A bit of economic history – Seattle’s “Boeing Bust”

From Wikipedia:

Due to changing external demand and the cancellation of the SST program, “the Boeing workforce was cut from 80,400 to 37,200 between early 1970 and October 1971”. During the resulting economic bust, a famous Seattle billboard sarcastically requested, “Would the last person leaving SEATTLE — turn out the lights?” Nonetheless, only 15% of those laid off eventually left the city.

After 1973, Seattle was in good company for its recession, since the rest of the country was also experiencing the energy crisis. Quite likely, Seattle evaded the fate of Detroit through being a port city with a large number of highly educated skilled workers, though the boom decades of the 1950s and 1960s had come to a decisive end.

The Pike Place Market, arguably Seattle’s most important tourist attraction, gained its modern form in the aftermath of the Boeing crash. The internment of the Japanese from Seattle during World War II had hit the market particularly hard, since 80% of its “wet stall” vendors had been ethnically Japanese. A “Keep the Market” initiative led by architect Victor Steinbrueck, passed in 1971, pushing for adaptive reuse. The project was wildly successful in spite of intense opposition by the Seattle Establishment, and today the Pike Place Market pulls nine million visitors each year.

A similar story occurred with Pioneer Square. An old neighborhood, largely built after the Fire of 1889, it had fallen into derelict status after the war. However, with a reenergized downtown, businesses started to look for buildings that could be acquired cheaply. When offices moved into renovated buildings, suddenly there was a market for facilities to service them, leading to a “flood of other restaurants, galleries, boutiques.”Seattle was definitely recovering from the blow dealt by the Boeing recession, refilling areas that had threatened to become slums.

40,000 workers laid off is catastrophic.  The comparison to Detroit is worth thinking through…

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1 Comment »

  1. capire said

    I would say that a better comparison is looking at how Seattle grew out of this recession- through “modernization” of its business base- from forestry and fishing to Microsoft, Amazon.com, Starbucks and other hi tech and creative methods. Boeing recovered, fell again, and recovered again, but the economy continued to explode.
    All the avenues to create jobs and therefore an increase in GNP have been stymied by both sides on the aisle

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