Yeesh, what a year in business news. Time to sort through the 2016 columns to pick up some running themes and trends that help explain what we’ve been through — and what awaits us starting one week from today.
▪ The Tideflats methanol plant and the Weyerhaeuser Federal Way campus redevelopment plan were big stories, but they were part of even bigger issues communities all over the region are wrangling with: Industrial development, land use, NIMBYism, jobs, safety, health and the environment, resource use, the political establishment vs. community activists.
The methanol plant deal is gone, at least in Tacoma. The frozen-fish processing and storage plant planned for the Weyerhaeuser site appears to have been tossed as well. What hasn’t evaporated is the question of what to do with those properties. It persists in the debate over the LNG facility on the Tideflats. It will return as soon as the owners of the Weyerhaeuser property come up with a new proposal.
That next something could be an idea that doesn’t rile the neighbors (turning the old Simpson/Interfor lumber mill into more warehouse space hasn’t as yet raised much concern). It could be something even less palatable than methanol and frozen fish. Developers might even decide, because of the economy or fear of another fight, to do nothing — for a while. But that won’t last forever. Building something is expensive. So is not doing something.
▪ The striking things about the photo of the tech execs sitting around a conference table at Trump Tower with the next president of the United States were 1) how many of those execs probably didn’t just vote against the president-elect but also loathe him, 2) how many of those companies represented are embroiled in trade fights, principally in Europe, and 3) how many of those companies now need to make nice with the president-elect because they’ll need backing in those battles.
Had execs from Boeing and Starbucks been invited to the party, that would have boosted the quotient of companies with significant local connections that have been, are or will be embroiled in trade cases. Those cases would have occurred regardless of the election’s winner, but Donald Trump put special emphasis on trade as an issue. They may still dislike Trump politically, but in business terms they may find their interests and views aligning a lot more than they anticipated.
▪ If it seems as if Amazon gets an inordinate amount of attention, worming its way into discussions of nearly every topic and all of them if they’re connected with retailing, sorry, that’s just the way things are at the moment. No company is as ambitious and disruptive in setting the agenda in multiple sectors, not just its own but in tech services, freight delivery and logistics, even the Puget Sound commercial real estate market and regional economic growth. Boeing may still have the lead in sheer numbers of employees; for influence over what’s happening in the region, though, the case can be made that Amazon is for the moment the planemaker’s equal.
That’s not likely to change in 2017. Jeff Bezos may have a target or end-game in mind (other than “world domination”) at which point he eases off the throttle and says “This is the plateau I was aiming for.” What is there in Amazon’s history to suggest there is such a point, or if there is we’re anywhere near it?
▪ The Tacoma Dome can’t control the I-5 traffic snarl outside its door that can dampen enthusiasm for attending events there. It certainly can’t control what does or doesn’t happen in Seattle over developing a new arena in Sodo (the mayor’s current attitude seems to be one of doing anything to kill Chris Hansen’s project, including reviving KeyArena). But it can control how its own building looks and operates, and the recently announced renovation program is hugely important. Coupled with the continuing bickering and delay in Seattle, and the prospect that someday the I-5 project will be done, the T-Dome has a terrific opportunity to rejuvenate not just the physical plant but its status as the region’s leading big-event venue.
Whew. All that and we haven’t yet touched on Click, taxes, health care consolidation, international cargo shipping or dozens of other topics that popped up during the year nearing its end.
But we will in the new year. Some old favorites (see above) will make return appearances; some new controversies and contentions will arise that will require analysis.
If you thought 2016 was turbulent and raucous, wait until you get a load of 2017.
Bill Virgin is editor and publisher of Washington Manufacturing Alert and Pacific Northwest Rail News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.