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2023 at Seattle’s Office of Economic Development

2023 was a transformative year for us at the Office of Economic Development. We built on feedback from the community to create action plans, impactful programs, and forward-thinking policies aligned with our overarching goal: to champion inclusive economic growth so that everyone in Seattle can enjoy quality jobs at thriving businesses in vibrant neighborhoods, especially communities who have historically faced systemic exclusion from these opportunities. We know that there is a lot of work to do, but I’m extremely proud of everything we’ve accomplished with our partners and can’t thank you all enough. As we wrap up 2023, I want to share a few of these highlights with you. 

Looking back 

This summer, the Seattle City Council adopted our community-driven investment agenda for economic development, the Future of Seattle Economy, as city policy. This detailed strategy identifies five strategic pillars that represent our highest priorities for building equitable prosperity and closing the racial wealth gap:    

  • Investing in Talent and Building our Workforce   
  • Supporting Small Business and Women- and Minority-Owned Business Enterprises   
  • Building BIPOC Community Wealth   
  • Investing in Neighborhood Business Districts  
  • Growing Businesses and Key Industries  

As the lead department for carrying out the City’s economic development agenda, we will use this critical roadmap to develop a Seattle economy that is more equitable, just, and prosperous for everyone. Importantly, this roadmap will also guide the City’s economic development work more holistically – bringing a more cohesive, focused, and consistent approach to policies and investments that guide how the City encourages and supports the multiple dimensions of a healthy economy. 

Our program highlights from 2023 reflect that we play multiple roles: we respond and implement, we convene and make strategic investments, and we serve as a visionary. These highlights include: 

  • $1 million distributed to businesses to repair property damage, via the Storefront Repair Fund grant program .
  • Supporting a cross-departmental approach to our City’s industrial lands, resulting in updates to the City’s industrial lands policy and zoning that will create an estimated 35,000 new jobs over the next 20 years.
  • A first-in-the-nation model to make ownership of commercial space more attainable for small businesses, through the launch of the Business Community Ownership Fund.
  • We launched and incubated the Black Tech Night series, an initiative focused on celebrating and growing Seattle’s Black tech community, in partnership with local technology companies. This year, there were four events drawing in over 700 attendees.  
  • Legislated and appointed the City’s first Seattle Film Commission, established to advise and make recommendations to the City on the development of policies and programs that enhance the economic development of Seattle’s film industry, including promoting the sustainable growth of family-wage jobs prioritizing workers who have been historically underrepresented in the industry. 
  • We also bring an intentional racial equity lens to this work. Of the 1,903 businesses we served in 2023, 1,085 were BIPOC-owned businesses.   

Over the summer, we also launched the Mayor’s Downtown Activation Plan, an ambitious effort to revitalize and reimagine our downtown, the economic hub of our region. In just six months, the City has already completed 12 of the 46 initiatives, and 26 more are in progress. We’ve also passed eight pieces of legislation, and are moving quickly to address public safety, fill vacant storefronts, and clean and beautify Downtown. We have a full DAP progress report up on where you can learn more and share feedback. 

You can see and feel a difference. As Rachel Smith, President and CEO, Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, and I wrote in our Puget Sound Business Journal op-ed, “Seattle is addressing the basics: welcoming parks and public spaces, improved lighting, active storefronts, and less graffiti. We’re already seeing more fun and energy in the heart of our city, with festivals and parades, more public art, and kids and families embracing new opportunities like pickleball and a youth basketball tournament. We are seeing encouraging trends in return-to-office, with a 21% increase in worker traffic from September 2022. And we’re doing it by working together – government, business, and community – to make lasting change.”

Looking ahead 

As we plan for 2024, we look forward to building on this work. Some of the things I’m especially excited about include:  

  • Continuing to build our comprehensive suite of commercial affordability strategies including a pilot master leasing strategy, retail strategy and matchmaking small businesses and entrepreneurs to vacant commercial space.
  • Implementing a workforce strategic plan for the City.
  • Developing a strategic green jobs plan in partnership with the Office of Sustainability and the Environment.
  • Continuing to advance the mayor’s Downtown Activation Plan, including public space activations, filling vacant storefronts, and longer-term economic development initiatives.  
  • Investing in neighborhood business districts by funding training and professional development for BIA leaders, establishing new BIAs in neighborhoods, and creating new marketing and awareness about BIAs for potential future neighborhoods.   

The throughline for all of this is our commitment to helping generate wealth equitably in Seattle in ways that increase the overall prosperity of our community: connecting people to jobs where the earned income outpaces inflation and cost of living increases, and helping people acquire assets that grow in value over time, like owning a thriving business. Underpinning this work is the understanding that one of our biggest risks and biggest opportunities is closing the racial wealth gap.  

Thank you from our team, and for working with us to shape the future of Seattle’s economy.