By Laura Newpoff – Contributor
Seattle is one of the fastest-growing cities in the U.S., boasting a top-10 metro economy. The region, home to major employers like Amazon, Boeing Co., Microsoft and Starbucks, has become a powerhouse for business, trade and investment. International corporations, including major players like Nintendo, The Pokémon Company International, T-Mobile, Novo Nordisk, Siemens, Infosys, Alibaba Group, and others have established significant operations in the region.
The region’s top talent, favorable business climate and stunning natural beauty are a big draw. But it is also the global connectivity through the three Puget Sound deep water ports of Seattle, Tacoma and Everett that are two days closer to Asia than our California ports. The region is also home to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport and Seattle-Paine Field International Field Airport, which are conveniently positioned equidistant between Europe and Asia with nine-hour flights each way. These linkages have led to a thriving international community where diversity is one of the region’s greatest strengths.
The place to be for top talent, quality of life
Rajeev Thakur, a senior managing director in JLL’s location strategy group said there are many selling points for foreign-owned firms that haven’t yet established a presence in Greater Seattle but are considering operations in the region.
There’s top talent from the technology ecosystem that includes significant outposts of Meta, Google and Apple and graduates coming out of the University of Washington and Washington State University, according to Thakur.
“The brain power is here,” he said. “For businesses that want to connect to that technology-focused talent base, this is where you come.”
A diverse economy also is attractive to companies looking for a place that has everything from software and IT services to aerospace manufacturing and renewable energy, which also supports a high concentration of workers in the skilled trades. The region benefits from a workforce of 2.4 million strong gaining nearly 23,000 new workers every year from other domestic and international cities, according to Lightcast, a global leader in labor market analytics. Meanwhile, the innovation ecosystem also makes Washington state a top market for venture capital investment.
Quality of life is a top draw, too, Thakur said. The region’s natural beauty and access to options for hiking, boating, multicultural experiences and the arts and culture make it an easy sell for site selection specialists.
“This is a talent and quality play for companies,” Thakur said. “There’s a big international community and different cuisines and cultures that make it appealing. Nearby cities like Vancouver and Portland also are very international, and that’s attractive to foreign-owned firms.
“It’s less expensive to operate here than in San Francisco or Silicon Valley,” he said. “Yet the same quality of talent is here. This is where you come to find high-value employees.”
Deep connections to the sea
Maritime is one of the oldest and most important industries in Washington. Home to well-established companies such as Foss Maritime and Trident Seafoods, this industry employs more than 174,000 people and supports $45 billion in business revenues through more than 2,400 companies and government agencies, including the largest ferry system in the U.S.
That’s why Corvus Energy, a leading supplier of safe, innovative and reliable zero-emission solutions for all segments of the maritime industry, established an office in Seattle and a new battery factory just north of the city in Port of Bellingham. The company cited a strong maritime cluster, and the state’s focus on green shipping as reasons for the initiative.
When the project was announced, Geir Bjørkeli, CEO of Corvus Energy, said, “We know a U.S. presence and close collaboration with shipyards, shipowners, Washington Maritime Blue and other suppliers and service providers foster innovation across the entire industry and build valuable competence. This will work as an accelerator to create local, green jobs.”
“We’ve been growing quickly over the last six or seven years, in parallel with the stricter global decarbonization goals,” said Tor-Gunnar Hovig, Corvus Energy’s senior vice president, sales Americas. “We focus on batteries and have more than 50% market share globally with energy storage systems for ships. We recently added hydrogen fuel cells to our product portfolio. We always have our eye on new technologies and will adapt products as new chemistry for batteries becomes available. It’s about being sustainable through innovation.”
As a Scandinavian cultural hub, the region is a great place for Hovig, who is Norwegian. The region is home to the National Nordic Museum as well as the Seattle Maritime Academy and Maritime High School, giving the company access to a qualified pool of talent.
“We’ve found it relatively easy to find qualified workers for our new factory, which is so important when you want to get a project off to a successful launch,” Hovig said. “That, combined with having a cluster of companies in the industry that we can exchange ideas with, and being close to our factory in Canada, made it the ideal place to grow the business.”
Port upgrades to serve an emerging market
The Port of Everett, on Port Gardner Bay at the mouth of the Snohomish River, operates international shipping terminals, the largest public marina on the West Coast, and both mixed-use and light industrial developments. Its activities support the largest export customs district in the state moving $21 billion in annual exports, more than 40,000 jobs in the surrounding community and contribute $433 million in state and local tax base.
The Port is an asset to foreign-owned firms operating in the region because it’s the country’s closest port to Asia – the third largest container port in Washington state.
“The port continues to make upgrades to better serve businesses,” Port of Everett CEO/Executive Director Lisa Lefeber said. In recent years, the Port has invested more than $150 million to modernize its seaport facilities to enhance the movement of goods, attract new business opportunities to the region, and also, help green the supply chain by reducing the carbon footprint and improving air quality at the working waterfront.
It recently was awarded $5 million from the state legislature to expedite plans on its next endeavor to electrify and modernize Pier 3 at its international seaport to enhance its support of commercial and military ship repair activity in the region.
One of the many components of the dock electrification project is installing infrastructure to support future electric plug-in capabilities to serve an emerging market of all-electric harbor craft, including tugs and barges, that could dock there in the near future. This effort will spur further reduction in emissions and support decarbonization initiatives in the shipping industry.
“We’ll continue to prioritize these types of investments moving forward,” Lefeber said. “Making the supply chain greener and reducing the port’s carbon footprint is attractive to the global maritime industry and will result in more jobs and business activity coming to the region.”