Foundational technology, military, biotech, alcohol; there are
not many industries as fundamentally in demand as these-and all
four have a growing presence in Washington State.
Seattle is the birthplace of modern computing as much as Silicon
Valley ever was. But while Silicon Valley is most well-known
for cranking out high-flying, consumer-facing technology, Seattle
has a more subdued record of producing technology products that
have deeply engrained customers.
Microsoft may not be around forever, but with 94 percent of new
computers each year being shipped with the Windows operating
system, the Redmond-based software behemoth isn’t going anywhere
soon. Seattle’s own Amazon.com, which started as a simple online
bookstore, has exploded as an online retailer of just about
anything imaginable, and now provides the backbone for an
immeasurable number of both retail and technology companies.
But as Len Holmes, managing partner of The Lakewood Group, an
MRINetwork affiliate outside Tacoma, notes, technology is just one
slice of Washington State’s growing pie.
As part of the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure Commission’s
plan, Washington became home to one of the first U.S. military
bases under the joint jurisdiction of both the Army and the Air
Force. Joint Base Lewis-McChord combines two once-neighboring bases
and shares their resources. The joint base is able to find
efficiencies, theoretically reducing its economic impact. Units,
equipment, and personnel from nearby closed military bases have
been relocating to Lewis-McChord, providing a strong economic boon
to the region.
While the state’s biotechnology firms may be outshone to a
degree by its consumer technology companies, that industry added
more than $10 billion to the economy in 2010 and managed to grow
its workforce nearly 9 percent from the beginning of the recession
in 2007 to the first quarter of 2011.
“Lingering questions over the state of healthcare legislation
have recently put a damper on Washington’s enthusiastic
biotechnology growth-specifically in the medical devices sector,”
says Holmes, “Companies are being cautious about adding headcount
as long as uncertainty remains.”
Yet, such companies aren’t seeing their businesses shrink. In
fact, they are holding onto cash that could fuel rapid growth once
the industry’s future becomes clearer.
Rounding out the state’s economic diversity is a rapidly growing
wine business. Over the last two decades, the total acreage devoted
to wine making has grown from 11,100 acres to more than 40,000,
while the number of wineries grew from less than 80 to more than
700. In fact, nearly 200 new wineries have opened in Washington
State since the beginning of the recession.
“There are some very bright spots in Washington’s economy right
now, but overall I don’t think we are feeling that buzz yet,” notes
Holmes. “What we are seeing is a strong foundation of diverse
sectors which are continuing to survive. Once the national economy
picks up speed, they will be able to feed off of each other to
start building again.”