2018 Regional Leadership Conference Recap: Growing Smart, Growing Together

By: Maggie Wilson Posted: 10/22/2018

Over 200 business, government and community leaders gathered for our conference on growing intelligently and inclusively

Last week, the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce welcomed more than 200 business and civic leaders to its 2018 Regional Leadership Conference at Tulalip Resort Casino.  The three-day conference explored the region’s growth and how to optimize its benefits for inclusive, constructive and lasting impact. From the opening dinner to the closing panels, attendees spoke of a desire to guide and prosper from growth – instead of reacting to it.

Highlights from the conference included:

  • OPTIMISM ABOUT GROWTH: Chamber President and CEO Marilyn Strickland, the first person of color and second woman to hold her role in the Chamber’s history, reminded us of Seattle’s history. “We want to talk about growth as a positive,” Strickland said. “There was a time when we were worried about our region and worried about jobs.”

  • AMAZON’S IMPACT: Amazon’s David Zapolsky, the evening’s keynote, reflected on Amazon’s footprint in Seattle and around the world. One recent development he highlighted was the creation of the “Right Now Needs Fund.” This new fund, created by a $2 million grant from Amazon, will help meet the basic needs of Seattle students by providing items like raincoats, a weekend backpack full of food or unaffordable school supplies.


  • SEATTLE MAYOR DURKAN ON WORKING TOGETHER TO ADDRESS GROWING ECONOMIC DISPARITY: Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan, the luncheon keynote speaker, spoke about the importance of being intentional and collaborative as our region continues to grow. On affordability and other challenges brought by rapid growth: “We know Seattle can’t solve this problem alone,” Durkan said. “We have to make sure we’re working together better.”
  • REMEMBERING AN INNOVATIVE LEADER AND PHILANTHROPIST: A moment of silence was held for Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, who died last week after battling non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Allen’s work was held as an example of how Seattle business leaders can help a city and its residents prosper. His obituary in the Seattle Times noted, “Among the richest people in the world, he believed not in holding on to his wealth, but in giving it away in large swaths.”


Chamber Board Trustees Bob Donegan and Jaebadiah Gardner set a tone of buoyancy on day two at the conference, reminding the audience that the Seattle metro region is starting its next phase from a position of strength. Throughout the conference, speakers shared their forecasts for Seattle’s future, and participants brainstormed their own predictions at their tables. A crowd favorite read, “Seattle will be a city of dreams, a thought leader on the biggest challenges, where businesses and people of all kinds can thrive on the same streets.”

The conference also recognized a leader in bringing together broad interests to address one of Seattle’s most pressing issues: housing affordability. Faith Pettis, a partner at Pacifica Law Group and the co-chair of the City of Seattle’s Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda (HALA) Task Force, received the Sen. Scott White Regional Leadership Award for her significant work helping people across all income levels remain in Seattle. The ten-year plan that the HALA Task Force recommended seeks to generate 50,000 new net homes—20,000 affordable homes and 30,000 market rate homes.

In her remarks, Pettis spoke about the difference between conflict activism, which encourages division, and achieving consensus through activism. Consensus does not mean mediocrity or even necessarily compromise, Pettis said. She added, “If you hold true to the motivating vision and bring people along, consensus is almost always worth the effort.” An example of consensus, Pettis said, would be residents not only embracing density in their own neighborhoods, but growing excitement for it.



BCG's John Wenstrup led a session reflecting on Seattle, its evolution and its future. Wenstrup shared where Seattle sits in comparison with peer cities, and he noted that its challenges are not unique. Citing Richard Florida’s ‘The New Urban Crisis’, he pointed out, “The same forces that power the growth of the world’s superstar cities also generate their vexing challenges: gentrification, unaffordability, segregation and inequality.”

Wenstrup also shared some historical context – in 2013, when he first presented at the Regional Leadership Conference, the concern was about whether the region could compete internationally. Now, Washington has a rising global profile. The next task, Wenstrup proposed, is envisioning and acting on the response to this question: “How can Seattle lead in solutioning globally?”

Through a series of discussions and panels, attendees also learned more about the ways that the Seattle region intersects with others on the global stage and looked ahead at tangible steps to inclusively address issues such as education, transportation, housing, air service and regional job growth:

  • OUR PRESENCE ON THE GLOBAL STAGE: In a discussion moderated by Shaunta Hyde of Alaska Airlines, Consul General Roberto Dondisch with the Consulate of Mexico and Robert O'Driscoll with the Consulate of Ireland weighed in on how our region measures up. Asked for a brief snapshot of Seattle’s reputation, Dondisch responded, “The reputation is of an innovative city. A green city,” and O’Driscoll replied, “Resilient and welcoming.”

    Their discussion was followed by a conversation with delegates from the Chamber’s 2018 study missions to two peer cities: Denver, CO and Singapore. Naria Santa Lucia, with the Washington State Opportunity Scholarship, spoke on Singapore’s critical investment in its residents to encourage them to excel and to look outward, but to eventually return. Tony Williams of Washington2Advocates urged thinking more about the region as a whole – not just the city of Seattle.   

  • INVESTING IN EDUCATION: UW President Ana Mari Cauce was interviewed by Chamber CEO Marilyn Strickland about the future of education. “You’re all sitting here looking at the future,” Cauce said. “The quality of education matters. … Investing in education is absolutely critical” to the future of our region. Cauce noted the importance of investing in students as our future workforce, as well as the citizens who will shape Washington state of the future.

    “It’s talent that moves a region,” Cauce said. Cauce discussed why public reinvestment in higher education is necessary for the UW; see a video of her discussing that topic at length at her annual address on Oct. 16, at this link: http://www.washington.edu/president/address/

  • THE LINK BETWEEN TRANSIT AND HOUSING: King County Executive Dow Constantine moderated a fascinating panel with Tacoma Mayor Victoria Woodards, Sound Transit CEO Peter Rogoff, and Zillow senior economist Aaron Terrazas, on the interconnectedness of transit and housing. Panelists also pointed to the benefits of a region that has many centers of employment and housing.

    “We build transportation infrastructure,” Constantine said. “And then people decide to go and live and work in the places where we build them.” He added, "None of this is by accident. We need to be very purposeful in generating (all of the different) types of housing.”

  • AIRPORTS AS ECONOMY BUILDERS AND REFLECTIONS: Development at Paine Field, which is preparing to host regularly scheduled passenger flights from three major carriers, was discussed excitedly. Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers, Port of Seattle Commission President Courtney Gregoire, and Seattle Southside Chamber President and CEO Andrea Reay spoke about airports as both economic drivers and a reflection of the economy.


  • COMPETING AS A REGION: New Greater Seattle Partners CEO Brian McGowan moderated a discussion with Everett Mayor Cassie Franklin, Kirkland Mayor and Sound Cities Association Chair Amy Walen, and Loren Cohen of McBride Cohen Management Group – representing the tri-county region. All three panelists spoke of the value of cooperating to bring success to the region as a whole.



The final day of the conference examined the importance of inclusion of all voices – a necessary ingredient in politics as well as storytelling from local businesses.

Marilyn Strickland moderated a discussion with rising political consultants Sera Day with CD Strategic and Christina Blocker with Archway Consulting Group about the political tone in the region and what it means for next year’s local elections.  “We’re at a huge loss if we don’t include the business voice” in conversations and decision making related to economic growth in Washington, Blocker said. “In Seattle, it can be hard to reach beyond ideologies, but it’s really about listening. … You have to make sure you’re leaving the door open,” Day said.

The conference closed with a panel discussion featuring Kim Sullivan of Kaiser Permanente, Diana Birkett Rakow of Alaska Airlines, and Chamber Chair and Vigor CEO Frank Foti. Moderated by Social Venture Partners CEO Solynn McCurdy, the panel dove into how businesses can commit to the communities they serve and act on their values each day.  There is honor and beauty in all work,” Vigor’s Frank Foti said.


Thank you to all the sponsors, speakers, and attendees at this year’s Regional Leadership Conference.  We hope to see you again next year!