Top of the News: As a big, homely lug myself, Seattle gives me hope. It doesn’t expect its mayors to win beauty contests with the likes of San Francisco’s Gavin Newsom or L.A.’s Antonio Villaraigosa.
Now to the serious stuff. As far as I can tell, Greg Nickels wasn’t a casualty of the great recession, but rather of rubbing too many people the wrong way and that great career-ender for mayors: failing to get the streets clear after the big snowfall. Nickels’ economic legacy will be debated for years. He was fortunate to preside over a booming city, and I predict his South Lake Union efforts will ultimately be vindicated. (Begin flaming now…)
Mayor-elect McGinn faces an entirely different landscape. Although Seattle has been more fortunate than many cities, it has been wounded by the downturn. In a booming economy with many private-sector leaders, a mayor can do a little coasting. Not now.
Washington Mutual is gone, and with it thousands of good-paying jobs in the heart of the city. Commercial real estate is suffering and may get worse. Retail vacancies are growing. The city is losing some of the unique local shops that are rare in chain-store America, valuable to neighborhood cohesion and very difficult to replace.
Whether he wants it or not, Mayor McGinn will be faced with a big economic policy job in the reset coming out of this recession (if we indeed can pull out). Growth will be slower, jobs more precious, company retention essential, venture capital more scarce. Of course the city budget crisis complicates things.
Seattle has shown an admirable resiliency and dynamism in the past. But that’s the past. The competitive calculus for the future is much more complicated. We can’t assume prosperity will just come here because the city is beautiful and has a high “cool factor.”
And when it snows: Clear the streets.
Today’s Econ Haiku:
Worker drones rejoice
The Fed will maintain low rates
Jobs trump inflation
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