The process arguably began in 1971, when hometown aerospace giant Boeing lost a government contract to build a supersonic transport plane that would compete with Europe’s Concorde. The loss triggered rounds of layoffs, sharply reducing Boeing’s local payroll. However, the company’s misfortune planted the seeds for Seattle’s renaissance, as many laid-off engineers and technicians took their skills to other local companies or started their own enterprises.
The event that cemented Seattle’s future as a technology hub occurred in 1979, when Microsoft founder Bill Gates moved his fledgling company from Albuquerque, New Mexico, where an early partner was located, to his hometown of Seattle. Tired of commuting, Gates thought it would be easier to recruit there.
The technology ecosystem in Seattle today is broad and deep, with three major supports: Microsoft; e-commerce giant Amazon, established in 1994; and the University of Washington, which has a top-ranked computer science program. The state of Washington is home to about 90,000 software engineers, and their number is growing. The city’s lead in cloud computing, data storage and e-commerce has encouraged Google, Facebook, Oracle and other Silicon Valley companies to open local offices, in part because recruiting in Seattle is easier—although the competition for talent there is heated.
To help fill the talent gap, local companies are importing educated millennials from outside the region, boosting Seattle’s population growth to about twice the U.S. average. Washington is the largest importer of technical talent among U.S. states, with candidates drawn by outdoor activities and a lower cost of living than San Francisco and Silicon Valley.
Microsoft and Amazon represent bookends in the history of technology corporate real estate. Microsoft occupies a suburban campus encompassing approximately 8 million sq ft, while Amazon occupies a multi-tower urban campus near downtown Seattle that could eventually expand to 10 million sq ft.
The region’s hottest tech submarket, South Lake Union, is home to Amazon and Google. Adjacent submarkets including Pioneer Square and the West Edge/Dexter Corridor are attracting smaller firms as Seattle’s tech ecosystem ripples outward.