If I were the egocentric type, I'd probably think that none other than the P-I's Bill Virgin is a Seattle Bubble reader. A mere five days after I dispelled the notion that Seattle is "world class," Bill delivers the exact same message to a broader audience in today's column: So what makes a world-class city?
Is Seattle a world-class city?Ding ding ding! We have a winner. Bill "gets it." Seattle is a nice city, but any way you look at things, it falls short of the "world class" title.
During the heady days of No. 1 livability rankings and magazine covers and pop-culture references in music, movies and TV shows, Seattle got to thinking of itself as not just world-class but world-centric.
So should anyone care about whether Seattle is world-class?
In fact, there is an aspect to world-class status that goes well beyond meaningless exercises in civic pride (or, some would argue, overly and unjustifiably inflated ego) that does matter, at least in the realm of business and economics.
Which brings us to the question of how Seattle stacks up as a world-class city in the business sense.
The answer: Maybe not as well as we used to believe.
Just about every discussion of the economic fortunes of this region focuses on two companies: Boeing and Microsoft — with considerable justification.
And after that, what other sectors are there of which we can boast world-class status? Natural resource businesses like timber and fishing no longer figure prominently in the regional economy, much less nationally. Seattle never did emerge as a biotech center the way boosters hoped.
Interestingly, one sector in which Seattle has emerged as a leader is one in which it had not traditionally been a significant player — retailing. Such is Starbucks' status that it has influenced the direction of another giant, McDonald's, while Costco on a national level has forced none other than Wal-Mart to react to it.
Still, the portfolio is a little thin in terms of making Seattle a world-class business center. That's probably just fine with a lot of people. But if Seattle does aspire to world-class status as an economic development strategy, it's got some work to do, beyond merely boasting how darn great we are.
If you have to tell everyone you're world-class, maybe you really aren't.
(Bill Virgin, Seattle P-I, 04.16.2007)