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(GeekWire photo / Kevin Lisota).

When you think about what Seattle is known for, what comes to mind? Salmon? Rain? Nirvana?

For folks in China, it’s a movie.

Former Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire spoke at a big data and analytics workshop hosted by the City of Seattle, the University of Washington, and MetroLab last week that brought together people from the public and private sectors to talk about how using data can improve the quality of cities across the U.S.

Former Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire speaks in Seattle last week. (GeekWire photo)

Gregoire, who was governor from 2005 to 2013, was there on behalf of Challenge Seattle, a 2-year-old non-profit she’s heading up that is addressing some of the region’s most pressing issues with the help of government, the UW, and leaders from top local companies.

One of Challenge Seattle’s top goals is to help “tell the Seattle story” as a way to allow the city to continue thriving as a globally competitive region in a variety of aspects. It recently launched a new campaign called Incredible Works Here “to start telling the incredible stories of Seattle and the innovative approach we have to life and business.”

Gregoire explained that Challenge Seattle conducted an in-depth study in China about what Seattle is known for, and the answer may surprise you: Sleepless in Seattle.

“If you think I made this up, I did not,” Gregoire said last week. “It is so popular in China that they made their own movie, Beijing to Seattle. They are also now making a sequel. We aren’t getting out of this rut for being known as this movie.”

The 1993 movie is such a symbol of Seattle for the Chinese that the country’s president, during his visit to Seattle last year, referenced Sleepless in Seattle during a speech.

The Lake Union houseboat featured in “Sleepless in Seattle.” (Photo by Kurt Schlosser)

Gregoire’s larger point was that Seattle needs to do a better job of touting its innovative companies and entrepreneurs. She said that even when you ask Americans what they think of Seattle, not many people realize that corporations like Starbucks, Costco, and Amazon all started in the region.

“It’s time for us to get out of our humble nature and start talking about it,” Gregoire said.

(GeekWire photo / Kevin Lisota)

Gregoire said it’s clear that Seattle doesn’t need to be another Silicon Valley or New York City. “It’s not our way of doing business; it’s not who we are; it doesn’t define our culture,” she noted.

But Gregoire wants Seattle to be known across the country and globe for more than just a 1993 movie that has nothing to do with the city’s unique pioneering mindset that dates back to the early days of Boeing and Microsoft and continues today with local companies changing the face of cloud computing, gaming, global health, life sciences, philanthropy, and more.

“The story of our region is one of innovation, technology, and collaboration,” Gregoire explained. “It is a story we believe must be told and one that must continue to define us. It is one that must be shared and learned from every other city across this nation. Working together, we believe technology and innovation is a future that is very bright for us in this region and us in this nation.”

GeekWire caught up with Gregoire after her speech to the crowd and asked the former governor to explain why it’s important for Seattle to stop being so humble. She referred to studies, like this unofficial one we conducted in New York City, that show how few people think about Seattle as a technology hub.

Here’s more from Gregoire:

“Everybody says Silicon Valley when asked about the country’s top technology hub. When asked who might be No. 2 to that, they name every place you can imagine, except Seattle. What we’ve realized is that if we are not understood for all that we have going here, we can’t recruit talent, we can’t recruit companies, we can’t share in solutions, and so on.

“We have something like 80 Silicon Valley engineering like companies here now; the cloud computing is providing services to Silicon Valley. We are better if we are all working together, but if we’re not known and no one understands all that we have here, we can’t make that happen. People have to understand that Boeing didn’t leave town and that Amazon is here and so on, because that is what will help us promote our No. 1 economy, which is trade.”

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