With T-Mobile US considering major expansion away from its hometown of Bellevue, and Amazon's HQ2 announcement looming, state and regional leaders must remind big employers that the Greater Seattle area still has the right business climate and ample capacity for growth.
Boeing’s next-generation jetliner production is not the only jobs bonanza that Washington state needs to be courting.
The state and Puget Sound region must also ensure T-Mobile US maintains and grows its Bellevue headquarters after its acquisition of Sprint, a $26.5 billion deal that could close in early 2019.
Regional leaders should make this a top priority after comments T-Mobile executives made recently at Sprint headquarters in Overland Park, Kansas.
Discussing how the merged company would be distributed, T-Mobile CEO John Legere said one advantage of the deal is the chance to create a second headquarters elsewhere, similar to Amazon’s looming HQ2 plan.
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When a Sprint employee asked about relocating to Bellevue, T-Mobile President Mike Sievert said the companies are discussing where to create new job centers and “re-map ourselves,” in part because “our Bellevue offices are full, completely full.”
“Even if we didn’t do the new T-Mobile, we were going to be looking for a new place to expand and suddenly you have this amazing talent pool of incredible people in an incredible facility,” Sievert said, according to a transcript posted by FierceWireless.com.
That should set off alarms for regional leaders and Gov. Jay Inslee, especially after they were caught off guard by Amazon’s decision to create an HQ2, in part because of concerns about Seattle’s business climate. The location of its new headquarters could be announced soon; it’s due by year end.
Meanwhile, T-Mobile is the heart of a wireless tech cluster that emerged on the Eastside as McCaw Cellular built the first nationwide network in the 1980s.
Reinvigorated by Legere, T-Mobile has grown its regional presence 75 percent to 8,000 employees, not counting retail stores, over the last five years. A spokesperson said it remains “firmly planted in Bellevue” and noted that it’s grown beyond its Factoria campus into three satellite offices in Bellevue.
While some jobs will be lost after it acquires Sprint — the two companies now employ more than 70,000 nationally — T-Mobile expects the deal will ultimately create thousands of new jobs.
This comes as T-Mobile and the wireless industry are embarking on their next massive round of investment, spending hundreds of billions to create a fifth-generation (5G) wireless network 10 times faster than 4G. T-Mobile wants Sprint’s reach and spectrum to build a 5G network fast and wide enough to compete with traditional internet-service providers such as Comcast. For consumers this could create much needed broadband competition, especially in rural areas with limited service.
New network capabilities will also produce a wave of new jobs, companies and innovation. Washington needs to step up efforts to make sure that happens here.
The Greater Seattle area has many advantages, as demonstrated by a century of producing breakthrough companies and the most successful entrepreneurs in history.
But the region cannot rest on its laurels. It must ensure that employers, from T-Mobile and Amazon to startups in tech and other industries, know the area still has the right climate and all the capacity they’ll need to transform the world again and again.