Economic development plan data analysis shared at recent council meeting

Research was conducted by Avalanche Consulting.

The Bellevue City Council at a Jan. 27 extended study session was updated on a recently conducted data analysis concerning the city’s economic development plan.

The plan — formerly adopted in 2014 for a duration of five years — outlines strategies and outcomes to support economic growth in Bellevue.

Research for the updated plan was conducted by national economic development consulting firm Avalanche, who will present the draft plan on March 23.

Research findings presented at the Jan. 27 meeting were founded on an informational review, interviews with stakeholders and focus groups, and was primarily centered on narrowing down themes and ideas to consider as economic development strategies continue to be worked on.

There were 20 stakeholder interviews and eight focus groups (focused on retail, creative economy, small business and capacity-building, with 50 unique participants) that gathered in December and reconvened in January.

About 70 people participated in the process.

“We are conscious to not duplicate efforts that have previously been done but instead build upon those,” said Philippa Marsh of community development.

Findings show that Bellevue serves as a “global business hub”; that information technology is an increasingly critical industry in the area; that in the course of the last half-decade, business services have seen growth. More retail sales happen in Bellevue than any King County city, except for Tukwila, for instance. (Some $26,000 was accrued for 2018 per capita retail sales.)

Bellevue also has been determined by Avalanche to be the third-best educated out of the U.S.’s 200 largest cities. About 70 percent of residents hold a bachelor’s degree or higher.

It was noted during discussions around small business and entrepreneurship at the meeting that 97 percent of businesses in Bellevue have fewer than 100 employees, and that 13.5 patents were issued per 1,000 residents in 2018.

Some 12 percent of Bellevue households have reported having received self-employment income.

It also was found that there was a dearth of demanded “enhanced” amenities as well as cultural assets (like dining and local arts businesses) in the city, and that affordability is becoming an increasing challenge for residential and commercial properties alike.

Bellevue’s creative economy is dominated (at 91 percent) by its digital (e.g., software, digital) output as opposed to traditional outlets, like galleries and music.

“This traditional creative sector does have a strong bearing on livability for our residents in addition to the strong attraction factor for our businesses,” said Jesse R. Canedo of community development.

Council feedback

Councilmembers voiced an appreciation for the research but had clarifying questions and noted which areas they felt needed more emphasis and specificity. Concerns around education, the creative economy and affordability were especially invoked by councilmembers.

Councilmember Janice Zahn wanted more information about educational findings, and expressed an interest in learning more about how opportunities like trade schools and tech education factor in. She also touched on the importance, as Avalanche continues to develop strategies, of a varied creative economy, and how it connects to other city strengths.

“We’re trying to attract more arts and brewpubs and community spaces and those little local eateries that define Bellevue, but at the same time our bread and butter right now seems to be more high-tech, really educational attainment,” Zahn said. “Somehow, it seems like we need to find a way to broaden that piece…so that we’re actually able to have a community that is diverse and has an opportunity to be a startup, start a small restaurant or a local business.”

Councilmember Jeremy Barksdale acknowledged that while some of the data was promising, something that stuck out to him was how poverty rates might appear artificially low data-wise if some Bellevue residents are essentially being pushed out of the community.

“Given the amount of retail and the contribution that retail plays in our economy, I think it’s important to make sure that we do what we can to provide housing for people who support the economy… one of my asks would be — I know we have our affordable housing strategy [but] if the consultant also has any additional strategies or recommendations, I would like to see that,” Barksdale said. “That also goes for ways we can support our mom and pop shops, our microbusinesses.”

Mayor Lynne Robinson expressed some dissatisfaction with data surrounding workforce development and education, bringing up what she would like to see moving forward.

“I would like the workforce development piece to go a lot further into how we can rejuvenate the workforce that we currently have right now so that the people who already own homes can get a higher salary and stay there rather than importing those people for these jobs who could never afford to live in the city,” Robinson said.

City staff will come back to the council with drafting strategies on Feb. 24. At the end of March, Avalanche will present a draft plan to the council.