The Power of Collaboration: Q&A with Bellevue Mayor Lynne Robinson About Innovation, Tech, Transportation and More (Part 2)

New Tech Eastside was thrilled to welcome Bellevue Mayor Lynne Robinson to present at our event earlier this month. I’ve had the pleasure of knowing the Mayor for four years as she has been an early supporter of startup and tech culture starting with her work as a city councilwoman.

If you’re not familiar with her and the great work she’s doing, here is a deep dive into everything that’s happening in Bellevue, from the growth of tech companies and the accompanying development to the future of autonomous vehicles and the arrival of light rail in a few short years.

Hopefully you were able to read part one of this interview last week. Here’s part two of our interview Mayor Robinson:

Amazon has made news recently announcing it plans to have 15,000 workers in Bellevue in the next few years. How has the city prepared for this amount of growth by one company and what could this mean for the tech sector’s future in Bellevue?

It is a testament to our reputation as a forward-thinking city with amenities and services that can support businesses of all sizes. We are a global technology hub and the injection of jobs from Amazon will strengthen that while keeping the people and skills for those jobs in our region.

As a city, Bellevue, our council and staff, work hard to always be looking ahead – we embrace the future while respecting our past. That means we did plan for this growth. Admittedly, it is materializing a bit faster than we had anticipated. We are diligently working with the businesses joining our community to make this a smooth process by anticipating the needs of residents and trying to alleviate pressures – like increased congestion – to the extent possible. This is a discussion we will be having with the broader community in the coming months and years.

But again, we welcome the news that Amazon is increasing its investment in Bellevue. These are 15,000 well-paid jobs coming to our city that will benefit local workers and the region as a whole.

 

Of course, it’s not just Amazon that’s growing. Facebook has been growing its presence in Bellevue, Salesforce has grown to roughly 1,000 employees in just a few years. Concur’s headquarters has grown to 2,500 employees since moving from Redmond in 2012. And that’s not to mention the presence of Microsoft, T-Mobile and many others. What makes this city so attractive to tech companies?

Our growth is broad-based and spread across many different businesses and industries, but you are right, we are particularly attractive to tech.

Simply put, one key reason for that is because we adhere to some of the same tenets as the tech. industry: we’re always looking ahead and know the value of staying on the cutting edge of what is possible; we believe in data and use it to drive some of our decision making in terms of offering the most efficient and valuable city services; and we are competitive – we compete with the world and want to be able to say that we offer the best business environment, neighborhoods, amenities, and public service.

We also have an extremely talented workforce, here in Bellevue. And we approach the business community as partners. Anecdotally, since becoming mayor in January, I’ve had business leaders come up to me and say “what can we do for your city?” That’s the type of spirit that embodies Bellevue – collaboration.

 

Bellevue was quick to embrace autonomous vehicle technologies. What steps is the city taking to prepare for the arrival of driverless cars? And what’s the latest with Bellevue’s involvement in CommutePool and the ACES (Autonomous, Connected, Electric, Shared) Network? 

With thousands of new workers coming to Bellevue soon, it is more important than ever to take a leadership role in helping to accelerate and integrate these new technologies. Bellevue continues to work with tech and mobility companies in our area including Amazon, Microsoft, T-Mobile, Boeing, PACCAR, Puget Sound Energy, and INRIX on how best to incorporate autonomous technologies to reduce crashes, emissions and congestion, especially at peak commute times.

These companies and others, including the Autonomous, Connected, Electric and Shared (ACES) Northwest Network, are working with us to connect employees with shared, electric and eventually autonomous vehicles. That includes a transition to Metro VanPools that are high-tech, connected, electric and eventually autonomous as well as employee vans and shuttles such as Microsoft’s Connector, T-Mobile’s magenta vans and Amazon’s white vans. We are also working with the U.S. Departments of Energy and Transportation on funding to develop pilot and demonstration projects that would test the safety and efficiency of such a transition.

 

Last question, Mayor Robinson. With so much exciting activity taking place – the arrival of light rail in just a few years and the transit-oriented development we’re seeing accompany it – are there lessons to be learned from the traffic and transportation challenges Seattle faced as a result of the rapid redevelopment of South Lake Union and Denny Triangle? 

Every community is different and has unique factors driving its ability to adapt to change. For Bellevue, planning and partnership are key principles to being as nimble as we can be.

Years ago we said we wanted to be a globally competitive business hub that supports technology and innovation for businesses big and small. Given Bellevue’s international diversity, strategic location and collaborative spirit, it’s a natural fit.

The City Council has worked to anticipate what continued success looks like from an infrastructure standpoint. For instance, we have supported offering reliable ways to get around town through bike lanes and various road capacity projects and increased density through initiatives such as the 2017 Downtown Livability code update. We let everyone know we are open for business and are committed to working very closely with our business community to ensure we can work together to enrich each other while maintaining a respect for the integrity and great character of this special community.

We hope that dedication will serve us well as we continue our evolution. Working through these potential impacts due to accelerated growth, is something the council will be doing over the next several years.

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