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Jon Talton

Analysis and commentary on economic news, trends and issues, with an emphasis on Seattle and the Northwest.

December 26, 2012 at 12:59 PM

The year in Seattle, part 1

If I did the year in reader feedback, my favorite would be the transcendent “Talton your an idiot.” Instead, over the next two days I’ll lay out my nominees for the most consequential stories of the past year. You can add your own in the comments section (I may steal some). We’ll vote on Friday.

1. Amazon came into its own as a game-changing technology giant, not least in Seattle with its urban campus in South Lake Union and plans for three towers in the Denny Triangle. Jeff Bezos isn’t a traditional Seattle steward (bad) but he’s choosing to cluster his best-paid, high-talent employees here and transforming the city in the process (very good).

2. The Port of Seattle lost about 20 percent of its container business when the Grand Alliance and Hamburg Sud lines chose the Port of Tacoma. Seattle did win a new contract with Hanjin. The competition is not healthy because Northwest ports are losing market share and facing a wider Panama Canal as well as rivalry from Prince Rupert. Beneath this is Pierce County’s less diverse, less competitive economy, which naturally causes Tacoma leaders to do whatever it takes to bolster their port. Up here, there’s a troubling complacency on the part of some leaders who are willing to let the seaport go away. That’s nuts but it’s out there.

3. Boeing seemed to be — cue cliched avgeek analogy — gaining altitude: The 787 was finally being delivered, the machinists made peace with Chicago and Renton gained the 737 MAX. But the Dreamliner is having new troubles. And January will be crunch time in the contentious negotiations between Boeing and the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace, a group not known for its militance. Stay tuned.

4. The two tracks of the economy and America’s continuing jobs crisis are on display in Washington state. Seattle has a flock of construction cranes and tech companies are hiring. Yet the state has one of the highest unemployment rates in the nation, measured by the broad U-6 yardstick of the Labor Department. Is it because people don’t want to leave for jobs elsewhere? Is it a sign of the stark inequality that creative-class cities can suffer? Or is this our future with companies finding they can make record profits with far fewer workers?

5. Microsoft revamped most of its major products, rolled out Windows 8 and its first tablet, the Surface. Still, earnings disappointed, the stock is going nowhere and the early Windows 8 metrics and reviews are mixed at best. Microsoft is a contradiction. It’s not General Motors. But it’s not competing well against Google and Apple. This was not an “epic year,” as CEO Steve Ballmer proclaimed. But it may be remembered as the company’s last shot before a reckoning arrives.

Today’s Econ Haiku:

The yen in freefall

Tokyo’s leadership cliff dive

But exports will rise

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The opinions expressed in reader comments are those of the author only, and do not reflect the opinions of The Seattle Times.


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