How Bellevue’s tech hub is much like Silicon Valley — and what they’ll be taught from one another

Development is underneath method on a 43-story workplace tower for Amazon subsequent to the Bellevue Transit Heart and kitty-corner from a future gentle rail station. The Bellevue 600 venture is a part of an general Amazon footprint that may in the end complete greater than 6.6 million sq. toes in downtown Bellevue. (GeekWire Picture / Todd Bishop)

Evaluating Silicon Valley and Seattle has change into one thing of a regional pastime within the Pacific Northwest.

However the comparability is perhaps extra correct if directed a number of miles east, throughout the shores of Lake Washington to the place Bellevue skyrises are multiplying. As a result of traditionally talking, the rise of the eastside carefully mirrors the trajectory of Silicon Valley’s San Jose. 

“Bellevue has lots in frequent with a spot that I speak about and write about lots,” stated tech historian Margaret O’Mara, talking at a Bellevue Downtown Affiliation occasion final week. “And I can’t say that of many locations.”

The place O’Mara was alluding to, after all, is Silicon Valley.

“The intersection between large urbanization and protection spending in each the Seattle space and the Bay Space are a extremely vital parallel, and in addition assist clarify why these locations grew to become early hubs of expertise,” stated O’Mara, a College of Washington professor identified for her work centered on the rise of Silicon Valley.

Margaret O’Mara speaks on the Bellevue Downtown Affiliation occasion final week. (Bellevue Downtown Affiliation Picture)

Bellevue is hardly an underdog with regards to tech. It hosts high-profile places of work for T-Cellular, Fb, Microsoft and – more and more lately – Amazon. And as Seattle grapples with crime and political battles, Bellevue is trying like an interesting homebase for another tech firms, too.

However regardless of current headlines about firms touchdown in Bellevue, town’s historical past with expertise goes again an extended methods – similar to within the Bay Space. Talking final week, O’Mara outlined the components that reworked each Silicon Valley and the eastside into tech hubs.

Within the Bay Space, the federal authorities poured large quantities of protection cash into aerospace firms akin to Lockheed. Within the Puget Sound area, it was Boeing. These firms acted as magnets for engineers and their households (Steve Wozniak’s father was a Lockheed engineer) – and O’Mara famous it’s kids of the defense-spending increase who are sometimes credited with jumpstarting the tech business within the second half of the twentieth century.

Take, for instance, the 1962 World’s Honest in Seattle, which centered on expertise of the longer term.

“Seattle and Bellevue youngsters got here to the honest,” O’Mara stated. “They rode the Monorail, they noticed the longer term, they usually have been modified by that.” 

Six-year-old Invoice Gates visited the World’s Honest, as did nine-year-old Paul Allen. 

“After which 17 years later, these youngsters, principally grown up, got here again right here and moved their little firm, Microsoft … into Bellevue,” O’Mara stated. “And the remaining, as they are saying, is historical past.”

She added: “So take into consideration not solely what’s subsequent, however who’s subsequent,” O’Mara stated. “The place are our six-year-olds and nine-year-olds, how are we going to encourage them? How are we going to point out them what’s attainable?”

However the story of the eastside’s rise isn’t fully a narrative of wide-eyed kids dreaming large. Like a lot of the nation’s historical past, there’s an unsightly undercurrent of racism as effectively. Historians, O’Mara included, have famous how pressured busing in Seattle prompted what’s generally known as “white flight” within the area, with rich white households shifting throughout Lake Washington to eastside suburbs to keep away from social modifications introduced by desegregation efforts.

Now, Bellevue and surrounding eastsides suburbs are writing a brand new chapter – one that may have ripple results far into the longer term, O’Mara stated final week.

“What we do now, the historical past proper now, doesn’t simply matter for the following 10 years,” she stated. “It issues for the following 30 or 50, or 70.”

One factor O’Mara stated she underscores when talking to communities trying to mirror Silicon Valley: Don’t attempt to imitate one other place. 

“We are able to be taught lots from their expertise,” she stated. “However there’s in all probability fairly a bit that Silicon Valley can – and may – be taught from Bellevue. As a result of fairly frankly, with regards to urban-housing provide, dense walkable residential neighborhoods, a downtown mixed-use bustling with wealthy city facilities, Bellevue is method forward. With regards to a regional mass transit system, transit accessibility, Bellevue is method forward.”

Elevated remote-work choices have injected some uncertainty into the way forward for office-heavy city facilities. However O’Mara stated if something, the pandemic’s work-from-home mandates taught us extra in regards to the worth of in-person connection.

“It’s not simply the buildings,” O’Mara stated. “It’s the individuals within the buildings.”

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