For many executives looking to start their business, Bellevue has served as the ideal launch pad.
But it wasn’t always that dynamic, said Wallace Properties CEO Bob Wallace, who first moved to Bellevue with his family in 1956.
“It was a crummy little town well into the ’60s,” he told a room of 150 during a CEO discussion panel at a recent Bellevue Chamber business symposium. The April 24 event celebrated Bellevue’s selection by Fortune Small Business magazine as the best city in the country to live and launch a business.
Former mayor Ron Smith, now Lytle Enterprises CEO, saw the city going through a similar economic growth spurt when he first came on board the city council in 1993. At that time, the council and the economic development committee discussed how the city would get its downtown jumpstarted, Smith recalled.
An outside firm did some analysis and laid out a plan.
“It was kind of a gut punch,” Smith said.
The firm found that the city’s expectations about its land values were “unrealistic.”
“What a contrast to go from an economic development committee and saying why is nobody coming, to where we are today and being a great place to start a business,” he said.
Bellevue has gone through many growing pains since it incorporated in 1953. But the city’s economic strength that has turned it into an ideal place to do business today can be accredited largely to its visionaries, participants said.
“Bellevue had the Freeman’s and the Ditty’s and the Wallace’s and others who lived and worked and cared about this community,” Smith noted of the prominent families who built up Bellevue Way, Bellevue Square and beyond. “We really owe a lot of what we have today to the fact that they were here full-time.”
MulvannyG2 Architecture CEO Greg Krape said the city’s economic success “is all about the relationships and this city has figured that out a long time ago.”
Founded in 1971 and headquartered in Bellevue, the architecture firm has designed many civic and commercial buildings, including Bellevue Towers and Redmond City Hall. The company has grown from a handful of employees to more than 500 in recent years.
Scott Harrison, BarclayDean CEO, also pointed to the city.
Four years ago, the company, which has been headquartered in Bellevue for 50 years, thought about relocating.
“Vacancy rates were three times higher than what they are now,” Harrison recalled. “There were a lot of options. We went out into the marketplace and very quickly came back.”
It was the “Bellevue persona” that made BarclayDean stay, he said. City leaders such as Steve Sarkozy, city manager, have created a business-friendly environment and a good impression of the city, he added.
Others applauded the Bellevue School District, city parks, and the Bellevue Police Department’s commitment to safety.
Earl Overstreet, founder and president of General Microsystems Inc., said the city’s business community is a mix of a mature business environment and an emerging environment.
A chairman of the Bellevue Chamber when he was just 30, he said “this is a place where you don’t have to sit around and have the same hair color as mine in order to be actively involved.”
“The wonderful thing about Bellevue is this is the place where if you’re willing to roll up your sleeves, you are welcome with open arms,” Wallace said.
Carrie Wood can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 425-453-4290.