Living up to our economic potential in Federal Way

How do we build prosperity in the Federal Way region? It’s a question business owners ask themselves as they review the bottom line and consider growth opportunities for their companies.

Opinions on what moves us forward are as diverse as our businesses; however, mutual experiences can define shared challenges which emerge as recurring patterns. To identify those patterns, the Greater Federal Way Chamber convened economic visioning sessions to clarify themes from business leaders in a SWOT analysis.

To provide an outside perspective, the sessions were facilitated by a team from Ernst & Young (EY), a global firm with extensive experience in economic development. The process included focus groups and interviews with more than 75 businesses across industry sectors, business size, and the demographic range of the Federal Way area.

Additionally, EY provided supplemental data collected by EY to qualify observations made by stakeholders. To ensure the thematic patterns emerged organically, EY facilitated honest and open discussions of strengths and challenges—no leading questions. And the patterns were clear.

Strengths: A Region of Opportunity

Businesses see Federal Way and its surrounding region as an area of economic potential, noting it appears to be on the cusp of economic change. Strengths that emerged as patterns include: geographic location, racial and ethnic diversity, educational anchors, relative affordability, and a quality of life.

Business owners want to see Federal Way thrive. Stakeholders shared some common themes for achieving that vision. These opportunities include building a thriving base of primary jobs, becoming an employment destination, supporting diverse people and businesses, and developing a dynamic downtown.

Federal Way is one of the most affordable locations in King County, helping to attract and retain talent. Although housing costs continue to increase, median home values and rents remain below most other cities in the county.

Federal Way is one of the most affordable locations in King County, helping to attract and retain talent. Although housing costs continue to increase, median home values and rents remain below most other cities in the county.

Challenges: Limited Options

Supplemental research supported the challenges noted by businesses as Federal Way being less prosperous than the region due to limited options for both employers and the workforce. Weaknesses identified include: exporting talent, slow growth in population and jobs, low industry diversity, limited career pathways, and lack of a downtown core.

A poor business reputation was identified as a threat to economic development. Particularly noted were permitting challenges, high crime, limited business resources, inequitable outreach to diverse businesses and a lack of strategic focus.

“The Chamber understands that these may be hard truths and we do not fear them,” says Chamber CEO Rebecca Martin, CCE. “We believe identifying issues is also a strength as it helps us to set a strategic path forward and address barriers to success.”

A Bright Future

Despite challenges, business leaders describe a potential bright future for the Federal Way area. It’s a hub city of primary jobs that offer both living wages and high paying career pathways. Business leaders look to a future with a mixed-use downtown core which focuses on office buildings, coexisting alongside residential development.

“The disruption in commerce wrought by COVID-19 demands that we do not look backward to the past, as those models no longer work,” Martin says. “The future is forward.”

“We have the economic potential,” she said. “Getting there requires us to harness the many competitive strengths of the area and work with public and private partners on strategies that move us into that bright future.”

A Business Narrative for Success

The Economic Visioning Report is a business narrative based on real-world strengths, identifying real threats and obstacles to economic success. Importantly, is also showcases what business leaders see as viable opportunities for inclusive business growth which is a strategic priority at the Greater Federal Way Chamber.

Economic Development resources at the Chamber help to develop programming, resources, and initiatives in support of business sustainability. Chamber reports are integrated with Economic Dashboards on business recovery, occupational diversity, labor force and skill set, and quality of life.

Read the Chamber’s Economic Visioning Report. Check out the economic impact of Washington’s Focus Industries in our Sector Data Report.

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