SEATTLE—If it didn’t rain here so much, the city might consider adopting a new motto: The future’s so bright we have to wear shades.
Seattle exemplifies the powerful current of economic vitality that is transforming many of the nation’s largest cities as they connect more deeply to the digital economy and global markets. Over the past decade, Seattle has added 220,000 jobs, an increase of nearly 15 percent. Amazon, which employs 40,000 people here and holds about one-fifth of the city’s premier office space, has keyed that growth, but the revival has spilled far beyond it. Thirty-one Fortune 500 companies now operate research and engineering hubs in Seattle, up from seven in 2010. More construction cranes are working here than in any other U.S. city, many in the South Lake Union area where Amazon has centered its burgeoning operations. Seattle is now adding about 60 people daily, many of them well-educated Millennials. That’s the city’s most rapid rate of population increase since the Klondike Gold Rush around 1900.
Seattle is also confronting a homelessness crisis, grinding traffic congestion, and a housing-affordability squeeze that is displacing not only low-income families but also middle-income earners, such as teachers and police officers. Svenja Gudell, chief economist for Zillow, the housing website based here, reports that over the past year, house prices grew faster in Seattle than any other city, and rents increased faster than anywhere except Riverside, California. Like other new economy hubs such as Austin and Denver, Seattle is also struggling to connect its own kids from low-income and minority neighborhoods—kids of color now represent a majority of its public-school students—to the opportunities bursting around them.