Accelerating Access to Opportunity

By Lori Otto Punke

With all the attention on Seattle’s booming technology sector, it might be counterintuitive to say it won’t necessarily be the biggest beneficiary of our changing economy. But, while tech is certainly the driving force behind recent growth, its real impact will be a new access to opportunity for those outside its traditional reach.

So, when Laird Norton Wealth Management began #Future50NW, its community-wide conversation on the ideas, institutions and individuals that will shape the Pacific Northwest over the next 50 years, we at WCIT wanted to make sure that this accelerating access to opportunity, driven by the changing nature of international trade, was part of the discussion.

The Pacific Northwest’s economy has long been characterized by diversity, innovation and the benefits of geography that make it a natural hub for commerce and international trade. From its earliest days as a timber titan to its evolution into an aerospace and technology leader to its more recent retail prominence, the Puget Sound area makes room for all kinds. We’re now home to world-leading companies like Amazon, Microsoft, Starbucks, Costco and Boeing, with a business community that’s a major contributor to our nation’s economic strength.

Against this backdrop, businesses in our region – and the people behind them – are better positioned to take advantage of global markets than ever before. Technology, the changing nature of international trade, and a region steeped in the values of innovation are combining to create a perfect storm that could reshape the Pacific Northwest.

Technology, of course, is the catalyst. Cloud services from companies like Amazon and Microsoft are paving the way with platforms that help companies deploy and scale with unprecedented ease. The services sector will follow the lead of technology giants to create even more new platforms, expanding the pathways businesses can take on their way to growth.

This shift in business models is part of the reason the current Administration is changing the way it looks at international trade. Rather than simply working to continuously improve existing agreements – such as NAFTA and the U.S. – Korea Free Trade Agreement – the administration is questioning everything, even whether we’d be better off exiting the agreements altogether. But trade will remain key to global growth: Good ideas are more likely to bubble to the top when they’re bolstered by innovation and supported by strong digital trade practices, where the U.S. is taking a leading role.

Finally, the Pacific Northwest’s culture of innovation means we’re surrounded by people who value a free flow of ideas as well as the free flow of global commerce. The business leaders and established companies that make up our current international trade community will share their experiences with new businesses that see opportunities in front of them, and the questions we collectively ask will to lead answers that open doors we never thought possible.

The technology industry plays a central role, but the real winners in this equation will be those that haven’t traditionally depended on digital innovation or on international trade. As barriers to global markets collapse, new opportunities will be created on the path to prosperity. All of this, by using technology, will benefit a diversified economy that goes well beyond technology.

Our agricultural sector will find better ways to feed global populations.

Our shipping and logistics companies will become more efficient, driving more international trade through our region.

Our healthcare industry will be able to share its innovations more easily, making the world healthier.

And small businesses, those led by regular people around the state with a good idea and the drive to succeed, will create jobs and improve the quality of life for those who depend on them.

Fifty years from now, the Pacific Northwest will maintain its leadership role as a hub for global business, but it will look different. No longer limited to large companies with the resources necessary to play by the old rules, our region will become a hotbed of global innovators of all shapes and sizes, and in all sectors.

As individual entrepreneurs and small family businesses take advantage of this accelerating access to opportunity, they will expand their markets exponentially while bringing the benefits of their success back to the communities they call home. And this will make the Pacific Northwest an even more dynamic part of the world for more people than ever before.

Lori Otto Punke is the President of the Washington Council on International Trade

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