As we head into the holiday season, there is plenty for the business community to be thankful for. Virtually every sector of Seattle’s regional economy is on fire, from construction and technology to aerospace and maritime services. An impressive 200,000 new jobs have shrunk the region’s unemployment rate to 4.1 percent from a high of more than 10 percent in early 2010. That’s particularly impressive given that the overall labor force in the area grew by 100,000 during that period. No wonder Seattle’s housing market is among the hottest in the country.
There are signs of new wealth everywhere you look, from Teslas on the road, to lavish apartment and condo complexes rising to the skies and luxurious retail complexes from the likes of Nordstrom and Starbucks (see page 38). Firms such as Laird Norton (page 37), which have been in the Northwest for generations, are doing a thriving business managing the wealth of an expanding class of well-heeled clients.
That’s all good. We want to have a strong economy that generates greater wealth. Corporate and individual giving to philanthropy, for example, have risen steadily in recent years after falling sharply during the financial crisis. We want the new jobs that are being generated.
Unfortunately, too many local residents still lack the education, skills or experience to take advantage of the thousands of jobs posted. Serious efforts are being made to bridge that chasm. King County’s Best Starts for Kids initiative plans to tap the latest research on child development to work with disadvantaged children under 5, and on strategies to make sure those gains are sustained. The Road Map Project is a communitywide effort to drive dramatic improvement in student achievement in South King County and South Seattle.
When it comes to training programmers so much in demand, organizations like the Technology Alliance, Code.org and Code Fellows have stepped in to train more workers, while the Washington Technology Industry Association and others are working to establish apprenticeships in aerospace, manufacturing and programming.
As valuable as all those programs are, nothing can replace the central role played by our K-12 schools and our institutions of higher education. Our public schools need more revenues. There is no getting around it. Achieving that will mean higher taxes in one form or another. Microsoft agreed this year to a $57 million increase in its taxes provided that money was well spent on education and transportation.
The state responded by agreeing to measures that would increase computer science education at secondary schools as well as at state universities. That’s a step in the right direction. In resolving a strike this fall, teachers’ unions also took a small step toward addressing some parent concerns rather than focusing exclusively on teacher salaries. But unions, schools and businesses must strike much bigger bargains if Seattle is to take on the intractable task of reforming its schools.