Seattle, Meet Your New Chamber Of Commerce President From Tacoma | KNKX

Seattle, Meet Your New Chamber Of Commerce President From Tacoma

Feb 20, 2018

As Tacoma's mayor, Marilyn Strickland was known for traveling the world to court investors and promote her city as a place to do business.

On Tuesday, she traveled to Seattle to start her job as the president and chief executive of the city's largest lobbying group for businesses, the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce.

Strickland, who reached a term limit last year after serving eight years as mayor, is now the chief advocate for more than 2,000 companies in and around Seattle.

She spoke to KNKX reporter Will James about the chamber of commerce's role in the age of Amazon and a $15 minimum wage. Here are some highlights from the conversation: 

What is the chamber of commerce's role in helping solve issues like homelessness and housing affordability? 

"To some folks in Seattle, business is responsible for every single social problem. And that's not true. We never imaged in this metropolitan region that Seattle, Tacoma, Everett, Bellevue -- we never anticipated this level of growth... And you see some folks looking to the business community saying, 'It's your job to solve this problem,' when we know it was housing policy, zoning, lack of investment in transportation, just a whole slew of things. Business alone cannot solve every social problem, nor should they. But what specific role do we have where we can make the biggest impact? It's not looking at business and saying, 'Your role is just to be an ATM.' It's looking at business to say, 'What kind of innovations, what kind of ideas, what kind of resources do you have that can really help us address some of these profound issues?'"

As the mayor of Tacoma, you had a reputation for trying to balance the needs of businesses with worker-friendly legislation. Do you think striking that balance is possible in Seattle, where the political culture is different?

"I think anything is possible, but so much of the answer to your question depends on political leadership. You can't govern effectively when you're just governing based on ideology. You need facts, you need information, you need a plan, and you have to have a space where people with different perspectives have the ability to voice their opinions." 

Seattle has become a laboratory for worker-friendly policies such as the $15 minimum wage and "secure scheduling." The chamber of commerce has found itself positioned as a foil to the City Council on those issues. How do you see yourself navigating that?

"In my role as president and CEO of the Seattle chamber, my priority is the members that I represent. And the members I represent are not necessarily a monolith, as I've said. You have businesses of all sizes. You have people who are running micro-businesses. You have businesses that have been started by immigrants. You have, actually, nonprofit social service agencies that belong to the chamber." 

Seattle in 2018 is known as a place where business is thriving. What is the chamber's role in that environment?

"It's interesting because typically in cities when you think of chambers of commerce, it's always about, 'We have to try to attract more, we have to try to attract more.' And, in many ways, Seattle just kind of sells itself. But, at the same time, I think it's important to recognize that there will be an economic downturn. And so it's really not taking our success for granted and understanding that we always have to be cognizant of economic cycles and continue to invest and improve the things we know need improvement."