West Seattle Chamber of Commerce honors winners, hears economic optimism

Story by Tracy Record
Photos by Patrick Sand
West Seattle Blog co-publishers

“Are we out of the recession? Yes, we are,” declared local economic Matthew Gardner in his keynote speech at this morning’s West Seattle Chamber of Commerce annual awards breakfast.

Emceeing the event, Chamber board chair Dave Montoure, owner of West 5, declared that to be “a good message for us to hear today,” on behalf of the 120 people gathered at Salty’s on Alki to hear.

More on Gardner’s economic insights later – but first, the awardees!

(From left, WS Garden Tour’s Jim Reid, The Grove’s Lynn Sweeney Pedersen, Pete Spalding, Dave Montoure, AmericanWest Bank’s David Kim)
They were announced back in February (WSB coverage here), but the breakfast celebration is always an occasion for the business community to gather and not only give the awardees well-earned applause, but also to celebrate the community’s ongoing growth.

AmericanWest Bank

Junction branch manager David Kim – who also chairs the Chamber’s Ambassador Committee – accepted the award, noting that AWB (a new name for what had been Viking Bank, before last year’s merger) is a “business-focused community bank.”

The Grove/West Seattle Inn

Montoure introduced owner Lynn Sweeney Pedersen after recalling that when the Chamber polled members in 2010 about what West Seattle needs most, there were two answers – a hospital and a hotel. The Sweeney family made the latter dream come true last year.

Sweeney Pedersen recounted the property’s makeover last year, from rundown motel to “comfortable, friendly, affordable lodging,” saying their work isn’t over yet – they’re working on “continuous improvement.” She also mentioned that this weekend they will celebrate the complex’s “50th birthday,” since it was built for the Seattle World’s Fair half a century ago (as the Mar-Lyn, after original owners Martin and Evelyn).

West Seattle Garden Tour

President Jim Reid accepted the award, talking about the WSGT’s roots in the mid-1990s, founded by community advocate Irene Stewart. Since then, he said, it was raised and donated nearly a quarter-million dollars to causes in the community, facilitating the community’s “stepping up to make up for the decline in government funding” of some of those services. It’s an all-volunteer organization, and its planning is in high gear for this year’s tour, July 15th (more info here), and Reid said, you have one more week to sign up as a sponsor (WSB is among them again this year).

Pete Spalding

Montoure quipped that when he asked Spalding for his bio, it was a page and a half long. Just a few toplines of what he’s up to currently – West Seattle Food Bank board, Southwest Precinct Advisory Council, Pigeon Point Neighborhood Council, Parks and Green Spaces Levy Oversight Committee … Spalding, no stranger to awards but clearly moved by this one, said with his trademark Southern-accent humility and humor, “I think there are a lot of people who do a lot more in the community and are more deserving, but I’m not going to give (the award) back!” He closed his remarks by quoting the exhortation he features in his e-mail signature, “Be the change you want to see in the world.”

Ahead – toplines from the keynote, what’s next for the Chamber, and our video from this morning’s event:

Though Matthew Gardner describes himself as a “land-use economist,” his insights were not limited to that field. Our video includes his entire speech (as well as the award presentations) – note, it might work better if you just listened to it in the background, since there’s only so much we could do to compensate for the lighting challenges in the Salty’s room (big bright windows as backdrops, washing out the people in front of them), and during Gardner’s speech, we finally just focused the camera on his PowerPoint, interesting in its own right. Here’s the video, followed by text toplines:

*Yes, we’re out of the recession, Gardner says, “but the expansion is not as robust as we’d like to see.”

*Yes, jobs are coming back – but “it’s going to take a long time to get back to where we were. … Uncertainty is keeping us from hiring more, faster.” He says the U.S. is still “more than five million jobs short of previous peak employment.” And he thinks it’ll be no sooner than late 2014 before we are back to “stable employment.” However, he insists “we are through the worst of it.”

*One sign, he says, while not sure if it’s good or bad news – credit-card companies are starting to aggressively solicit again. (His slide accompanying this information bore the warning, “Beware Student Loans!”)

*When he focused on the Puget Sound economy, he declared, “We’re coming back rather well” – with employment improving faster than the rest of the country, “all driven by the private sector.” Local unemployment is at about 7.4 percent, below the national rate of 8.2 percent.

*The leading employment categories in the region in terms of growth, according to Gardner, are education, aerospace, leisure, and hospitality. Though you might suspect otherwise, he says the “information” category – including technology – is static, rather than growing (though the software subcategory is on the upswing).

*Local economy drivers are the “five B’s,” according to Gardner – Boeing, biotech, bytes (software/technology), batteries (needed for electronics/electric cars/etc.), and benefactors – he said the local philanthropic community (led by billionaire families such as the Allens and the Gates) is “horribly” underestimated, but not only hires and spends, it also “creates satellite businesses.”

*Compared to other West Coast metro areas, Seattle and Phoenix are tied for “strongest.”

*Since he focuses on land use, you won’t be surprised to hear his most detailed insights were regarding construction. It’s all about apartments, he said – that’s what lenders are giving money for. He doesn’t believe that anyone will build condos “for years and years and years … it just doesn’t make financial sense right now.” When he opened the floor to Q/A, City Councilmember Nick Licata asked why the condo market was so weak; Gardner’s view is that young buyers can’t get mortgages – 20 percent of young adults, according to a stat he quoted – are either still or back at home with their parents – and don’t believe that ownership makes sense right now anyway – particularly not when it comes to condos. Banks won’t even lend money to build them, he said.

However, Gardner didn’t think it would be wise to build too many apartments; he said Belltown and West Seattle, to name two, might be on the verge of overbuilt.

*One more trend from the construction industry: He observed that “smaller builders” are being “priced out” of the home-building market, since “the nationals” have finally arrived in the area – “they have tons and buckets of money and can afford to build stuff.”

Those were the key points of Gardner’s speech. Also at this morning’s event, outgoing Chamber board member Amy Lee Derenthal was honored; Nucor‘s general manager Matt Lyons – the event sponsor – spoke, including a mention that proposed Seattle City Light rate increases will be “a challenge” for the steel facility; and two upcoming Chamber events were mentioned – the next edition of the Lunch and Learn program, April 24th, with the topic “leveraging Linked In for networking,” and the next After Hours mixer, April 26th, 5:30 pm, at Cycle University‘s new Harbor Avenue location.

6 Replies to "West Seattle Chamber of Commerce honors winners, hears economic optimism"

  • Happy WS April 18, 2012 (1:09 pm)

    Good coverage WSB. Great event and really enjoyed the speaker. Would have liked more time to hear his thoughts.

  • boy April 18, 2012 (4:11 pm)

    Did he explain why there are so many new condos being built in west seattle? And are the builders useing all cash because the banks aren’t leanding.

    • WSB April 18, 2012 (4:18 pm)

      Boy – there are some townhomes being built in small clumps, four here, four there, but no bigger condo buildings – all the major developments are apartments.

  • MP April 18, 2012 (4:52 pm)

    Congrats to David Kim of AmericanWest Bank. Every employee in that bank rocks! I’ve never experienced such amazing customer service anywhere. If you don’t bank there you should!!!!

  • KB April 18, 2012 (7:25 pm)

    Just had relatives stay at the Grove and they had nothing but raves!

  • Woodsman- Steve April 18, 2012 (8:12 pm)

    Lynn, You rock. You go girl. The Grove has made a 180 turn around.

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