I was fortunate enough to spend some time in Seattle with my colleagues Stefanie Cross-Wilson and Jaemi Taylor, a resident of the city for 14 years. It is a market we visit frequently, but wow, how that city is changing!

From Amazon’s continued expansion downtown (30+ buildings across the city and counting!) to scaling up by Google and Facebook, and from the impressive work being carried out by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation through to Microsoft somewhat quietly and confidently regaining the number one spot in term of market cap, it really is a hotbed of activity.

Zillow too are absolutely worth a mention as they continue to strive for innovation in the real estate and home buying sector. Starbucks maintains a high-touch and collaborative culture, which can be seen in the interaction of its employees and an environment set up to encourage this.

With all of this energy and buzz, Seattle makes for an attractive option for HR leaders. However, significant challenges do remain regarding the attraction and retention of talent.

Cost of Living

Housing isn’t the only element driving the high cost of living in Seattle – everything is expensive here! This point was hammered home in a recent release of the Cost of Living Index, where Seattle hit a record high score of 152.8. This means it’s 52.8% more expensive to live in Seattle than the average of over 267 other cities included in the survey. Seattle ranks as the sixth most expensive city to live in the US, ahead of Boston and Los Angeles.

Infrastructure

With two main highways serving as the arteries to the north to south, and the city sandwiched between the lake and mountains, there is limited opportunity to reduce commuter time. As the city expands, this will force companies to think hard about the future of work and the remote/flexible options open to its employees.

The Silver Lining

Because of the financial implications for talent, we are seeing companies offering better than average benefits and total rewards packages. There is also a real desire to bring fresh talent with new ideas into the region rather than the recycling of talent that we see in markets with captive audiences like the San Francisco Bay Area.

Are you seeing the same? I’d be very interested to get a pulse check on the realities of operating in Seattle. It remains a market that intrigues me greatly, but also raises a number of practical questions.

Alan Mait, Stefanie-Cross Wilson and Jaemi Taylor in front of the Amazon Spheres in Seattle

Amazon spheres in Seattle

Starbucks clock tower headquarters in Seattle

Seattle cityscape with tall buildings and cranes