What set of problems do you want to have?
This was the topic of conversation I was having with my Dad as we drove around in Naples Florida on my recent visit there. I was marveling at the local housing prices after I popped into an open house near my folks place.
The average price of a home in Naples is $319,200. And that includes averaging in all the mega mansions on the waterfront. Many a hedge fund executive flies south to buy a $15-$50 million dollar mansion right on the gulf. In part because it’s a great escape from the winters of New York and also to establish residency in a no income tax state. So that $319,200 number is skewed a little high. Your typical bread and butter family home can be had in $200s.
Contrast that with Seattle’s average home at $717,400 and Bellevue’s at $912,800, and it’s easy to understand why people are screaming “The rent is too damn high!” I can’t say that I disagree with you, the cost of living in the Pacific Northwest is a heavy load to carry for a lot of people. But I don’t know if that one number – rent – is the best metric to judge a city.
It seems to me that the overall health and vibrancy of an area is what really matters, and rent is only one ingredient. Don’t get me wrong, affordability is definitely up near the top of the list, but there is a list. Things like access to the outdoors, world class restaurants, the arts, festivals, higher education, and professional sports are categories that elevate a place like Seattle in my mind.
Back to my underlying premise: what set of problems do you want to have? Every community has its set of challenges, and you get to choose your set vis-à-vis by choosing your address.
So what drives the price of housing up or pushes it down? In the classic economic sense, this is the perfect example of a market’s supply and demand. The more in demand something is, the higher a price people are wiling to pay. Another factor that drives price is the fact that so many of the world’s most valuable companies choose to call the Pacific Northwest home. Those high paying jobs mean there is a greater demand to live here.
The Pacific Northwest is home to Microsoft, Amazon, Starbucks, Costco, Boeing, and I could go on and on.
I asked my dad who the big employers are in his neck of the woods? He thought about for a bit and rattled off a few companies I had never heard of. So I looked it up: Naples Community Hospital, Ritz-Carlton-Naples, Collier County’s Sheriff’s office, and Publix Super Markets.
Now keep in mind that’s not the headquarters for the Ritz or Publix. Just the fact that they have a Ritz and some grocery stores puts those companies at the top of list for biggest employers.
This is no slight against the west coast of Florida. It’s a perfectly great place to call home. The beaches are fantastic, and my folks can’t say enough good things about it. Just watch out for gators when you walk your dog by the water.
But in terms of opportunity, there seems to be less there than here. I think people take for granted what it truly means to have a constellation of Fortune 50 companies in one geographic location. Even if you don’t work for one of the name brand companies I listed, they raise the bar for the entire area. Like it or not, we live in a capitalist system, and money is the fuel that keeps our system moving. There’s a lot of it in our neck of the woods right now, and I consider that a good thing.
It’s tempting to get pessimistic about the laundry list of issues we grapple with in the Pacific Northwest. Many people succumb to pining for a bygone era when Seattle was an outpost up in the corner the USA and you could stumble into a dive bar to rub shoulders with a blue collar crowd from the neighborhood. Those gauzy images do have an allure, but we tend to misremember the downside of that era when the economic fate of the entire region was in the hands of one company.
I’m bullish on the great Northwest.
I love it here and I’ve decided to lean into the new Seattle and what it has to offer. When I buy something on Amazon or grab a drink at Starbucks, I feel like I’m supporting local business because, well, I am. The set of problems that come with being one of the most sought after cities in the world are a better set of problems than those in other places. At least, that’s how I choose to see it.