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From Rain City to Crane City: Seattle’s Tech Growth

September 12, 2016
By P.K. French

Seattle’s overcast cityscape has become the epicenter of a major tech boom, with big names like Amazon, Adobe, and Facebook moving into the city where, decades ago, the Fortune 500 favorite Microsoft laid the groundwork. This migration of giants has spawned a rise of aspiring start-ups, resulting in an ecosystem of skilled workers and success stories.

This has given Seattle a powerful talent pool, one in which the big fish players can feed off the tech innovations of small startups, and, alternatively, one in which the abundance of these established companies provides a route to success for aspiring entrepreneurs.

For instance, even if your business venture fails at StartupX, you can rest easy knowing that the experience you’ve gleaned from your enterprise will make you a worthy candidate for work at, say, Google. And with the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics citing Seattle’s mean salary for “Computer and Mathematics” workers at $107, 290 (an average second only to San Francisco), those who stay in this sector are likely to be well-compensated for their efforts.

In other words, there’s a reason why Fargo, ND isn’t a central tech hub (yet). Big tech residents support small tech residents, and, likewise, small tech residents support them. Of course, there are many other factors driving Seattle’s makeover — major and minor alike (for example, the fact that the city shares California’s time zone makes it easier for company satellites to communicate with their headquarters back home).

Indeed, the way to Washington’s so-called “Emerald City” seems be paved with gold, and companies both native and new are sparing no expense in expanding their territory. Amazon, one of Seattle’s born & bred, is currently adding to its urban campus, which, according to The Seattle Times, has the potential to take up 10 million square feet after it’s finished in 2017.

Amazon’s decision to grow further into Seattle’s expensive downtown area (with two large towers currently under construction) has raised a few eyebrows, but this plan does come with some innovation-sponsored advantages. For instance, here Amazon plans to employ a “district energy” system, recycling energy from the nearby Westin Building Exchange by channeling heat through underground water pipes.

With this sustainable and cost-effective plan (four times more efficient than traditional heating methods, according to Amazon’s website), the retailer giant plans to heat three million square feet of its two new office towers. The construction doesn’t end there either. Possibly taking its name to heart, Amazon has been constructing a series of biospheres beneath the towers – beautiful, framed glass structures housing botanic gardens and arboretums where workers can have short, break-time walkabouts.

Not to be outdone with amenities, social media titan and transplant Facebook is also in the process of lavishing the workers of its new Seattle complexes. According to GeekWire, which uncovered the company’s plans, Facebook’s new offices will “feature a large rooftop park complete with a walking trail, giant fire pit and BBQ-style dining area, plus a covered cafeteria and an outdoor events space.” And, according to Seattle’s KOMO News, who infiltrated Facebook Seattle late last year (publishing, of all things, a picture of the office playroom’s ball-pit), Facebook’s Seattle branch is already its biggest one; and the current plans (amenities and all) will create an office for up to 2,000 people by the end of this year.

Another high-flying tech company in the Seattle area is Autel Robotics, out of Bothell, Washington. Years of engineering experience and a passion for making drones easy to use have allowed this company to storm onto the scene. Their flagship drone, the X-Star Premium, has received rave reviews in a very competitive landscape, which has helped contribute to the company’s rapid ascent. Autel Robotics is currently working with partners like Amazon (there’s that Seattle dynamic again) to make 2016 their strongest year to date.

A little farther down the road (by 2019), travel purchase company Expedia is planning to move its entire headquarters from Bellevue to Seattle. The company has bought up pricey waterfront property on Elliot Bay and has released renderings of a sprawling new HQ that, while not yet detailed with fire pits and botanic gardens, is expected to supply its workers with the open office spaces and plentiful amenities that are a huge part of Seattle’s upper-echelon working culture.

It’s inevitable, though, that these mass migrations and new growths are going to have a broad economic impact, the measure of which extends beyond the dollars earned to the earners themselves. As more cranes move into the skyline, many have expressed worry that the cultural meat of the city’s well-known bohemia will be forced out. If San Francisco’s boom-story has a moral, it’s that musicians and artists have a hard time living next door to software developers making 150K. Thus, as new companies move into Seattle’s limits, the goal seems to be one of creating a harmony between those bringing prosperity to the city and the cultural core of the city itself.

Author Bio: P.K. French is the former Executive Editor of Innovation & Tech Today. An award-winning writer and editor based out of Denver, CO, he is fascinated by the relationship of tech and culture. You can find him on Twitter at @pk_french.

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