What’s So Special About Seattle?

Seattle is a pretty unique place. But if you live here, I don’t have to tell you this. Where else can you sail the San Juan Islands and climb Mt. Rainier, all in the span of a weekend? What other city can say it put a PC on every desktop and, a Pumpkin Spice Latte in every hand, and a Prime delivery box on your doorstop?  Seattle is a tapestry of natural wonder, technological innovation, and worldwide cultural diversity. No wonder we love living here.

You may have noticed that our secret is out. Yes, our Emerald City is quite the gem and it seems like everybody wants a piece of it. From startups to behemoths, from Silicon Valley refugees to foreign investors, companies and individuals are migrating to our area in droves. What makes this corner of the country so appealing? There are a few key factors driving our area’s transformation.

Knowledge Capital

For several decades, Seattle has been establishing itself as a highly productive innovation center. We’ve traded in our flannels and garage bands for, well, flannels and high tech. We are home to billionaires, innovators and Nobel prize winners. In 2015, Seattle ranked 5th in GDP per worker and was recently identified as one of the 19 “knowledge capitals” in a wide-ranging study by the Brookings Institute. (For the entire report and cool interactive charts, click here.) The Seattle region is home to talented workforces driving the growth of companies such as Amazon and Microsoft, and dozens of engineering outposts—with more arriving all the time. All this equates to an educated population with higher median incomes, lower unemployment, and stronger job growth—in essence, an intellectual-based economy earning a spot as a mover and shaker, and one that is better equipped to weather the inevitable ups and downs.

Overall Desirability

Great places to work and being a great place to live usually go hand-in-hand. Having a strong economy in a city means it can invest in all of the infrastructure, amenities, schools and health care it takes to make a city a livable place. U.S. News and World Report just ranked Seattle No. 7 on its list of Best Places to Live and Work, and several suburbs, such as Bellevue and Kirkland, are regulars on lists that rank top cities to live in, such as Livability.com’s 2016 list. A healthy job market, nationally recognized public schools, plentiful outdoor recreation, and diverse cultural amenities all contribute to their livability equations. And strong livability leads to more people moving in. From 2015 to 2016, net migration (people moving in vs. people leaving) to the state totaled 87,100, compared to 57,600 the previous year.

Geographical Location

There’s an old saying in real estate that speaks to a property’s value: “Location, location, location.” Well in terms of location, Seattle’s in quite a sweet spot. Look to the south: our proximity to Silicon Valley has created a migration path that is fueling much of our growth. The Washington State Department of Licensing reports that in August 2016 alone, more than 7,000 requests for driver’s licenses were processed, led by Californians relocating to the area. Tech workers in the Bay Area are more than willing to trade their skyrocketing housing prices and unbearable commute times for ours. (It’s all relative, right?) Look to the north: our proximity to Canada, expressly Vancouver, adds to the mix. Vancouver’s newly imposed 15% foreign homebuyer tax is diverting offshore buyers to the West coast’s next metropolitan stop, Seattle. And while our geographical coordinates are working to bring more people in, our topographical limitations make it very difficult to simply build out. 

What do you make of all this change? At the risk of sounding fatalistic, I say ‘love it or leave it.’ (And based on the data, people aren’t leaving it.) There is no doubt our beloved city is undergoing an incredible growth spurt, but to bemoan the reality is a little like holding on to the good ol’ days. Let’s face it: we are the flannel wearing wallflower who wrote a song that got on the “cool” kids’ playlist, and suddenly we’re really, really popular. Oh wait. Maybe this transformation shouldn’t be much of a surprise after all. 

Hilary Long