Does The Northwest Have The Right Climate for Business?

by | Jun 16, 2009

For the first time, The Northwest 100, The Seattle Times’ annual ranking of the region’s best-performing public companies, has fewer than 100 companies listed.

photo courtesy of Flickr user, SpaceNinja

The main culprit: last fall’s stock-market slide, which pushed dozens of Northwest stocks below $2 a share. The Northwest 100 long has excluded companies whose shares have dropped below $2, but never — not even during the dot-com collapse earlier this decade — have so many companies fallen below that threshold.

Another reason for the decline: fewer and fewer publicly traded companies are headquartered in Washington, Oregon or Idaho.

A decade ago, nearly 200 Northwest companies were trading on major exchanges; today, there are just 136. Dozens evaporated in the dot-com bust; others, from big names like Safeco, Puget Energy and Immunex to younger tech firms such as Captaris and Advanced Digital Information, have been vacuumed up by larger companies and private-equity firms.

“Should the dearth of new public companies persist, the region could become a less vibrant, compelling place to work and create,” suggests Drew DeSilver, the Seattle Times reporter on the story.

I think when you couple this report with news that Oregon’s unemployment shot up to 12.4% last month, there is reason for concern. I also find it interesting that these trends are present in a region that thinks of itself as innovative, smart and self-reliant. From the one person design shops to the slow food restaurants and sustainable wineries all the way to and Nike, Northwest companies tend to shoot for the stars. In general, I’d say people have higher standards here.

So, why isn’t this beautiful part of the country, rich in human capital and natural resources, booming? It’s a conundrum.