Seattle's boom of '07
Too seldom do the organs of opinion stop and smell the sawdust of people at work. And they are working: The unemployment...
Too seldom do the organs of opinion stop and smell the sawdust of people at work. And they are working: The unemployment rate in Washington, 4.4 percent at last measure, is the lowest in more than a quarter-century. Work is in surplus.
Many decisions were made to get here. Most important was the decision made at Boeing several years ago to postpone work on an exciting but uncertain thing called the Sonic Cruiser, and focus instead on a fuel-stingy medium-sized jet for point-to-point travel. Already that looks like the right decision. In a little more than a month, the first Boeing 787 will roll out, and a delicious number have been sold. A few years ago, people argued about whether it was worth it to cut Boeing's taxes in order to keep the 787 assembly here. Now we know.
As private and public investors, people here have made other economic bets: on international trade, ports and airports, computer software, biotechnology, medical devices, Class 8 diesel trucks, Internet retailing, discount retailing, specialty food processing, coffee, wine and other specialty drinks. A remarkable number of these bets have been winners.
Economist John Mitchell, who covers the Pacific Northwest for U.S. Bank in Portland, says Washington's economy is growing faster than Oregon's. "You have the right mix of industries," he says.
Construction is the flame that flickers highest in a boom. Right now, construction jobs as a percentage of all non-farm wage jobs are the highest in several decades, says Evelina Tainer, chief economist for Employment Security. Across South Lake Union, a pea patch of cranes rises over new office buildings, biological laboratories, a retirement home, condos and urban retail.
This boom feels more substantial than the last one, which was dominated by the dot-coms. Amazon endured, but too many went poof. Their implosion shook Seattle, which did not start digging out of the job downturn until 2004. The dig-out is done; and the employment totals in the Seattle-Everett area are now new records. Some 90 percent of the job growth in the state now comes from four counties: King, Snohomish, Pierce and Spokane, with King in the commanding position.
This boom should have a good deal of life in it. Though the statewide net rate of job creation peaked a year ago at 3.3 percent, it continues around 2.3 percent. Ultimately, it will stop, but the brake is not yet visible. Interest rates are relatively stable. Oil is pricy, but Americans are living with it.
Business buzzes on. As always there are problems, which at the moment tend to be the problems of fullness.