Widening our ‘Gateway to the Pacific’

With 40 percent of all jobs in Washington state tied to trade, the Seattle region has long been described as “A Gateway to the Pacific.” That idea was at the forefront of conversation as business, civic and government leaders gathered last night for the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce’s Regional Leadership Conference. I had the opportunity to address the audience about our region’s future.

I spoke about Puget Sound visionaries such as Thomas Mercer, whose 1854 vision of a canal to connect Puget Sound with Lake Washington and start to create a union of east and west – North America with the Pacific and with Asia – would become reality two generations later.

I challenged the audience to think about the opportunities we have to expand our region’s gateway to the Pacific. There will be a region on the west coast of North America that becomes the most desirable location for the next generation of companies founded in China or Korea or across Asia to place their North American headquarters. Why not the Puget Sound region?

We have an opportunity to develop Seattle as even more of a place where the world wants to come together and meet. There will be a city on the West Coast where people from Asia and North America come together for more conferences than any other place. This is a growth opportunity for us.

I think there’s an even bigger opportunity to help our kids. There will be a state in this country that becomes the first to get computer science into every high school. Why not Washington state? We are a leader in this field. We recognize that it is a field that is foundational not just for creating software, but for creating almost everything. Why can’t we become the first state to get computer science into every high school?

And why can’t we build on that to do more in higher education? Almost every study that has been produced in this state over the last decade has shown the same thing: as a state, we produce about 6,500 fewer four-year degrees than we need. To put that in perspective, every year, the University of Washington graduates about 6,500 seniors. We’re roughly a University of Washington short of what we need.

There is an opportunity for one state, for one region, for one city, to redefine the future of higher education. At a time when American universities are opening campuses across Asia and in China, let’s ask: How do we create an international center of learning in our own back yard? How do we bring together researchers and faculty and students from around the world so we can learn with them and broaden the horizons of our own young people?

We need to do all of this with a sense of urgency. It’s too easy to take our current station for granted. Let’s use our creativity. Let’s work together. Let’s consider the options, but let’s decide now that we will choose to do something that’s great.

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