Given how many governmental entities, private-sector companies and organizations whose membership includes both are involved in economic development in Western Washington, it might be easier to count who isn’t.
Every level of government, from the most humble of municipalities up to and including the state, has an economic-development department or function; often multiple agencies get in on the fun.
Port districts are big economic-development players. Chambers of commerce and economic-development-specific outfits are in the thick of it. Industry-specific trade groups, industrial-property developers, labor unions, utilities, planning agencies, school districts, higher-ed institutions and vocational-education systems and probably a few dozen more all figure in economic development.
But apparently the regional economic-development scene isn’t so crowded that one more participant is discouraged from elbowing itself in to a place at the table — at the head of the table, at that.
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It’s a participant backed by some of the biggest business and political names in the state, and one that has assigned itself the role of promoting Seattle’s — sorry, Greater Seattle’s — story and opportunities to the rest of the world.
Greater Seattle Partners recently named Brian P. McGowan as its first chief executive officer. He has been president and CEO of Atlanta BeltLine Inc., which has been developing a former rail corridor around the city for trails and transit. He’s a former executive vice president and chief operating officer of the Metro Atlanta Chamber, former CEO of Invest Atlanta and a former economic development official under California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Greater Seattle Partners is an outgrowth of Challenge Seattle, an outfit put together by former Gov. Christine Gregoire and backed by a who’s who of corporate Seattle: Alaska Airlines, Costco, Microsoft, Boeing, Microsoft, the Gates Foundation, Amazon, Starbucks, Weyerhaeuser (you remember them, they used to be from around here) — among others.
Not surprisingly given the size and clout of the backers, Greater Seattle Partners has some lofty goals in mind.
The organization will be, according to the release on McGowan’s appointment, “the first public-private partnership created to advance economic growth and competitiveness for the Puget Sound region. It will focus on attracting new investment, promoting international trade and growing existing industry clusters by: aggressively marketing the Puget Sound region; recruiting targeted business and trade focused on region’s assets; using sophisticated analytics and data to tell region’s competitive story; and engaging leadership and funding from both the public and the private sector.”
That no one had thought of private-public economic-development partnerships before is a curious assertion to make given the plethora of regional organizations such as the Economic Development Council of Seattle-King County, which combines the two, and as a delegation of private and public entities heads for the biennial Farnborough Air Show to make the case for aerospace investment in Washington.
Nonetheless, Greater Seattle Partners has a major role in mind for itself, including assuming some of the duties of the aforementioned Seattle-King County economic development council. And the Trade Development Alliance of Greater Seattle will be merged into Greater Seattle Partners.
The new organization also proposes to include Pierce and Snohomish counties, and that’s further raised eyebrows, at least around here, about how that’s going to work and about how enthusiastically such a Seattle-centric organization might work for local causes and interests.
That’s not a narrow, parochial point of view or one grounded in Tacoma’s long-standing second-fiddle status. Those with some sense of local history to know that regionalism tends to be a one-direction highway, leading to a suspicion about how much energy Greater Seattle Partners will expend to land a small but still valuable project for, say, Puyallup.
There are other questions about the need for some sort of regional, overarching agency or organization to coordinate economic-development activity. Isn't that what the state Department of Commerce is for? Why not funnel money to replenish a departmental budget that has taken whacks in recent years, rather than create a whole new organization?
This isn’t a new phenomenon for Washington. During one of the campaigns to get a Boeing project located here, Washington was awash in so many aerospace-related-and-interested offices, agencies and organizations as to be tripping over them all. There’s been some consolidation in that sector, and there’s a coordinated state-and-local effort on the middle-of-the-market aircraft Boeing is contemplating.
Greater Seattle Partners might have similar aims in mind for combining or at least coordinating efforts in the broader arena of economic development, but details are scant on how that’s to be done and how local interests will be balanced with Seattle’s.
So far Tacoma is in – Mayor Victoria Woodards was on the search committee that picked McGowan. Pierce County hasn’t taken a vote on joining. The Economic Development Council for Tacoma-Pierce County wants more information on GSP’s plans.
Maybe in Atlanta there were no turf battles and it’s all for one and one for all, and everyone plays nicely together. There’s more that’s different here than the weather, so those who hired McGowan need to brief him on the understandable local reluctance to turn over economic-development promotion and policy setting to an entity that invited itself in.
Offers of, “Here, let us do that for you” are likely, and quite reasonably, to be met with, “No thanks, we’d rather do it ourselves.”