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Two major challenges facing Bellevue as Amazon moves in

(Sounder Bruce, Flickr Creative Commons)

After years of massive growth in Seattle’s tech industry, there is still a lack of housing and ease of transportation in the city. As Bellevue is now slated to take on thousands of new Amazon jobs, could Seattle’s woes move across Lake Washington?

“Amazon shifting over (in) the next eight or 10 years … is going to be a huge, huge increase in jobs for the City of Bellevue,” Kevin Wallace with Wallace Properties, and a board member of the the Bellevue Chamber of Commerce, told the Candy, Mike and Todd Show.

“These major companies have people who live all over the Puget Sound region,” he said. “The housing issue is one that needs to be more at the forefront than it already has been, but probably the bigger piece is transportation. How are we going to address 20,000 new employees coming into downtown Bellevue and out again?”

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The issues of housing and transportation are echoes of what Seattle has struggled to keep up with as the city’s economy boomed. But Bellevue has one advantage as it adds more people to town — it knows they are coming. And according to Monte Anderson, executive secretary Seattle/King County Building and Construction Trades, Bellevue has been here before.

“Bellevue is no rookie when it comes to this,” he said. “You remember, in ’05, ’06, ’07, and ’08 during the recession, they had a large footprint where they built the mall, a Microsoft tower at the same time … they had several city blocks under construction and they had an influx of 6,000-7,000 construction workers over those years coming in there. They handled it very well, so I think they have the bandwidth to handle a few Amazon towers.”

The business of Bellevue

Wallace describes Seattle like the main grocery store tenant in a shopping center — it’s the main economic driver. Bellevue needs Seattle to do well so neighboring cities like itself can do well.

“I’ll tell you the difference between Seattle and Bellevue,” Wallace said. “One major difference is that the City of Bellevue looks at business as a friend …. the same thing is true for T-Mobile and all the other businesses in Bellevue. There is a great connection and collaboration in the city … so we are going to work together, get out in front of these issues, and find the best solutions we can to accommodate the growth.”

“We are working, at first, to convene Microsoft, Amazon, T-Mobile, and Vulcan and some of these companies to gather at the chamber to work collaboratively with the city on new transportation improvements that we can deploy to accommodate this growth,” he said. “That is what’s in front of us in the next year.”

Wallace also points to new advances in tech that can help Bellevue adapt, such as Uber and Lyft, which weren’t factors when Seattle started to boom.

Seattle and Amazon

Luckily for Wallace, and Bellevue, Seattle continues to do well, though it is still struggling to respond to the fallout from the tech boom.

Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda is not phased by Amazon’s movement of employees to the Eastside.

“When we have 45,000 jobs that are staying here, I am not interested in jumping or reacting when Amazon says that they’re going to move a few thousand jobs,” she told KIRO Radio. “We have the same crisis that we did yesterday before this announcement, and we have got to come together and have the solutions and revenue to invest in housing and infrastructure.”

“We still have around 50,000 people that are working just there, we have a population that has increased by 120,000 people since the beginning of this decade, and we do not have the housing and infrastructure investments needed,” Mosqueda said.

Mosqueda was a supporter of Seattle’s controversial head tax — which was repealed — to pay for additional housing. The head tax was promoted as an “Amazon tax” by some. It appeared to show a toxic relationship between the city and one of its largest companies.

“Well, you know, they were also having their conversation around headquarters 2 or 2.5 whatever you want to call it; they were engaged in this kind of Hunger Games like approach to finding another headquarters across the nation at the same time,” Mosqueda said. “We have, in our own backyard, right here in Seattle, created one of the most successful companies with the local workforce talent that Seattle has helped to grow, that Seattle has helped to foster. We’ve been an incubation hub right here in Seattle, but it also requires those same companies that have done so well to invest back — back in the infrastructure, in the housing, and the workforce that have made them so successful.”

Wallace, however, says that Amazon’s move into Bellevue is not a new development.

“(It’s) really a continuation of something that has been going on since Amazon announced the search for HQ2,” he said. “When that happened, that was probably about a year ago, the Bellevue City Council, the next Monday, unanimously adopted a resolution directing the city manager and economic development director to respond to HQ2, let Amazon know they are appreciated and wanted, and work on plans to bring them over here. It appears to have worked.”

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