2017 Regional Leadership Conference Recap: Local Talent. Local Jobs. Global Success.

By: Kathryn Robertson Posted: 12/15/2017

300 top business, government, and community leaders gathered for our 30th annual conference

The Seattle Metro Chamber’s 30th annual Regional Leadership Conference at Suncadia continued efforts to strengthen the Seattle region’s global competitiveness and explore the progress made over the past four years. This year focused on the region’s ongoing talent shortage and how we can come together as a community to address this challenge.

With our region continuing to experience dramatic job growth—740,000 job openings in Washington state through 2021—across a broad spectrum of industries, we need to ensure we are growing the local talent needed to fill these jobs in our region today and into the future.

Too often, regional employers report they are having a difficult time finding qualified local workers to fill these open positions. We have a unique opportunity to step up and address this “talent gap” and create a system in which we can fill job openings with people who already live in our region and are seeking good-paying jobs.

There are a variety of ways to address this talent issue, including job skills training, changes to our K-12 education, apprenticeships, and more, and we heard from our elected officials, business leaders, and education leaders on how they’re working to build our regional talent to meet future needs.

Highlights of the conference included:

  1. An update on the region’s global competitiveness

    John Wenstrup, a senior leader of the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) and head of its Seattle office, provided an update to the global competitiveness report they issued in cooperation with the Seattle Metro Chamber in 2014.

    Updated findings showed that Seattle’s competitiveness standing against peer regions has remained relatively unchanged, and his presentation outlined what we should be doing as a region to remain globally competitive, focusing on five factors BCG uses to define a region’s competitiveness—human capital (including education and overall livability), business environment, capital and innovation, global connectedness, and infrastructure.

  2. Regional companies shared their work to meet these challenges

    The Regional Leadership Conference also featured representatives from major employers including Vigor, Microsoft, Amazon, Starbucks, and Boeing.

    Vigor’s President and CEO, Frank Foti, talked about how his company found an innovative way to address the dearth of skilled workers in the maritime shipbuilding industry by building their own training school at Portland Community College, essentially building their own unique talent pipeline for their company.

    Jack Chen, Assistant General Counsel of Employment Policy and Strategy at Microsoft, talked about why talent matters most, and the importance of investing and leaning into your employees’ capabilities. Jack also discussed what he believes will be “the skills of the future” employees will need to succeed, including cognitive adaptability, critical thinking and complex problem solving, creativity, collaboration, and empathy.

    On the final day of the conference, Senior Vice President of Human Resources for Amazon, Beth Galetti, talked about how Amazon is investing in talent and seeing a return on investment. At a time when Amazon is growing in Seattle at incredible rates, Beth discussed how the company remains a competitive employer to the best and brightest.  

  3. State and local elected officials on how they are addressing the talent gap

Elected officials from throughout the region attended the three-day conference, including Governor Jay Inslee, the county executives from King and Pierce counties, Seattle Mayor Tim Burgess, and Tacoma Mayor Marilyn Strickland.  Each provided their own insight into how the region is addressing the talent issue and looked ahead at what more can be done. 

Governor Inslee outlined what he believes are the three keys to building Washington state’s economy—talent, connectivity, and innovation. He also talked passionately about his work to change attitudes around higher education, and the need to ensure students have the information and support they need to put together a plan for next steps on the day they graduate from high school, whether it be a four-year college, community college, or a career or technical training program.

Conference attendees also heard a panel discussion on the issue of talent featuring regional county executives, including King County Executive Dow Constantine, Pierce County Executive Bruce Dammeier, and former Snohomish County Executive Bob Drewel. Each executive outlined the unique ways their county is working to invest in local talent, but also stressed the need for further regional cooperation between counties to address the issue successfully. 

Another highlight of the conference happened when Seattle Mayor Tim Burgess presented Tacoma Mayor Marilyn Strickland with the Senator Scott White Regional Leadership Award, given in memory of the late Sen. White. The award honors a regional leader who builds bridges between competing interests, moves policy issues from discussion to action and exemplifies a collaborative and servant leadership style.

The Chamber honored Mayor Strickland with this award for her commitment to collaboration in planning for smart growth and economic development in the Puget Sound. From her work on the Sound Transit board, to her many trade missions abroad, she has been keenly focused on investments that have a powerful economic impact. The award also recognizes the work she has done for Tacoma youth through strong partnerships with public schools and the broader community.

4. Insights on how our education system is addressing the talent gap – and opportunities ahead

Trish Millines Dziko, co-founder and executive director of the Technology Access Foundation (TAF), delivered welcome remarks for the conference and set the tone for the three days with a passionate call to action, urging all those in attendance to step up and pledge to do more to help young people of color connect with the in-demand STEM jobs in the region.

Her organization, TAF, is a local leader in STEM education, using STEM as “a tool for social change and educational equality,” focusing on communities of color and low-income youth, ensuring connections with previously disconnected young people throughout our region.

The conference also featured discussions with higher education leaders, including President Dr. Kirk Schulz and Dr. Noel Schulz from Washington State University, who shared how WSU is tailoring support for veterans, first-generation college students, and women in STEM.  

Dr. Jenee Myers Twitchell of the University of Washington presented her research on the higher education capacity of the Puget Sound region. Through grants from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and JPMorgan Chase and in collaboration with the Seattle Metro Chamber and the Seattle Regional Partnership, Jenee is conducting research that investigates the central Puget Sound region's capacity for increasing the number of local adults who can access higher education and move on to secure the great jobs this region has to offer. Find out more about the study here.

Attendees also learned about models that successfully connect new and returning students directly to career pathways, both in our own region and abroad. Former Ambassador to Switzerland Suzi LeVine and her husband Eric LeVine shared how the Swiss employer-led apprenticeship model gets students on career pathways early on and results in tremendous returns for employers. Dr. Amy Morrison Goings, president of Lake Washington Institute of Technology and Jennifer Carlson, executive director of Appprenti, spoke about how their local programs train students and provide a direct connection to employers.   

Looking ahead

Thank you to all the sponsors, speakers, and attendees at this year’s Regional Leadership Conference.  We hope to see you again next year!

More: Leaders Reflect On Their First Jobs In Advance Of Our Regional Leadership Conference