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Crowds of employees walk at the Amazon campus near Brave Horse Tavern in South Lake Union in 2017. A recent study shows Seattle ranks among the top metro areas in the country with the greatest increase in job density.

SEATTLE — Fresh evidence arrives almost daily to prove that the obituary for Seattle is quite premature.

In addition to the blockbuster news that Apple will be expanding here with a "key engineering hub" in South Lake Union, a new study shows that Seattle is one of the four metros in America with the greatest increase in job density. The other "superstar cities" in this regard are New York, Chicago and San Francisco.

It gets better. The nation's density of information tech jobs increased by 60 percent between 2004 and 2015. San Francisco, New York and Seattle accounted for virtually all of this rise.

The study was conducted by Chad Shearer, Jennifer Vey and Joanne Kim of the Brookings Institution. It examines 94 large metro areas using Census data to see where jobs are clustering.

"Numerous studies and analyses have demonstrated the important role that density plays in fostering economic growth, social capital and civic engagement, and healthier, more sustainable communities," they write.

"Density helps drive economic growth by enabling more frequent and productive interactions among firms and workers. It encourages more sharing and trading among firms, better matching of workers to firms, and faster learning — helping to lower costs, increase industrial diversity, spur innovation, and ultimately raise the productivity of local firms and workers."

Faster job growth is also associated with job density.

The report shows that "jobs in the knowledge-intensive information sector saw a 60-percent increase in density across all 94 metros taken together, but this was driven largely by the increasing concentration of information jobs in the especially large and dense metro areas of San Francisco, New York, and Seattle."

This is certainly on display in South Lake Union's innovation district, where Amazon's campus is complemented by numerous high-end tech, biotech and medical companies and institutions.

Overall job density rose nationally between 2004 and 2015, but the results were uneven. Half of the metros studied suffered from "job sprawl," a phenomenon that harkens back to the era of office "parks" and abandonment of center cities. In today's knowledge-based economy, this hurts the sprawlers.

"But the jobs' divide is also fractal, occurring within individual metros as well as between them," urban scholar Richard Florida noted. Across the board, jobs have become denser in and around the urban core and sprawled across outlying suburban and exurban areas."

He added, "America is increasingly divided, and the density of jobs — as well as of people and talent — is a key fault line in its increasingly spiky and unequal economic geography. This jobs divide not only separates 'winners' and 'losers' across cities and metro areas, but within them. And it has grown more accentuated since the economic crisis, with the growth of knowledge jobs, decline of manufacturing, and the rise of winner-take-all urbanism."

Of course, not all the losers are helpless victims. Yes, the decline of manufacturing and the China Shock of the early 2000s had an effect. So did the loss of local banks and other headquarters in midsized and even large cities thanks to merger mania.

But most of the "losers" also made some of their fate. They failed to invest in education, voted down transit, ignored quality of life issues and left their downtowns hollowed out. This left them ill-prepared for the "back to the city" movement, where talented millennials chose high-quality cities and companies followed.

Economy Notes:

  • Washington ranks 16th in the latest Annie E. Casey Foundation Kids Count report. Elsewhere in the Northwest, Alaska is 45th, Idaho 18th and Oregon 31st. The report is a gold standard of data on children's economic and social well-being, and you can search it here.
  • The Northwest Seaport Alliance, comprising the ports of Seattle and Tacoma, turned in a record May in international container volume. Through the first five months of 2019, 1.3 million twenty-foot equivalents moved through the ports. This happened despite the trade war with China — but evidence of the damage will be lagging.
  • The Washington Council on International Trade lays out the potential damage in a recent white paper. Numerous sectors are at risk. "We should absolutely be working to level the playing field for U.S. goods and services in markets around the world," said Lori Otto Punke, council president. "However, the current tariff-first strategy is creating uncertainty and risk for the incredibly diverse industries, businesses, and workers in Washington state who rely on trade."
  • Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue ranked No. 10 in economic dynamism in a new report from the Walton Family Foundation. "The surge in economic growth in the Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue...metro area continues unabated as it is among the most innovative places in the world," the report states.

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