The view from the 25th floor contradicts Seattle's rainy reputation: clear blue sky, sun shimmering on the Puget Sound, the green Olympia Peninsula beyond.
"All you have to do is look out of the window," Jeff Marcell, head of the regional economic development organization enterpriseSeattle, says. He's explaining why companies like Boeing, Microsoft, Starbucks and Amazon.com put their home offices in the Pacific north-west city.
Its location in the northwest corner of the country seems out of reach, but the metropolis is buzzing. The state of Washington's unemployment rate is just over 3 per cent, the lowest in 30 years. While housing prices drop in the rest of the country, Seattle prices climbed by double digit percentages in the year's first half.
"So far it still looks as if we're booming, I haven't seen anything that hints we're about to go down," said Sam Kaplan, vice president of the Trade Development Alliance of Greater Seattle.
During the dot-com bubble, there was hardly a place as exhilarating as Seattle.
"Its port was thronged with ships bringing goods from Asia. The Boeing company could barely keep up with demand for its airliners. Microsoft was hiring hordes of software engineers. Here was a city that had it all - Old Economy, New Economy, Not-Yet-Invented Economy," Kaplan said.
Yet when the bubble burst in the new millennium, gloom descended on the city of 580,000, and the bad news kept coming. Boeing transferred its headquarters to Chicago. Six months later, the September 11 terrorist attacks dropped the curtain on the aircraft industry. Some 35,000 Boeing employees in the region lost their jobs.
"The fall of Seattle is in some degree a function of how high we were flying. Aerospace, technology, internet and tourism - that's what dragged us down," recalls Steve Leahy, director of the Chamber of Commerce for greater Seattle.
The region's unemployment grew to 6.6 per cent by late 2001, the highest in the US. The only thing still growing was Microsoft, Leahy said.
But Seattle still had the atmosphere of an open cafe, espresso that tastes like Italy, tree-lined streets between its skyscrapers, open views of the water. Just one hour to the east were the Cascade Mountains and Mount Ranier's snow peak.
In late 2004, business people started calling again. "People were saying, 'My phone is ringing more often.' People were beginning to think, 'Oh my God, the worst is over'," Leahy said.
Then Boeing's regional workhorse started pulling again with the 787 Dreamliner, the latest symbol of Seattle's reclaimed economic power and America's latest coup against its European rival Airbus. When it was unveiled in July at a Hollywood-style event, there were already 470 orders.
True, Boeing no longer carries 25 per cent of the region's economy, as it did 40 years ago. Its share has shrunk, but only because the pie is bigger, more diverse, and less dependent on the one-industry boom-and-bust.
The magic included diversification and one of the country's most highly educated populations.
"If you look at Expedia.com, if you look at Starbucks, if you look at Amazon and Microsoft - these are all companies that could do what they do anywhere on the planet, but they do what they do here because of the amazing talent pool, " Marcell said. The University of Washington, ranked number 18 on the country's list of the best institutes of higher education, played a big role, officials said.
Seattle also promotes its location as being in the middle of the Asia-Pacific market. New routes over the North Pole make Tokyo only a nine-hour flight. Already, one in three jobs in the region depends on international trade. Philanthropy could be the next growth engine: The multibillion-dollar Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the world's largest philanthropic organization, is building its headquarters in Seattle.
Already, problems related to the boom are beginning to press. The region's population could double in the next 20 years. Space in the city is tight and newcomers often have to search in the outer suburbs. One of Seattle's more urgent tasks, Leahy said, is developing public transportation to get its residents out of the morning horror of rush hour, Lehy said. dpa fb gj pr