One doesn’t have to look far these days to see evidence that Washington State’s economy is booming. More than 100 major projects are taking shape within Seattle’s city limits alone, from Amazon’s stunning new headquarters to new apartment buildings, offices, restaurants, shops and entertainment venues to support a growing, increasingly young demographic of technology workers.
Statewide, investors and site selectors continue to find new opportunities from the largest frozen food storage facility on the west coast to a new flight operations center for Mitsubishi Aircraft in Moses Lake. In the aerospace sector alone, 15 newcomers have opened operations in Washington State in the last 18 months, including SpaceX, which was attracted to the state by the rich pool of engineering and technology talent.
These newcomers join homegrown business legends such as Amazon, Costco, Cray, Expedia, Microsoft and Starbucks, which have redefined their respective markets through continual innovation and experimentation, solidifying Washington State’s reputation as an epicenter of innovation and invention, fundamentally changing the way we shop, travel, eat, drink, treat illness, entertain and even think in the process.
A Diverse Industry Landscape
Historically, Washington has been known for its leadership in aerospace: the birthplace of Boeing. But today, the state has expanded its expertise into information and communication technology (ICT), advanced materials, life sciences and global health, maritime trades and clean technologies. These are supported by world-class educational and research institutions, including the University of Washington, Washington State University and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.
This diversification of industry has drawn new players to the state, including 800 multinational firms employing nearly 100,000 workers. New players such as Alibaba, Apple, Facebook, Google and other ICT legends are drawn to the state by next generation technology workers who enjoy the vibrant, eclectic culture and urban lifestyle the area offers.
An International Gateway
Investors are discovering Washington as well. Northwest Innovation Works recently announced plans to build two new methanol manufacturing and export facilities in the state. One of the biggest FDI projects in recent memory, the $5 billion-plus project will create 2,000 new construction jobs and 400 permanent positions.
One of the reasons Washington State is gaining attention around the world is its expanding role as an international gateway. Delta has made Sea-Tac International a global hub for its operations, connecting Seattle to major European and Asian cities with daily non-stop flights. This, combined with the state’s equidistant location between Asia and Europe, offers businesses a key competitive advantage in a global economy.
For example, some of Washington’s ports are a day’s sail closer to ports in Asia compared to other west coast locations. The new Northwest Seaport Alliance brought together two of the state’s 75 ports, Seattle and Tacoma, creating the third largest port in the nation.
Trade is central to Washington’s economy. One in three jobs in the state is said to be trade related. In 2014, the state exported $90.6 billion in products and an estimated $20 to $30 billion in services. The state is #1 in aircraft exports as well as the #1 supplier of red raspberries, hops, apples, sweet cherries, pears and concord grapes. It is #3 in total exports nationally.
The state’s entrepreneurial spirit is another key factor contributing to Washington’s growth. It’s not uncommon for startups to open right across the street from their founders’ former employers. Ideas are readily shared over coffee or craft beers in the surrounding cafes and pubs and the best and brightest ideas make it to market quickly. Washington State offers entrepreneurs and small businesses nearly a hundred co-working spaces, makerspaces, incubators and accelerators as well as innovative sources of funding, such as the Washington State Department of Commerce’s Fund Local program, which is a first-of-its-kind crowdsourcing funding model, and the Small Business Credit Initiative.
New ideas aren’t kept in silos, either. Washington’s aerospace industry has benefitted greatly from its proximity to the state’s bustling tech sector. This is particularly true in the areas of highly- advanced avionics and navigation systems, which draw much of their inspiration from the pioneering work of Washington’s nearly 14,000 technology companies.
This cross-pollination feeds innovation in other industries, too. More than 330 gaming companies, including Valve, Big Fish, Bungie and PopCap, are located in Washington State, driving a $19.2 billion industry and employing more than 17,400 workers.
While the greater Seattle-Tacoma corridor accounts for much of the state’s growth and industry, companies executing their investment and expansion strategies will find plenty of opportunities statewide. Though Eastern Washington has been known historically for its agriculture (300 crops are grown in the state), its economy has expanded into composites and cloud computing in recent years. Low-cost energy, as low as 4.25¢ per kWh, was one of the prime reasons SGL Automotive Carbon Fibers built the largest composites plant in the world in Washington, producing fully a fifth of the world’s carbon fiber, some 9,000 tons annually.
In cloud computing, Quincy, Washington is the center for growth. Dell, Intuit, Microsoft and others have expansive data storage facilities in the area and Yahoo just announced plans to double the size of its data center to keep up with demand. An extension of tax credits through 2024 as well as the low power rates continue to create opportunities in this segment of the market.
The Tri-Cities is also experiencing exponential growth, in large part because of its proximity to the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and the Tri-Cities Research District. Home to 80 companies, the latter enables research and technology companies to develop, commercialize and market products rapidly. The area is also home to the Washington State University Tri-Cities Wine Science Center, a $23 million world-class teaching facility that supports the state’s $4.8 billion wine industry.
Washington is a study in contrasts to be sure. Featuring an educated, highly- productive workforce, a smart, multi-faceted sector-driven strategy and a critical mass of world-class companies, Washington has emerged from the Great Recession in a high growth mode, benefitting from an ecosystem that is as resilient as it is collaborative, a testament to the pioneer spirit that continues to drive the state’s robust economy.
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