Diverse Industries Show Strength, Set Stage for Growth

Foundational technology, military, biotech, alcohol; there are not many industries as fundamentally in demand as these-and all four have a growing presence in Washington State.

Seattle is the birthplace of modern computing as much as Silicon Valley ever was.  But while Silicon Valley is most well-known for cranking out high-flying, consumer-facing technology, Seattle has a more subdued record of producing technology products that have deeply engrained customers.

Microsoft may not be around forever, but with 94 percent of new computers each year being shipped with the Windows operating system, the Redmond-based software behemoth isn't going anywhere soon. Seattle's own Amazon.com, which started as a simple online bookstore, has exploded as an online retailer of just about anything imaginable, and now provides the backbone for an immeasurable number of both retail and technology companies.

But as Len Holmes, managing partner of The Lakewood Group, an MRINetwork affiliate outside Tacoma, notes, technology is just one slice of Washington State's growing pie.

As part of the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure Commission's plan, Washington became home to one of the first U.S. military bases under the joint jurisdiction of both the Army and the Air Force. Joint Base Lewis-McChord combines two once-neighboring bases and shares their resources. The joint base is able to find efficiencies, theoretically reducing its economic impact. Units, equipment, and personnel from nearby closed military bases have been relocating to Lewis-McChord, providing a strong economic boon to the region.

While the state's biotechnology firms may be outshone to a degree by its consumer technology companies, that industry added more than $10 billion to the economy in 2010 and managed to grow its workforce nearly 9 percent from the beginning of the recession in 2007 to the first quarter of 2011.

"Lingering questions over the state of healthcare legislation have recently put a damper on Washington's enthusiastic biotechnology growth-specifically in the medical devices sector," says Holmes, "Companies are being cautious about adding headcount as long as uncertainty remains."

Yet, such companies aren't seeing their businesses shrink. In fact, they are holding onto cash that could fuel rapid growth once the industry's future becomes clearer.

Rounding out the state's economic diversity is a rapidly growing wine business. Over the last two decades, the total acreage devoted to wine making has grown from 11,100 acres to more than 40,000, while the number of wineries grew from less than 80 to more than 700. In fact, nearly 200 new wineries have opened in Washington State since the beginning of the recession.

"There are some very bright spots in Washington's economy right now, but overall I don't think we are feeling that buzz yet," notes Holmes. "What we are seeing is a strong foundation of diverse sectors which are continuing to survive. Once the national economy picks up speed, they will be able to feed off of each other to start building again."