Sunday, January 29, 2023

Mayor-elect Bruce Harrell faces major challenges to Seattle’s economy

Almost a year ago, I wrote that the next mayor of Seattle is facing an economic emergency.

Components then included the JumpStart payroll tax, which disadvantages Seattle in the region, increased crime and lack of attention to public safety, homelessness and office devastation due to the pandemic. Behind this was the antipathy towards the business of the majority in the city council.

Now mayor-elect Bruce Harrell has inherited most of the same problems. Although Seattle has a strong mayor form of government, the council has moved only slightly towards the center (small business owner Sarah Nelson won the seat of M. Lorena Gonzalez, Harrell’s opponent). Another plus was Ann Davison’s victory as the city’s crime attorney.

Voters sent a compelling message. A Seattle Metropolitan House poll found that 68% of respondents believe the city is on the wrong track.

But Harrell will spend most of his time playing defense and trying to build winning coalitions among the councilors. This week, a majority in the council decided to cut the police budget by $ 10 million, which were opposed by Mayor Jenny Durcan and Harrell.

But he still understands – the holistic nature of improving security, reducing vulnerable populations, helping small and minority businesses, ending divisive rhetoric against the business community, and addressing downtown issues – all to support the city’s economy.

He realizes that downtown is not just another borough of Seattle, as his opponent hinted. The central core generates most of the city’s business taxes and was the largest employment center in the Pacific Northwest before the pandemic. A record number of people live there – 98,000.

According to a House poll, 87% agree that a thriving city center is critical to our region’s economic recovery, while those same respondents said the city center cannot fully recover until homelessness and public safety issues are highlighted.

“Downtown Seattle has been the hardest hit area throughout the pandemic,” Harrell told the Seattle Business Center Association. “The loss of office passengers, retailers, services and tourism jobs has not only damaged our city, but also affected the entire economy and well-being of our region.”

As mayor, he promised to start a city-wide tour of the city center, listening to the views of small business owners and employees. In addition, he pledged to prioritize helping Seattle’s restaurants, nightclubs, cultural institutions and hospitality. Addressing homelessness and reforming the police department “without the threat of arbitrary seizure of funds” are also on his list in the city center, and this could improve the entire city.

“Safe streets in the city center are lively, lively places with people from all walks of life,” he told the association. “We also need to do our best to make those who live in the city center feel safe and supportive.”

He added, “The Seattle downtown area, which is thriving, welcoming and safe, is a hub that will once again be the center of prosperity and growth for our region.”

But Harrell needs to do more. He needs to build constructive relationships with big businesses, including Amazon, not least because he makes up a significant portion of the city’s tax base.

The fact that 800 “large enterprises” have come under the city council’s payroll tax shows its importance. The sector is responsible for a large number of well-paid jobs and includes major headquarters such as Starbucks, Zillow, Weyerhaeuser, Nordstrom, Expedia, and Amazon. These larger companies are fueling the small business ecosystem.

Meanwhile, Bellevue is eager to take jobs in Seattle because of the injuries inflicted on the cities.

Jenny Durcan has never done what Harrell promises and should do. She was also a lousy retail politician, which was another difference from Harrell.

Teleworking doesn’t last forever, especially with the rise in vaccinations. At the national level according to the Federal Bureau of Labor Statisticsthe proportion of people working remotely due to the pandemic fell from over 30% of total employment in the spring of 2020 to just over 10% this fall. Seattle should be ready.

After Durcan gave up part of the city to lawlessness and preceded the Ed Murray scandal, Seattle desperately needs a successful mayor.

Every other major city I’ve lived in has had mayors and city councils focused on economic growth and attracting and maintaining good jobs.

Not here. Seattle was so rich in a diversified and high-tech economy that it seemed like a perpetual motion machine. Behind this were assets to attract world-class talent and companies that benefit from the back-to-city movement that began around the turn of the century and gained traction in the 2010s.

With Amazon, a vibrant stage for startups, big tech outposts from Silicon Valley, and civic executives like the late Paul Allen running the economy, politics didn’t seem to matter. Until that happened. Since the middle of the last decade, the city hall’s shift from pragmatic liberalism to extreme left has become increasingly difficult.

Now, while data shows that corporate headquarters will continue to gravitate towards superstar cities following the pandemic, things are at risk in Seattle. Mayor Harrell and the downtown team arrive just in time.

Nation World News Desk
Nation World News Desk
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