Seattle’s Prosperity Partnership focuses area’s economic strategy

By Maria Saporta

Think of a region that’s working to build a new economy based on the life sciences, logistics, global health and information technology.

It easily could be the Atlanta region.

But it also is Greater Seattle with its relatively new “Prosperity Partnership” — a coalition of hundreds of business, nonprofits and governments trying to bolster its future economic base.

“The bringing together (of everyone) is a pretty significant political achievement,” said Lee Huntsman, executive director of the Life Sciences Discovery Fund. “The fact that we call this a regional partnership and a regional strategy is significant. There’s a wide range of participation here.”

Huntsman explained that aerospace (Boeing) used to be dominant industry in the Seattle area. But the economy has diversified with the development of Microsoft (Bill Gates and Paul Allen), Starbucks, Nordstrom, Amazon and other technology-related industries.

The Prosperity Partnership has identified five cluster areas: logistics, information technology, life sciences, environment and alternative energy as well as aerospace.

“We are strongly dependent on an educated workforce, but weak in producing that workforce,” Huntsman said. “We are 46th in the country of bachelor’s degrees produced per-capita. We import a lot of people.”

In addressing metro Atlanta’s LINK delegation, Huntsman also gave the best analogy of the session. Managing university faculty members is much like herding cats. So that why one has to offer “tuna fish” to get them to partner with each other.

“You’ve got the Georgia Research Alliance, which is one of the grand alliances in the country,” Huntsman said.

Even though the Seattle region has come together strategically around an economic development agenda, it is facing similar issues as Georgia in terms of state budget cuts in program investments and higher education. For example, the nationally-touted Georgia Research Alliance has had much of its budget slashed.

The Puget Sound region, which includes Seattle, has had its own challenges with the State of Washington.

“Right now state government is a lagging indicator,” Huntsman said. “We go to Olympia (the state capital) and we get discouraged.”

But then he added that when they return to Seattle, they get re-energized by all the innovation occurring in the region. “We are fortunate to have a very skilled and diversified leadership structure,” he said.

Bill McSherry, director of government relations for Boeing, actually was one of the leaders who put together the Prosperity Partnership when he was working for the Puget Sound Regional Council (the equivalent to our Atlanta Regional Commission).

Cuts in Washington’s higher education system is a top concern for Boeing, McSherry said.

“How do we stem the bleeding?” he asked rhetorically. “We are very concerned with the quality and quantity of engineering grads. It’s not pretty in five or 10 years. “

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

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