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Bearing witness to Washington’s business boom | Taking Stock


Last updated 5/10/2017 at Noon

At my age it is unlikely that I will see what happens 35 years from now, but I like to look back and see what has changed.

I don't know what the future holds, but Washington has had a remarkable growth in business in 35 years. I still have a copy of the Seattle Business Journal from 1982 to use as a reference.

In 1982, the total value of Washington companies was just about $10 billion. Today, the value of Washington companies is nearly $1.4 trillion, up 14,000 percent. The entire country has gained, of course, but not that much. The Dow Jones Industrial Average is up about 3,000 percent in the same time period.

There are now 11 companies in Washington that are each worth $10 billion or more. In half a lifetime, 11 companies have reached the value that was the total of the entire state.

Even more remarkable: two of the three largest companies that were in Washington at that time aren't here anymore – as well as four of the top five, and eight of the top 10.

The five largest Washington companies today weren't measured in the 1982 report. Three of them existed, but were small and had not yet sold shares in an initial public offering (IPO). Two weren't founded until years later.

“It's the water.” That was once a common slogan of Olympia Brewing. Olympia was one of the smaller companies in Washington. The water didn't help Olympia Brewing; it no longer exists. But, though it may not have been the water, there was something in the environment that brought about this massive growth of businesses in Washington.

Weyerhaeuser, PACCAR, Alaska Air, Nordstrom, Washington Federal and Avista still exist from that era, and are among the 20 most valuable companies in Washington. But, it is hard to find more than one or two other companies in Washington that have survived for 35 years.

The majority of the biggest companies in the state are new. They didn't exist when I was in my 30s. Two of them are among the four most valuable companies in the world. That is remarkable in that historically the biggest companies are usually old; they may have a hundred years of history, or more.

I can't account for why it happened this way. I can only observe that it has happened. Maybe this will make a suitable subject for a graduate thesis by someone younger than me, who will also be able to observe what the next 35 years bring.

In Kansas, they have been attempting to bring about an economic experiment. I am not aware that anyone tried to do that in Washington, but it seems that the experiment here, intended or not, has brought about some remarkable results.

Tim Raetzloff operates Abarim Business Computers at Harbor Square in Edmonds. What he writes combines his sense of history and his sense of numbers. Neither he nor Abarim have an investment in any of the companies mentioned in this column.


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