Posted by Gary Smith on Feb 27, 2019
Marilyn Strickland, selected last year to lead the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, illustrated in her talk to Seattle 4 that she embodies President Cindy’s twin themes of Impact and Action.
 
She called on Rotarians to be proud advocates and partners in supporting business, to recruit and promote diversity in the workforce, and to support restoring the practice of affirmative action.
Strickland recounted stark facts of economic disparity by race in Seattle.  While homeownership by blacks has remained steady at 42% over the past 50 years in the nation as a whole, in King County in the same period home ownership by black residents fell from 49% to 28%.  (The rate of home ownership among white residents locally is 64%.)  The current rate of 28% of black home ownership ranks King County 95th out of the 100 U.S. counties with the largest populations of African-Americans. 
 
Recent Federal Reserve data finds a similar disparity in the net worth of families.  Strickland cited the national averages, which show that the median net worth of white families is about 10 times greater than black families, but last week a Seattle Times analysis showed the disparity locally is far greater.  Locally, the median net worth of white families is $456,000, while for black families it is $23,000, a 20:1 difference.
 
“We still have a lot of work to do
in expanding economic opportunities.”
 
 “These disparities in wealth and homeownership show we still have a lot of work to do in expanding economic opportunities so that more people underrepresented in the business landscape today can build thriving businesses,” Strickland said.
 
Last week, the Chamber endorsed Initiative 1000, which Strickland explained would restore affirmative action in the state.  She said the initiative would “start to correct some of the inequities that linger in our state today – and make our state more competitive and inclusive in the process.”  Strickland asked Rotarians to express their support of Initiative 1000 to their legislators.
 
Strickland said the Chamber’s vision is an economically vibrant and globally competitive metropolitan region where businesses of all sizes flourish and prosperity is shared.  Sharing prosperity, she said, is “incredibly important.”
 
That’s why she talks about an inclusive economy, she said.  “We also have to understand that as employers, we have a role to play.  When you have power, you can make the rules.  When I look at some of our largest employers, I think about equity, diversity, and inclusion.  I ask myself, do our boards and leadership reflect the community?  When we look at diverse workforces, the people who are diverse should not only be at the lowest wage jobs in the organization.  So, as leaders of companies and organizations, I ask you, in Cindy’s theme of Impact and Action, to recruit diverse candidates; to identify talent and help them on a path of leadership and promotion. And if you can, give someone a second chance.  As responsible people who care about the community and are pro-business, having a diverse workforce is good business.” 
 
Strickland reflected on her experience as Tacoma mayor in expanding economic opportunity, which included raising the graduation rate in Tacoma from 55% to 87%.  She also mentioned putting Tacoma on the map as a globally important city, and passing the city’s first transportation measure in four decades.
 
From her vantage point in Tacoma, Strickland said, she observed in the Seattle Chamber sheepishness “about owning who we are and unapologetically advocating for businesses and employers.  We should never apologize for that,” she said.  “It’s OK to say you support businesses.  It’s OK to say you support an economy where people have jobs that pay well and have benefits and retirement.  There’s nothing wrong with that.”
 
“We have to change the narrative about business,” she added.
 
“A breakdown of trust in the Seattle city government’s
relationship with the community”
 
Turning to local politics, Strickland recalled taking the reins at the Chamber in the midst of last summer’s fight over the “head tax.”  She said “It doesn’t feel like elected leadership in Seattle likes business.  I know that’s not breaking news.  I would also say, too, though, with that acrimonious process, we know there is a breakdown of trust in the Seattle city government’s relationship with the community,” she said. 
 
“2019 is a very big election year," Strickland said.  "We’re not going to tell you who you should vote for.  But coming from government myself, local government needs to focus on the nuts and bolts of basic government.  Fix my roads.  Fix my sidewalks.  Make sure my neighborhood is safe, clean, and attractive.  The basics.  Those things are crucially important for local government to work."
 
“So this is a really important election.  We hope you show up.  We hope you choose people who are thoughtful, open-minded, and willing to have a rational conversation with people on all sides and all backgrounds.” 
 
“We have to acknowledge
a few truths about homelessness”
 
In response to a question from Mark Wright about the City’s approach to homelessness, Strickland said “The head tax, and building 500 units of housing over five years, was not going to solve homelessness.  I think what we have to do is acknowledge a few truths.  In this theory of trying to be compassionate, there seems to be this sentiment of not wanting to make the hard decisions.  It is more inhumane to let people sit under a bridge and sleep on cardboard in squalor, than to at least try to stabilize them.
 
“In Tacoma, we had a huge encampment that I declared a public health emergency because it was filthy, there was drug-dealing, and people living in unsanitary conditions. We created what we called ‘stability sites’ [with] giant FEMA tents we purchased for homeless people to stay inside.  The new site is supervised, it is fenced, there is security, there are showers, there are washers and dryers, there is running water, there are places to store your goods. 
 
“Now, the truth here is that people didn’t come to this stability site and go right out of homelessness because a lot of people on the street, who are chronically homeless, have been there for a really, really long time.  But at least getting them off the street and into the stability site is more humane than letting them live on the street in squalor.” 
 
Strickland said another thing we have to acknowledge – and this speaks to the mental health system – is that a proportion of the people on the street need extensive, supervised 24-hour care.  “And the system we have right now is failing them.” 
 
To acknowledge Strickland’s forthright leadership, President Cindy concluded the program with a saying in Korean lettering, “Fortune favors the brave.”
 
Nancy Osborne introduced Strickland.  President Cindy introduced Osborne, noting she helps care for 60 feral sheep on Decatur Island.
 
Speaking of shepherds, Charley Dickey introduced new member Stephen Shepherd.  Bill Center provided the inspiration, reflecting on leadership and diversity.
 
Lou Lundquist, accompanied by Burr Stewart, led the club in singing the George M. Cohan tune You’re a Grand Old Flag.  Lundquist insisted that club members sing the final verse over again and follow his direction better. 
 
And so it went.  Jeff Pyatt exhorted club members who have not yet met their annual commitment to the foundations to do so promptly, as the campaign is at its end.  Pyatt spoke very directly, explaining that sitting next to Ken Grant had that result that Ken’s “cranky rubbed off on me.”
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