The economic forecast for the Seattle region: Sunny and warm, with a few patchy clouds.
That was essentially the message from top economists and researchers who spoke Thursday at the 45th Annual Economic Forecast Conference in downtown Seattle, pointing to the region’s flourishing tech economy, booming housing market and innovative industries.
“Seattle is awesome,” said Chris Mefford, the president of CEO of Seattle-based consulting firm Community Attributes as he showed a slide of Emmet from The Lego Movie. “We are in that top right quadrant…. We have so many advantages.”
Mefford said the Seattle area remains awesome “despite dumb-ass Tweets” from President-elect Donald Trump, whose inflammatory language is causing heartburn and uncertainty in broader economic circles. Mefford said there are only two ways to grow an economy, through trade or importing capital, and because of Trump’s Twitter tirades no one really knows how to interpret what’s going on.
“I am glad it is not my job. My heart goes out to Sen. Cantwell and Sen. Murray who have to deal with this, but good luck with that. But Seattle is awesome!” said Mefford to laughs from the crowd.
Mefford continued on that thread later in his talk, noting that the uncertainty makes corporations “pause” and “sit on cash” as they try to figure out “what these dumb-ass tweets mean.”
“That’s not OK. We are kind of left scratching our heads, and we don’t know where this is going,” he said. “If you don’t know what trade policies mean and if you don’t know what immigration policies means — the backbone of a lot of our workforce… — then how do you really double down…. And that volatility is a real concern.”
The Seattle metropolitan area is “basically at full employment,” and Mefford said things look very bright when compared to other cities across the country. Seattle is the sixth fastest growing metro area with more than a million jobs or more, and while models point to slightly slowing growth in 2017 the economy in the region remains robust.
“(We) need to remind ourselves that we have a luxury in this region that growth was sort of taken as a given,” he said. “We have not had many of these conferences over the years where there was a question of whether we would grow or not is even on the table. The question has always been: How fast are we going to grow?”
While offering an optimistic view, the panelists were not shy about pointing to the problems associated with a booming economy.
Affordable housing remains a major sticking point.
And while Zillow’s Skylar Olsen presented housing data showing that “Seattle is winning,” she noted that the boom comes with costs.
“You can keep the restrictions we have, you can keep single family zoning, you can keep all these things and the people that live there are going to change,” she said. “The only ones that are going to be able to afford to stay are a certain kind of person or certain kind of household, and everyone else is going to have to leave. The make-up of people will evolve. Or you can let the physical structures change, let the density change and how we live change and then everyone can stay.”
Mefford noted that Seattle is affordable when compared to San Francisco, but he added that there are “repercussions for those who are not making the top dollars at some of the tech companies.” GeekWire has tracked more than 80 engineering centers that have been established in recent years in the Seattle area by large Silicon Valley giants, from Apple and Airbnb to Snapchat and Salesforce.com.
No matter what happens, King County Executive Dow Constantine said that Seattle can’t stand still.
“Others are on to us, and they want to get what we have. We have to be focused on growing this economy,” said Constantine, adding that more needs to be done to recruit businesses and support those who are already based in King County.
Summarizing a theme from the conference, Constantine said the amazing economic engine that’s firing in the Seattle area needs to “lift up everyone.”