Before Bellevue became a city in 1953, it had a chamber of commerce. Before it installed its first traffic light in 1959, it wooed the headquarters of what is now Puget Sound Energy...

Share story

Before Bellevue became a city in 1953, it had a chamber of commerce. Before it installed its first traffic light in 1959, it wooed the headquarters of what is now Puget Sound Energy away from Seattle.

Maybe those progressive moves early on were signs of what the city would become: the Eastside’s economic center.

The large employers at the time were Puget Sound Power & Light Co. (now Puget Sound Energy) and a Safeway distribution center near Midlakes. Bellevue had a turkey cannery and compass company in World War II, but nothing compared with the shipyards in neighboring Kirkland, where more than 6,000 people worked building vessels during the war.

Wartime setback

The war set back Bellevue’s economy significantly, however, when in 1942 more than 300 Japanese-American farmers were interned, leaving dozens of vacant farms.

The employers:

The big guns:

The city’s largest employers are Boeing, Nordstrom, Puget Sound Energy, Safeway, the Bellevue School District, Overlake Hospital Medical Center and Airtouch Communications.

Most are service, retail:
Two-thirds are retail and service businesses, including:
• automobile dealerships, department stores, computer and electronics stores;
• engineering and real-estate firms, financial institutions and software companies.


Several public companies rank among the top 25 fastest-growing in the state, including:
InfoSpace, a provider of wireless Internet services;, an online pharmacy;
Expedia, an online travel service;
Western Wireless, a cellular service provider.
Also, four of the top 25 fastest-growing private companies:
NetStock Corp., an online brokerage.
Integrated Project Solutions Inc., project management software and training.
Alexander Global Promotions, produces promotional products.
Verus Inc., Web site products for health-care organizations.

The workers:

Bellevue has 125,000 jobs and 60,000 working residents.

Mostly white collar:
More than 53 percent of residents are employed as managers or professionals, compared with 42 percent in King County.

And tech-savvy:
Bellevue residents rank among the nation’s most connected: More than 85 percent of homes had a computer in 2001 and 82 percent have accessed the Internet.
-Compiled by Kristina Shevory

By the time Ward Russell, now 83, opened the Bellevue Barber Shop on Main Street in 1947, most of the farms had disappeared. Russell points to an aerial photograph in the 1955 Bellevue High School yearbook that shows most of the land around the downtown core largely undeveloped.

Russell was an avid yearbook collector and had issues stretching back to the 1920s until he donated them to the Bellevue Historical Society. Some remain at the barbershop, now run by his nephew, Vic Russell, and grandson Kurt Hester.

Bedrooms for Boeing

Those open spaces and overgrown berry farms gave way to neighborhoods in the 1960s as Bellevue became a bedroom community for Boeing employees in Everett and Renton, said Jim Hebert, founder of Bellevue-based Hebert Research.

Stephen Kyle, a retired Boeing engineer, remembers moving to Bellevue in 1967 and sharing a house with four guys.

“In the mid-’60s, Boeing was on a tremendous hiring spree, hiring a lot of young kids just out of college, like myself,” Kyle recalled. “We found a niche (in Bellevue) along with many others. It was affordable, nice and convenient.”

But when Boeing tanked and the airline industry flattened in the early 1970s, the area was hit hard. Of the five workers in Kyle’s house, four were laid off, including him, leaving the unemployed workers to move away or start their own businesses.

Entrepreneurial vigor

Many left, Hebert said, but a few chose the latter, creating an entrepreneurial vigor that continues today.

Companies that started in Bellevue include QFC, Costco and Microsoft’s Northwest headquarters. Companies that continue today include the region’s top telecommunications provider, Western Wireless; the region’s second-largest residential real-estate company, John L. Scott, and the region’s largest public-relations agency, Waggener Edstrom. Bellevue Square, which opened with a few stores in 1946, is one of the most successful malls in the country.

Bellevue-based Clark Nuber, one of the largest locally based accounting firms in the region, was founded by Don Clark in 1952. Today, Clark is retired, but the firm employs more than 100 people.