They’re listed at ChallengeSeattle.com.
Over the last year, they quietly formed an alliance and began meeting regularly to tackle several of the biggest challenges facing the Greater Seattle area.
They want to ensure that the region continues to thrive, creates even more job opportunities and remains a great place to live. They also want to increase recognition of Seattle’s special qualities — locally, nationally and particularly overseas.
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Challenge Seattle’s specific goals are a tall order. They include creating 80,000 jobs over the next five years, reducing traffic congestion by 50 percent and increasing the number of lower-income high-school students who attend college by 50 percent.
“We want this to continue to be a place where people enjoy a great quality of life,” said Microsoft President Brad Smith, an instigator of the effort.
Smith said the group will also help recruit other companies to locate headquarters in the Seattle area, especially Asian companies planning North American headquarters. That’s needed to diversify employment that’s still heavily concentrated at a handful of large organizations.
These leaders’ commitment of time and focus is a godsend for a region that’s enjoying remarkable prosperity today but facing an uncertain tomorrow. Too often, local elected officials are too focused on their own jurisdictions rather than the region as a whole, which is struggling to cope with its growth and failing to ensure that more residents benefit from opportunities that are being created by its leading companies.
Challenge Seattle organizers say they won’t be political advocates. But given their stature, they can’t help but influence policy. They should encourage long-term, realistic, regional solutions — prodding elected officials who lately seem more concerned about proving fealty to patrons and ideological cliques.
“We think that kind of leadership from these CEOs is exactly what we need in what is a very fractured area right now,” said former Gov. Chris Gregoire, who is serving as Challenge Seattle’s chief executive.
Transportation is an area that particularly needs the voice of reason and regional perspective that Challenge Seattle offers. The group is made up of executives whose employees live and work throughout the region and depend on fast and functional roads and transit services. They should be immune to the groupthink that’s made local officials all but indifferent to longer, more painful commutes and the congestion paralyzing freight mobility.
Challenge Seattle is modeled on business-driven economic-development efforts in cities such as Chicago and Austin.
Gregoire is also drawing on consultant reports that compare Seattle’s workforce, reputation and infrastructure to global cities such as Singapore, Melbourne, Australia, and Vancouver, B.C., placing Seattle in the middle of the pack.
Challenge Seattle also continues a long tradition in Seattle, where previous generations of business leaders stepped up for signature projects, such as the Forward Thrust regional improvements and the World’s Fair and Space Needle.
Organizers say the plan is to fill in gaps and work with existing groups, such as the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce and the Washington Roundtable.
They’ll go public in 2016 with a branding campaign that emphasizes what a special place Seattle is to live and work.
Challenge Seattle might also consider using its considerable influence to break the logjam holding up education funding in the Washington Legislature. Fixing the state’s education crisis is essential to achieving the group’s goals of addressing school and economic disparities, preserving livability, expanding the workforce and increasing the region’s appeal as a place to live, work and build companies.