Chamber leader: Seattle’s economic recovery requires an effective public safety response

Seattle has long been the economic engine for the state, a position increasingly jeopardized as the city continues to struggle with homelessness and crime, conditions arguably exacerbated by the panic and civic unrest of 2020. In The Seattle Times, Rachel Smith, president and CEO of the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, writes that the city’s economic recovery depends on resolving these challenges.

To improve our economy, people must be confident that they will be safe and feel safe returning to work, whether it’s on the commute to and from the workplace or while on shift. This issue is especially acute in an area critical to our whole region’s recovery: Downtown Seattle is home to 55% of our city’s jobs and generates half of our region’s gross regional product.

The numbers she cites are stark:

Three weeks after “reopening,” there are a record number of jobs open. The Washington Hospitality Association reports that restaurants and bars alone are down 80,000 employees. Businesses are offering higher-than-ever salaries, broader-than-ever benefits and employment perks, but many of our member businesses report that despite such efforts, prospective workers often aren’t even showing up for interviews.

With such an overwhelming labor shortage, it means many of our favorite businesses are not actually able to reopen.

She suggests three responses:

First, Seattle must act with urgency to provide help to people in crisis. It is wrong not to help those living unsheltered with a safe and secure place to come inside and that those who need behavioral health treatments go without. It is also wrong that due to insufficient actions to help people in crisis, employees at local businesses are by default forced to intervene in situations with which they have no training or resources…

Second, Seattle must ensure reasonable response times. This past spring, Seattle Police reported that people calling 911 are waiting longer and longer for officers to show up. They aren’t meeting response-time targets for the most serious crimes, and there were 221 days when the police in certain precincts could not show up at all to lower-level complaints. The people working in our city deserve better. They must be assured that if their safety is at risk, police will respond…

Finally, business owners want action — now. Downtown Seattle, our region’s biggest job center, is still operating at just 20% capacity as crime continues to rise. We are anxious for a plan from elected leaders to address safety challenges well beyond this recovery period.

The urgency is clear. Seattle’s economic recovery is critically important to every part of the state. We hope city leaders heed Smith’s advice. Also, note, the city’s primary election is August 3.