Editor’s Note: Getting It Right

June 24, 2015

Leslie Helm

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Nearly 120 years ago, the klondike gold rush ushered
in an era of prosperity that transformed Seattle. A town damaged by the fire of 1889 and then the financial panic of 1893 found new life as a supplier to the thousands of prospectors. New wealth, new residents and transformative projects such as the Lake Washington Ship Canal and a system of parks and greenways laid the foundation for the city Seattle is today.

The tech boom Seattle is experiencing now, for better or worse, will rival the Gold Rush as a transformative force. An influx of new residents confronts us with unprecedented traffic congestion, but also brings the kind of wealth that, with proper planning, ought to help us address those challenges for decades to come. For starters, Seattle must make sure the new $900 million transportation package its asking us to support will reduce congestion rather than make it worse.

While increased population density and a widening wealth gap cause myriad social problems, they also allow for creative new solutions. New high-rises, for example, add density that supports transit and reduces our carbon footprint. New construction can help us address other long-standing challenges.

Consider the retail sector (page 32). For decades, Seattle has struggled to attract the kind of retail it needs to keep downtown streets buzzing with activity from morning to night. Now, a boom in office and apartment construction to house an influx of young millennials offers the city an opportunity to get it right. Landlords and community leaders are beginning to understand that if they want to attract the best tenats, they need to come up with the right combination of entertainment, restaurants, shops and services.

The city must also address the high cost of housing. But it should do so by adding incentives that encourage affordable housing construction without discouraging developers from building more much-needed market-rate housing (page 18).

A tightening labor market, meanwhile, rewards companies that are doing a great job of improving working conditions for their employees. For a list of firms doing the best job of building the kind of corporate cultures employees like, check out our 100 Best Companies to Work For feature (page 47). Happy employees make for happy customers, driving better growth, profits and a stronger community.

Even the drought we face creates opportunities by challenging us to find solutions. A small cluster of companies sees a brighter future using technology to clean, process and save water (page 40).

These are exciting times. The Emerald City has always drawn strength from the beauty of its surroundings and the kindness of its people. We have the chance in these years of prosperity to make the jewel shine brighter, to lay the foundation for decades of healthy growth. Shame on us if we dont take advantage of this once-in-a-generation opportunity.