Seattle's quality of life continues to reinforce economy | Crain's Portland

Seattle's quality of life continues to reinforce economy

Mount Rainier looms large behind Pier 66 in Downtown Seattle. Such views underscore the city's quality of life that makes it a desirable place to live, and provide a dynamic and skilled workforce. | Photo courtesy of Tiffany Von Arnim/Flickr

As President Donald Trump and Congress map new options for those with and without health insurance, Seattle residents possibly can breathe a bit easier knowing that when it comes to health, the Emerald City is in pretty good shape.

Sure, the city – like many others across the country – is grappling with issues such as homelessness, affordable housing and traffic congestion. But Seattle recently has earned high marks for promoting wellness and maintaining an acceptable quality of life.

Late last month, U.S. News and World Report put Seattle in the top 10 in its "Best Places to Live" rankings. The annual list ranks the country's 100 largest metropolitan areas based on affordability, job prospects and quality of life. Seattle edged up a notch from last year, placing sixth. Similarly, WalletHub recently named Seattle the fourth-healthiest city in the U.S. based upon 34 factors, ranging from the cost of doctor visits to the number of fitness clubs per capita.

Good health can also be good for the economy.

“Great businesses want to locate and grow where their employees want to live,” says Denis Hayes, president of the Bullitt Foundation. “For those at the cutting edge of the 21st century economy, a healthy environment is a top priority. Seattle is on everyone’s short list.”

Seattle and other cities are increasingly luring engineers, scientists and high-tech workers, according to a new report from jobs marketplace Hired. As the Bay Area’s cost of living continues to skyrocket, Seattle promises a better quality of life.

Of the candidates coming to the Emerald City, 24 percent are from Silicon Valley, according to the Hired report, followed by New York, Los Angeles and Boston. Data from Seattle-based real-estate company Redfin confirms this trend. The company said in 2016, the number of people moving to Seattle from San Francisco due to rising home prices doubled.

Workforce considerations

In general, Seattle, according to U.S. News and World Report, is a well-employed area, with a jobless rate below the national average. In addition to technology jobs at companies like Amazon, Microsoft and Zillow, Seattleites land jobs in industries like healthcare, biotech and maritime industries, including both shipping and fishing. The metro area also has a significant manufacturing industry, with companies like Boeing and Weyerhaeuser employing thousands of residents.

The bigger sticking point for Seattle is finding jobs that pay livable wages, though the introduction of a $15 an hour minimum wage could help with that.

“As everywhere, health here is correlated with income,” Hayes says. "The poorest neighborhoods still have residues of lead paint, asbestos and toxic waste. Life expectancy varies with ZIP codes. But Seattle remains a politically progressive city, and its leaders are committed to raising the bar and creating a healthy environment for everyone.”

Beverage tax proposal

For example, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray is hoping to bring in an another $16 million coming from a tax on soda and sugary drinks. The two-pronged approach aims to make money off of those who drink sugary beverages and earmark those funds to educate the poorest residents on the dangers of soda, encourage who feel the pinch from their pocketbook to make healthier choices to help cut down on obesity and diabetes.

Murray’s proposal calls for a 2-cents-per-ounce tax to raise $16 million for the city. If approved, Seattle would join cities such as Boulder and Berkeley in its passage. Berkeley voters were the first in the country to pass such a tax, a 1-cent-per-ounce levy that took effect in January of 2015. To date, it's raised just more than $2 million, slightly less than projections.

Money aside, The American Journal of Public Health released a study last June that found the consumption of sugary drinks was down 21 percent over a four-month period in Berkeley's poorest neighborhoods, while water consumption was up.

In addition to policies that promote quality of life, Seattle boasts an impressive geography. And the research notes that for many, the appeal of Seattle is as much to do with what’s outside of the city as in it.

“In a densifying city, and for people with ever more demanding jobs in front of screens, nature provides a critical antidote, where you unplug and at the same time really connect with your friends,” says Thatcher Bailey, executive director of the Seattle Parks Foundation.

“There are many reasons why Seattle has a booming 21st century economy but a key part of its allure, to employers and employees alike, are the mountains, forests, and waters that keep us healthy, connected, and in awe.”

March 8, 2017 - 2:44pm