Today, we presented the second edition of the Recover Seattle series alongside Downtown Seattle Association and Puget Sound Business Journal. Our panel of economists and business leaders shared their thoughts and predictions for the Seattle area economy as we move through and beyond the COVID-19 pandemic.

Our top takeaways from the event:

  • We are getting closer to a recovery, but it is slow; data shows that restaurant reservations are down 82% in Seattle, and hotel occupancy rates downtown are at 16.5%, rather than the 70% we saw pre-pandemic. 
  • Seattle is “behaving”—exhibiting its communal value that short-term pain leads to longer term gain. We are doing better at controlling contagion than many other parts of the country by wearing masks and maintaining social distancing. 
  • The amount of office space leased by the Big Five tech companies represents 34% of the office space in this market including owned real estate, which is ahead of other tech hubs.
  • Prediction: we won’t return to 2019 travel levels for another five years, and the questions is whether we will ever return to pre-pandemic levels.
  • There are still reasons to return to the office: improved training, increased productivity, and enhanced innovation and collaboration. Most people will return to office culture when it’s feasible to do so, and likely only for a few days per week. The roaring ’20s provide an analogy to support the expectation of a rush back to the cities.
  • Reimagining first-floor retail or street space is necessary and perhaps can be encouraged by lower rent requirements.
  • Seattle is a safe bet with institutional investors committed to participating in Seattle’s recovery in 2021 and beyond.
  • Straight from NASA: the future of HVAC is an area of innovation coming out of the pandemic.
  • Our panel expects to see a shift in residential construction to make houses larger to accommodate home offices.

To round out our panelists’ observations and predictions, we were left with this: now is not a new normal. We’ve moved from a pure crisis to a managed crisis, and we shouldn’t make strategic long-term decisions based on COVID-19. But we were reminded that we do need to make decisions to address equity and inclusivity when we are re-evaluating our strategic long-term plans, which is a fitting segue to Recover Seattle Part 3: Building a More Inclusive Economy.

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