Tech companies have transformed Seattle over the past decade, creating thousands of high-paying jobs and bolstering the region’s economy. But many local leaders and residents have blamed the companies at least in part for driving income inequality and exacerbating problems such as housing affordability.
Is tech doing enough to help alleviate some of those problems?
That was the question we posed to elected officials in Seattle at an annual reception Thursday hosted by the Seattle Metro Chamber.
The event featured a fireside chat during a pre-reception with Paresh Rajwat, Meta’s new head of office for the Pacific Northwest. Meta was one of the first Silicon Valley giants to open a Seattle satellite office; now it has more than 8,000 employees in the area and several buildings, including a new complex at Bellevue’s Spring District.
“Meta is extremely, extremely committed to the Pacific Northwest,” Rajwat said Thursday.
Meta’s rapid expansion in Seattle over the past decade made it one of the emblems of the region’s tech boom, coinciding with Microsoft’s resurgence and Amazon’s rise as a tech giant. Other out-of-town companies set up more than 130 engineering centers in the region.
But some of the growth in recent years may be slowing as a result of layoffs affecting the tech industry amid inflation and the broader stock market downturn. Meta announced a 13% layoff last month, or more than 11,000 people company-wide.
Looking ahead, Rajwat laid out tech trends he’s watching: the future of work, artificial intelligence advancements, and the creator economy.
After the chat, we spoke with five elected officials about the tech industry’s responsibility to help the city address important issues. Read on for their answers, which were edited for brevity and clarity.
King County Executive Dow Constantine
“It’s been my experience that our technology community is doing a lot to solve, for example, housing and homelessness. A lot of the housing challenge is a side effect and consequence of the increased prosperity that we enjoy. And I think leaders of some of our biggest companies recognize that if we’re going to have a successful economy and community, everyone needs to be able to afford housing. And they’ve stepped up with hundreds of millions of dollars.
Is it ever enough? No, of course, there’s always more need. But a lot of our companies have really appreciated their responsibility and figured out the right way in which they can help.
The big investments in affordable housing are critically important. There’s a big gap in our housing market that needs to be filled not just by government subsidy, but also by additional capital that can help people build housing affordable to those who are making less than the median income.
For the individuals, there a lot of folks who’ve just moved here to take these jobs. Becoming more engaged in the broader community and the cultural life of community, in the charitable organizations and things like the Chamber of Commerce — it’s critical. There are so many brilliant people who are doing great work, but are not yet integrated into the full life of the community. More than anything, I think that would be a big help.
Seattle Public Schools District 4 School Board Director Vivian Song Maritz
“They are doing something. There’s always opportunity to do more. The problems are very significant. I was thrilled that Amazon set up an internship program for our high school students. I got to see some of the presentations of our students and they were truly incredible. I would love to have Amazon and other tech companies come back.
We would be interested in having employees come and be mentors to students and definitely change some of the tech skills for our students. We’re trying to raise the next generation of people who are filling these jobs.”
Port of Seattle commissioner Sam Cho
“The tech community here has really stepped up, especially with the recent announcement by Amazon on the housing fund. They do a lot with Mary’s Place. Microsoft is doing a lot. I do think there is a lot happening in the space, more than I’ve heard in other regions. And so I think they deserve a lot of credit for what they’re doing.
But there’s always more to be done. This is a space where private-public partnerships could really thrive and bring value to the community. I don’t know if they’re doing enough, per se, but they’re doing a lot and I give them credit for this.
If tech companies have a higher and bigger stake in transit, that can help disperse the concentration of workers around their buildings to other areas of the region. Housing doesn’t necessarily need to be narrowly defined as physical housing, but just density and concentration of where people are living. And I think transportation is a space where that can play out.”
Seattle councilmember Andrew Lewis
“One thing that I’ve been really grateful for has been the collaborative work of We Are In, and it has a lot of contributions from the tech community. They’ve completely redefined the regional approach we have to tackling homelessness, which by far is the biggest challenge we’re facing.
We need to build on that work to keep pressing forward on that issue. But then there’s all sorts of other things. Transportation is looming over the horizon as something that we’re going to have a lot of work on — transportation and climate, and where those intersect. I want to have a conversation with tech community about how they can be a player and how they can be a partner in getting that work done.”
Redmond Mayor Angela Birney
“In Redmond, we have a really great partnership with a lot of our long-term tech companies. They do a lot of work and they really work hard to make sure Redmond is a great place to live and work. One of the challenges they have is that they don’t share very well what they do.
There’s always more to do from all cities, communities, nonprofits, businesses. I just think that we need to keep working better as a partnership to make sure we get the work done for the community.”
Editor’s note: GeekWire was a sponsor of the Seattle Metro Chamber’s event.