Commentary: A City for All

To avoid creating a Seattle of haves and have-nots, business owners must lead.
| FROM THE PRINT EDITION |
 
 
 
The secret is out that Seattle is a great place to live. We have water, mountains, coffee and no shortage of innovation. That’s led to a milestone: For the first time, we’ve joined the ranks of the 10 most densely populated big cities in the United States.  All these newcomers, many of them highly paid tech workers, need a place to live. With housing in limited supply and demand seemingly endless, the dire headlines keep coming: “War stories from the Seattle housing market.” “Harder for normal people to live in my neighborhood.”
 
We’ve reached a point where the poor — and even the rich, relatively speaking — are getting poorer in Seattle. The value of a dollar is diminishing: Average rent on a two-bedroom apartment has climbed more than 50 percent since 2009, while median income has sputtered upward unremarkably. 
 
As a result, if you’re a restaurant server, a bus driver, a teacher or an artist, Seattle is fast becoming a not-so-great place to live. If you’re not part of the tech and real estate glitterati, the sky-high salaries are eluding you, but you’re still getting socked with the sky-high rental and real estate prices. A friend of mine who works two jobs had this experience recently when she got hit with a 25 percent rent increase. To continue to pay her bills, she had to pick up a third job. That’s no way to live. 
 
Stories like these factored heavily into my decision last year to raise the minimum wage at my credit-card-processing company, Gravity Payments, to $70,000. Yes, the news created a sensation, but it also drew attention to the importance of paying employees enough to let them enjoy life and eliminate the anxiety about staying in the black. 
 
Business owners can’t afford to stay silent as the cost of living here spikes. Unless we demonstrate decisive leadership, this city is on its way to becoming a community of haves and have-nots, populated mostly by the uber-affluent. How can we prevent that from happening? If a business can’t afford to raise everyone’s salary en masse, incremental steps are meaningful, too. Before we hiked our minimum salary to $70,000 at Gravity Payments, we were aggressive with compensation for several years, averaging a 22 percent annual increase since 2012.
 
It’s possible to tackle this problem from the top down or the bottom up. At Gravity, we found that the right strategy was to incorporate both. For example, we regularly offer our teams professional development opportunities so they have the chance to burnish their skills and increase their earning power. As a business owner, I know that paying people well is important, but so is nurturing their careers. We don’t pay employees only in money; we pay them in mentorship and experience. 
 
Nationally, polls show that more than two-thirds of employees are disengaged at work. This reflects a failure of employers to invest in their teams but also a failure of employees to take initiative and be the CEOs of their own careers. 
Not long ago, one of our software consultants observed that several of our clients would benefit from a more efficient point-of-sale system. He decided to research options and wound up identifying a small company that had many features that our clients needed. He engaged that company’s CEO and managed the entire acquisition, despite that activity’s not being in his job description. The bottom line? Developing a culture of accountability and responsibility fosters independent thinking and a deeper connection to our company. 
 
Of course, this two-pronged, bottom-up/top-down approach may not work for every business. But in our Ballard offices, it’s this combination that has allowed us to cultivate an environment where teams inspire their bosses and bosses want to inspire and invest in their teams. It’s much easier to give a raise to someone who takes initiative and produces results. 
 
If we want every employee to participate in Seattle’s boom, business owners have to lead the way, empowering employees to live well and work well in the city they call home. 
 
Dan Price is founder and CEO of Gravity Payments. Reach him at dprice@gravitypayments.com.

Final Analysis: The Sporting Life in 2017

Final Analysis: The Sporting Life in 2017

Three predictions for the coming year on a new arena, an old arena and the Mariners.
| FROM THE PRINT EDITION |
 
 
 
As every first-year business student knows, a city’s economy is not considered “world class” until said city has erected at least four shrines to professional sports and these shrines remain empty and unused most days of the year. Seattle is knocking on the door of world classiness because it already has KeyArena, Safeco Field and CenturyLink Field up and running. Occasionally. Just one more monument to appease the great mass of athletic supporters and we’re there. Hallelujah!
 
It’s only a matter of time because Chris Hansen, the San Francisco rich guy who wants to build a new arena on First Avenue South and bring pro basketball and pro hockey to Seattle, is this close to getting his way. In October, Hansen revealed that he and his investors are now willing to pay the whole honkin’ bill for plopping a new arena into the SoDo neighborhood a block from Safeco Field. He still wants a piece of Occidental Way vacated and also expects some tax breaks from the city, but that’s how rich guys are. (See: Trump, Donald.) Besides, the people who believe we’re not world class until the NBA returns to Seattle are salivating over this deal because it’s the best deal we’re ever going to get
 
Of course, these same people said Hansen’s previous offer, which would have required that $200 million in public money be plowed into a new arena, was also the best deal we were ever going to get. 
 
Hansen’s decision to pay more for his arena places the sports economy clearly in the local spotlight this year. Heaven knows we could use more opportunities to pay $9 for a beer and see millionaire athletes selling Jaguars and BMWs on TV. It’s the kind of economic shot in the arm that only comes around whenever a sports league is in a coercive mood. 
 
And so, in the spirit of this January issue’s “looking ahead” theme, we offer three predictions relating to the regional economy as the Hansen arena intrigue continues to unfold.
 
Prediction 1: Hansen, who has already spent more than $120 million buying up property in the area of his proposed arena, will persuade the Port of Seattle, his arch nemesis in this melodrama, to fold up its tent and send all cargo-handling operations to Tacoma. That decision will pave the way for so many trendy bars and restaurants with names like Kale & Kumquat or Cobblestone & Wingtip that Hansen will be persuaded to create a private streetcar system to connect Pioneer Square with the burgeoning Stadium District. 
 
Prediction 2: The city-owned KeyArena, whose very future is clouded by the Hansen proposal, will announce plans to house up to 10,000 homeless persons every day. Even on days when the Seattle Storm and Seattle University basketball teams need the building, the city believes the Storm and the Redhawks could use the attendance boost, so it becomes a classic win-win.
 
Prediction 3: The Seattle Mariners, who still don’t like the arena proposal, will channel their hostility onto the field of play — and still not win the World Series. (This is called pattern-recognition analysis.) However, always mindful of improving the fan experience — because it’s not whether your team wins or loses, but whether you’re inclined not to press charges for being gouged by a vendor — the Mariners will introduce several new fan-friendly food items, plus mani/pedi stations in the pricey seats and roving loan officers to assist anyone trying to finance the purchase of hot dogs and sodas for a family of four. 
 
JOHN LEVESQUE is the managing editor of Seattle Business magazine. Reach him at john.levesque@tigeroak.com.