Keep Doing (Small) Business in Seattle

May 9, 2017 • 8 min read
Katelyn Peters

Katelyn Peters

Content Editor

If you’re not a resident of the Pacific Northwest, and you hear the word, “Seattle,” most likely you’ll think of two things: grunge and gray. The truth is Seattle has come a long way since its heydey as the birthplace of garage rock. We’re still gray, and we have more rainy days now than ever before. Seattle’s music community still generates a sizable amount of talent. (The music industry in Seattle employs over 16,600 people.)

But there’s another number that’s increasing everyday: Seattle’s population. In one year, between April 2015 and 2016, 86,320 new residents moved to Seattle. According to Geekwire, that’s an average of 236 people who are moving to Seattle everyday.

Prior to emerging as a haven for technology startups, Seattle was the West Coast’s best kept secret. One thing is for sure: the cat is out of the bag. What does Seattle’s newfound popularity, and ensuing growth, mean for the future of the city?

The work of Seattle small business owners and artists is more important than ever. Technology companies and startups have emerged on the forefront of Seattle’s rise to national notoriety. But that’s because they landed on fertile ground.

Entrepreneurs and creatives have worked to make this city great for decades. When people started moving to Seattle en masse during the construction boom that began in the early 2000s (and continues today), they discovered a livable city. Seattle small businesses were fostering community, diversity and a sense of place for residents. Now, many Seattleites are concerned about the transformation of their city, and problems that are caused when growth happens at a faster rate than the city’s infrastructure can support.

Seattle small business

The local government’s job is to promote growth and prosperity for their city, so they make friends with developers and investors. But they are equally responsible for all residents, including the ones that have lived in the city for many years. They are responsible for providing jobs, roads, transportation, and a voice in local government for residents who can’t afford to partake in the new economy, and more importantly, will not benefit from it.

Who will step into this middle ground, between the city and government officials on the one hand, and developers and investors who are channeling money into high-profit investments?

Small Businesses Create Community

Small businesses are a voice for their community. Currently, Seattle supports an amazing 72,000 small businesses. In a recent Thrillist article called, “Local Seattle Businesses You Should Be Supporting in 2017”, Naomi Tomky said, “Seattle’s got plenty of businesses that are starting to flourish with people opening shops and selling products you can’t find anywhere else and creating art — both useful and purely decorative. These are the people who make Seattle great and who you should feel great supporting.”

Some of the people who are profiting from Seattle’s rapid growth don’t live in Seattle. They can’t know how rapid development is impacting the people that walk on the city’s sidewalks everyday. For the most part, policymakers have good intentions, but enacting change through legislation takes time. Seattle small business owners are innovative. They know how to create everything from nothing. They think on their feet. Seattle small business owners respond to changing variables on a daily basis. An unexpected turn of events is expected in the world of small business ownership.

When you shop at one of Seattle’s small businesses, you should feel good that you are supporting folks that live in Seattle. When you shop at an independent retailer, you are supporting people who live in your neighborhood, whose kids attend Seattle Public Schools, and who shop at local grocery stores (rather than getting their groceries delivered in a lime green truck).

In order for Seattle to remain a livable city, with neighborhood small businesses that foster a sense of community and that give residents a sense of belonging, the city must remain affordable, and not just for newcomers to the city who can participate in the technology-based sector of the economy. Second, the pace of small business growth, while not comparable to the rapid rise of the tech sector, should remain consistent. Because really, when you support small businesses, you are supporting your neighbors.

Small Business Dollars Support Real People

It’s not a surprise that ordering a product online from a global corporation is cheaper and easier than buying a new book from a local bookstore (and trying to find a parking spot in Capitol Hill). So why are people surprised when local businesses disappear? In Seattle, it is not unusual to walk the same block everyday, and have it look different from one month to the next.

Small businesses reflect the values of their communities; if Seattle small businesses are disappearing, that can only mean that the Seattle community does not value small businesses. If small business owners are our neighbors, and our community does not support small businesses, that means our community is not supporting our neighbors. When we support small businesses, we support each other.

What do the numbers and the statistics say about the state of small businesses in Seattle and greater Washington state?

Seattle small business

Forecast for Seattle Small Business

According to Business News Daily’s yearlong project, “The State of Small Business,” the state of Washington’s business environment is ‘young and healthy.’ Statistics from the Small Business Administration (SBA) show that Washington state’s economy grew by 3.1 percent in 2014 — faster than the nation’s overall economy, which grew by 2.2 percent in 2014. Entrepreneurs in the state of Washington say that growth in the technology sector has spilled over to bolster the small business community. According to the SBA, small business owners say they’re encouraged by a strong talent pool, a robust support network and opportunities to do business with larger companies, like Amazon, Facebook or Microsoft.

But there’s a caveat. The report also reveals that entrepreneurs find it difficult to compete with big businesses, and the economic activity in the technology sector is pushing up the costs of real estate and labor. While there is a lot of wealth to be had, many entrepreneurs and small businesses report difficulty in accessing that capital.

CNBC’s Metro 20 created a report called “Top 20 areas to start a business in America” in 2016. Seattle ranks number 20 in their report. Their findings cite Seattle as among the fastest-growing cities in the United States since 2010, with a population that’s expected to increase by an additional 200,000 over the next 20 years. According to CNBC, interesting restaurants, bars, shops and coffeehouses are among the reasons for Seattle’s jump in population. They also report that the young population and booming tech industry are great for small businesses looking for a well-educated, plentiful workforce.

But their report also includes a caveat: the rising population and booming tech industry mean that prices for nearly everything in Seattle have risen as well. According to the Council on Economic and Community Relations, Seattle is 24 percent more expensive than the average U.S. city.

Seattle’s Identity Crisis

After observing the transformation of the city, journalists Mónica Guzmán and Anika Anand started, talking about Seattle’s “identity crisis.” Guzmán and Anand founded the Evergrey in 2016, a daily newsletter that highlights events and stories from around the Seattle region. Their intention in starting The Evergrey was helping people, including themselves, who are “seeking a stronger sense of place in a booming city.” The Evergrey’s slogan is Live like you live here.

Seattle small business

For Small Business Week, The Evergrey asked Seattle residents what small businesses they could not live without. They asked for nominations from readers, and last week they profiled three local businesses that are making the strongest impact on their community. Guzmán and Anand agree that good local businesses are integral to maintaining the identity of a city.

There are so many exceptional small businesses in Seattle it’s hard to believe you would need any more suggestions. But just in case, the Evergrey compiled an additional list of 23 Seattle small businesses to highlight, out of the more than 100 businesses that were nominated. Not surprisingly, many Townsquared members made the cut. Guzman writes, “If you run a small business people love, you probably care about more than just the products you sell. One way or another, you’ve made your business a part of people’s lives.”

What small business owners have you made a part of your life? What small businesses are part of your daily or weekly routine, and what would it mean if they weren’t there tomorrow?

We create the kind of community we want to live in.

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