Seattle is said to be dying — again.
That’s the talk of the commentariat, many of whom have been forecasting that the protests and riots, the Seattle City Council’s new tax on high salaries, and the disruptive force of the pandemic are all set to time-warp the downtown and South Lake Union business districts back to about 1972.
“Seattle faces ‘lights out’ in 2022,” predicts local business analyst Don Brunell, evoking the famed 1970s recession billboard that asked the last person out to shut off the lights. “Given the direction Seattle is heading today, the billboard may re-emerge by 2022 — if not before.”
“Does the City Council really think that many of these jobs/workers won’t be transferred? This is a disaster for downtown Seattle,” echoed the Mainstream Republicans of Washington, after the city approved its new business tax.
It’s not only conservatives saying Seattle may no longer be a star attraction.
“Just when downtown Seattle needs to economically recover, the Seattle City Council incentivized moving jobs out of Seattle and into the suburbs,” said former King County Executive Ron Sims, who of late has become a political analyst for KING 5 television.
I’ve learned from hard experience that I’m terrible at predictions. So these past two months, amid all the protest upheaval and the aftermath of the passage of the city’s tax, I’ve instead been watching the money.
What’s it doing? How are Seattle businesses actually responding? Not what is the Chamber of Commerce saying, but where is the money going — is it bye-bye Seattle?
“Despite the pandemic, venture capitalists are pouring money into Pacific Northwest tech companies at unprecedented levels,” the tech site GeekWire recently reported. The largest venture deal, in fact one of the biggest local tech funding deals ever, was last month when Sana Biotechnology raised $821 million. Its headquarters is in … Seattle.
Oh. Maybe they’ll decamp to the suburbs later?
“Goldman Sachs leases Rainier Square’s top office floor,” the Puget Sound Business Journal reported, referring to Seattle’s new 58-story downtown tower. That was on July 6 — four days after a City Council committee had first approved its payroll tax on high earners.
“Toronto investor buys South Lake Union tower for $320M,” the Daily Journal of Commerce noted, two weeks ago.
“Adaptive Biotech pushes ahead with new Seattle HQ,” GeekWire reported Monday, about how the pandemic and taxes and all the other stuff wasn’t slowing this $5 billion life-sciences company from building a new 100,000-square-foot campus on Eastlake.
There’s a lot more. In July, Vulcan announced yet another South Lake Union development. Unico unveiled a huge new redevelopment plan covering eight buildings in Pioneer Square. Alexandria, a California company that develops biotech campuses, just bought $62 million worth of Sodo land for new offices and labs.
“The transaction is the latest example of how the downtown office market is expanding,” the Business Journal reported this past Friday.
Wait — downtown is expanding? That sure doesn’t fit the narrative. It makes you wonder: What sense would it make to sink huge money into new downtown projects, and then turn out the lights?
Maybe all that big money is wrong, which happens sometimes. So let’s check in on what the biggest money of all is up to, Amazon. It already announced two years ago it had stopped expanding in Seattle. Given how much it is said to loathe new taxes, probably it is now in retreat here?
Well, who knows, but since final passage of the new payroll tax on July 6, Amazon has posted 1,187 new job listings for its Seattle campus, for all manner of scientists, programmers and corporate finance managers.
Also since then, more than a dozen Wall Street analysts have boosted their outlooks for the company, citing “pandemic-driven market share gains.” None mentioned the new Seattle tax as being a drag on the company’s prospects. Since the tax’s passage, Amazon’s worth, through Tuesday, had increased about $50 billion, to $1.5 trillion — suggesting investors aren’t much put off by the Seattle tax either.
What’s hurting in Seattle, undeniably, are small businesses and street-level retailers. They definitely need more financial aid from local and state governments to weather this epic storm. And it’s way past time the city started protecting businesses from the senseless smashing and looting that has taken over parts of the protest movement.
Again, I have no crystal-ball abilities, so maybe disaster really does await. But the people who drive big business in the city sure aren’t acting like disaster awaits. While pundits warn we’re headed for the rocks, the money seems to be sailing in, sensing opportunity.
Seattle has a ton to worry about as we try to recover from this pandemic. That our corporate overlords are about to turn out the lights just doesn’t seem like one of them.