OneRedmond hosts Eastside economic outlook summit

A presentation and panel discussion about the future of Redmond, Bellevue and Kirkland anchored the summit.

OneRedmond hosted its 2020 economic outlook summit on Feb. 26, inviting business leaders from Redmond, Kirkland and Bellevue to meet and discuss the future of the Eastside.

During the summit, held on Microsoft’s Redmond campus, business leaders ate breakfast and listened to speeches from city officials and business leaders.

Chris Mefford, president and CEO of Community Attributes Inc. (CAI), spoke at the event. According to a handout from the event, Mefford’s current work “supports OneRedmond’s assessment of local economic conditions; Seattle’s maritime industry strategy; King County’s build-able land analysis; and local corporations on their economic impacts and location planning.”

Mefford presented on the future of the Eastside and made the case that the three major cities — Redmond, Kirkland and Bellevue — would need to partner together to address the challenges that could keep them from economic success in the coming years.

“It’s important that you three cities — business leaders, government leaders — get together in this room to talk about, and to think about regional economic development,” Mefford said in his presentation.

Mefford presented data that outlined population growth, economic growth, housing availability and more, most often comparing the Eastside to King County and Washington state. He said in some ways, the Eastside was in a better position than other economic hubs like Silicon Valley.

According to Mefford, his team at CAI estimates that $75 billion is the combined GDP for the three cities, or 27 percent of King County’s total GDP. That percentage is a five percent increase from 2017, but Mefford said the estimation was “squishy data” and hard to properly estimate.

After Mefford’s presentation, he was joined on stage by civil engineer Amy Carlson, OneRedmond president Robert Pantley and then president of Bellevue College Jerry Weber for a panel discussion moderated by Emily Parkhurst, the publisher of the Puget Sound Business Journal (Weber has since parted ways with the college).

The panel took questions from Parkhurst and took written questions from the audience. The panel was asked to address questions about diversification, transit, housing, climate change and how those issues overlapped with economic development on the Eastside.

“I think it’s time that we joined together to have a single voice to really help us get to the livability that [Redmond Mayor Angela Birney] talked about, for instance, and to make sure that the economy continues,” Pantley said.

The whole panel said they knew of employees within their networks who worked in one of the Eastside cities, but had to travel 40-60 minutes for work. Carlson said diverse public transportation options would help that dilemma.

“I like to compare investments and transportation to how you might invest financially. In the end, you’ll want a diverse portfolio of investments,” Carlson said. She said data can help inform cities in their goals to adapt to a multi-modal society. “I think we’re truly running out of car habitat. There’s only so much land out there for cars.”

Pantley spoke specifically to questions of physical space and how to change zoning to ensure communities have what they need around them.

“In Kirkland, Google’s taken 40 percent of all the office space. So where do all the small companies go?” he asked. “Where’s your dentist? Where’s your doctor? Where are the people that sell eyeglasses? And also, where are your nonprofits? Why can’t they be in your retail center, where you can walk into the historical society and talk to them, or so many other nonprofits that are available? A lot of our zoning doesn’t allow for it. I think we want to rethink that a lot.”

Pantley also pressed the audience to do what they can to support affordable housing.

“Ask your city council members, ‘Do they have a focused written plan for affordable housing that’s specific and action oriented?’” Pantley said. “If they cannot say yes, then I would ask you to press them to get there. That’s how we will do it. And together we can really make it happen.”