34 Seattle

PopulationMetro: 3,860,000
By most metrics, Seattle is America’s boomtown. But unlike most frenzies, the Emerald City is playing the long game to keep the (supervised) party going.

Seattle’s self-reliance and focus on taking care of its own, forged by 150 years of city building on the far-flung northwest coast of the nation, has steeled the city for its current “it” status.

In many ways, Emerald City reverse-engineered its success. With a focus on education and an optimized workforce, the very environment that launched and held onto Boeing (still the biggest local employer despite moving its headquarters to Chicago)—as well as Microsoft and Weyerhaeuser—has attracted more recent captains of industry like Amazon, Costco and Starbucks.
“When it comes to attracting talent, companies and investors, people have always mattered a whole lot more than machines here,” says Rebecca Lovell, Acting Director at the City of Seattle Office of Economic Development.

Place 41
Product 20
Programming 13
People 68
Prosperity 64
Promotion 16

Keeping the talent pipeline well-stocked has always been Seattle’s secret sauce and it’s paid off, big time. Today, Seattle is one the smartest cities in America, based on Educational Attainment (a percentage of the population with tertiary education, at level 5 ISCED or above)—and #17 globally.

The city’s enviable perch isn’t that surprising when you consider that local philanthropy always prioritized education and local ROI, supported by a profound sense of stewardship by the city’s captains of industry. Case in point: Paul Allen, the elder of American tech and co-founder of Microsoft, bankrolling a local version of Austin’s SXSW two years back, called The Upstream Music Festival and Summit. A few months later, he gave the University of Washington, already one of the nation’s top public universities, $50 million for its new computer science and engineering school.

But while U-Dub and its 40,000-plus under- and post-grads fill football stadiums and make headlines, Seattle boasts a dozen other universities and colleges within city limits.

Research and education is a mantra in the city—from the globally renowned Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center (itself the recipient of more than $50 million from Allen’s co-founder Bill Gates over the years) to the Bainbridge Graduate Institute, one of the world’s leading master’s programs dedicated to sustainable innovation and entrepreneurship.

Pike Place Market Sarah Brink

Today this ingrained devotion to ambition and learning is able to scale like never before.

In late 2017, the Urban Land Institute’s annual Emerging Trends Report named Seattle “the city with the most promising real estate investment prospects” in 2018 in the U.S. for the first time ever. The educated workforce was front and center: The Emerald City has “twice the U.S. percentage (12%) of employees in STEM occupations, with 4.5% of the workforce employed in computer programming-related occupations,” the report noted.

It’s why the city erected the most construction cranes in the U.S. for three years running, according to consultancy Rider Levett Bucknall North America. And why head-office vanguards of the new economy are at once hiring more than ever while leaving legacies in the city that launched them—museums, hospital wings and foundations. And, amazingly, affordable housing.

As the population continues to swell (Seattle led all large U.S. cities in 2017 according to Moody’s Analytics), attracted by the #6 GDP per capita globally and all those companies looking to tap into it, rents are actually declining. According to local numbers, the city is adding more apartments this decade than in the prior 50 years combined. This boom is making room.