Advice for Seattle’s startup ecosystem: Don’t do what Detroit did

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Mayor Mike McGinn officially launched Startup Seattle at Zillow’s downtown offices on Thursday.

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Councilmember Richard Conlin

Here’s some advice to keep the Seattle startup ecosystem strong: Don’t do what Detroit did.

At Zillow’s downtown headquarters today, Mayor Mike McGinn and several members of the tech community gathered to officially launch the Startup Seattle initiative, which is designed to support the growth of the Seattle tech startup community and make the city recognizable around the world as a thriving startup hub.

City councilman Richard Conlin was one of the speakers and shared an interesting statistic about Detroit. Conlin said that back in the 1950′s, the city had the highest household income per capita … in the world.

What has happened to the Motor City doesn’t need too much explaining. Conlin said one of the big reasons the city dropped off the economic map was because they got comfortable.

mcginnmayorzillowstartup“The businesses that helped built up the economy thought everything was going to be fine and that they should keep doing the same things,” he said. “That turned out not to be true.”

He said it’s a good lesson for Seattle.

“Economies do not stand still. You can’t just set something up, think everything will be OK and keep it in cruise control,” he said. “We are doing really well because we’re trying to find ways to continue innovating and the startup initiative is really important for that.”

Read more about the Startup Seattle initiative here.

Previously on GeekWire: Seattle angels on what they look for in entrepreneurs, and why startups fail … Why this entrepreneur is moving to Vegas, and what it means for the Seattle scene 

  • Ryan Dancey

    The companies that made Detroit wealthy are still making Michigan wealthy. They just left Detroit and cast off a lot of jobs. Detroit is a decayed urban hub blighted with crime and government disfunction surrounded by a torus of really nice suburbs filled with happy productive people with a nice standard of living.

    Detroit allowed itself to be captured by socialists who tried to use the power of the state to redistribute the wealth of the automobile industry and to create a large public-sector workforce that would reliably vote for the party that created and nurtured it. The city ceased being a rational economic zone, the productive citizens left, the tax base imploded, and the public-sector workforce refused to admit defeat until long past the point where anything useful could have been easily salvaged.

    The dangerous trap for Seattle is to misunderstand that the engines of its economy are here by happy accident – accident of environment, accident of history. There’s no structural reason for Amazon or Starbucks or Microsoft to be here. Boeing left, and is now shifting its center of gravit ever south and over the Pacific. Seattle can only take a big company for granted for so long before it decides (or is forced by shareholder pressure) to maximize its profits by getting out of here and moving business operations to places that have a lower overhead.

    It would be awesome to think that Seattle was learning the lessons of Detroit, keeping its public sector rationalized and avoiding the trap of having it control and be controlled by the dominant political party in the region. And investing the tax revenue the large companies are generating into infrastructure and educational systems that would be hard for someplace else to replicate; its easy to move a job – its hard to move a freeway, public transit system, award winning school district, etc.