Flynn’s Harp: Mike Luis and The Future of Business in Seatttle
Michael Luis, then in his early 30s and a vice president with the Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce, recalls two incidents in the early 1990s that brought home to him that Seattle’s star was rising rapidly on the national business stage.
The first was 20 years ago this month when he walked past the office of legendary Chamber President George Duff and saw a “huge blow-up of a Fortune magazine cover with the headline ‘Best Cities for Business.’”
There was the Seattle skyline behind Boeing CEO Frank Shrontz, Microsoft CEO Bill Gates and Minoru Arakawa of Ninetendo of America, all pictured with then-Mayor Norm Rice. “I had glimpsed the holy grail for a public affairs staffer at a chamber of commerce,” as Luis characterized it in is just-published Century 21 City.
The second incident, which he describes as “the only time in my life I felt like a rock star,” was at a 1994 gathering of chambers of commerce staff members in Ft. Worth when “colleagues from around the country knew all about Seattle and more than a few of them asked me if I could find them a job there.”
It’s long past being news that, as the 20th Century wound down and this century began to unfold, Seattle had become a place where entrepreneurial success and innovation had put the region’s stamp on the economy of not just the nation, but also the world.
But Luis, with his background of long-time involvement in public-policy from government to housing issues, has written a book that puts some interesting perspective on the evolution of the Seattle area’s image. He delves into issues like why has Seattle been successful and what questions that haven’t been asked might be important as the 21st century goes forward.
And in describing Seattle’s evolution, he provides a detailed look at the larger question of how metropolitan areas turn themselves into the essential building blocks of the global economy.
Luis, a third-generation Seattle resident who resides with his wife and three children in the same Medina home where he and his father both grew up, has been involved for the past 25 years with the issues and leadership efforts that have impacted the growth and development of the Seattle area economy.
Elected this year to the Medina city council and now serving as Medina mayor, Luis has also been involved in projects with other cities in this country and Europe and has engaged in economic research involving regions around the world.
There’s no shortage of books about Seattle since nearly two dozen titles relating to the city can be found on Amazon’s site. They range from Bill Speidel’s irreverent look at Seattle’s founding wealth, Sons of the Profits, to Murray Morgan’s Skid Road, Emmett Watsons’ Digressions of a Native Son and Walt Crowley’s look at Seattle in the ’60s, Rites of Passage to works on architecture, hikes and history and trees and parks.
But Luis’ focus on how Seattle became home to world-leading companies and a magnet for talent from every continent, along with a future spin on what that means, presents an economic look at Seattle’s rise and emergence as a global city.
Luis, in a visit over lattes at his neighborhood coffee shop, suggested that this region needs to develop some data on why some smart people come here and stay, but also why some opt not to come here.
“Although we grow some of our own smart people for the global companies here, the hiring for those companies is global,” he notes. “So getting people to want to come here in the future is a key and we are missing any notion of why people stay here.”
“And we don’t know why some who were sought by these global companies decided either not to come here, or not to stay here once they did come, and learning those things could be important to this region’s continued competition against other superstar cities,” he added. “A successful business will have a strategy to learn by contacting former customers to ask why they left and some similar concern about star talent that we either failed to get, or lost, might well be of value.”
Luis argues in his book, as he has in policy studies and other discussions, that “in-migration of highly skilled people from elsewhere in the U.S. and abroad constitutes the single most important factor that will determine the future success of the Seattle economy.”
Luis has allowed himself the luxury of wandering across a wide array of growth, globalization and why-here discussion points. But perhaps his most interesting discussion centered on the economic implications of climate change.
In noting that coastal areas, like Seattle, Portland and the Bay Area, “offer a climate-friendly alternative” with lower individual carbon footprint because of mild weather in both summer and winter, Luis sets the stage for some interesting future discussions.
“If West Coast metropolitan areas begin absorbing a larger share of the nation’s growth, more Americans could lower their household carbon footprint while minimizing the impact on their lifestyles,” Luis writes.
“I realize I will not win friends by suggesting that Seattle should invite more development and growth, but the truth is the Pacific Coast does offer a climate-friendly alternative” for future growth and development, adds Luis, who for 10 years ran The Housing Partnership, a think tank that explored market-rate housing affordability. “Yet West Coast areas have among the nation’s most restrictive policies on housing development.”
Offering a thought over latte that both of us realized isn’t likely to find much traction in national political policies, Luis observed “Nationally, we should be encouraging people to live on the West Coast rather than the Sun Belt. To pat ourselves on the back about all our environmental virtues but, at the same time, restrict growth and push it to the Sun Belt smacks of hypocrisy.”