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Ten Biggest Employers in Seattle Area

The Top Employers Arond the Puget Sound

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Boeing employees inspect a Boeing 787 Dreamliner after its long-waited first flight December 15, 2009 at Boeing Field In Seattle, Washington. The much delayed Dreamliner is made of a plastic composite material that can save up to 20 percent in fuel costs.
Stephen Brashear/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Who are the top Seattle-area employers today? Dependable companies that once seemed like a permanent part of the community (Washington Mutual, Seattle P-I) have disappeared. Others can explode out of nowhere (like Microsoft and Starbucks 20 years ago). It may be that tomorrow’s big employer is tucked away in a 3rd-story office in Belltown right now, or maybe in somebody’s garage in Renton.

But for the moment, here are the biggest employers in the Seattle area:

1. Boeing – about 70,000 employees
With Boeing slashing tens of thousands of jobs since 2001, it’s easy to forget that they are still far and away the state’s largest private employer. While Seattle is no longer the Jet City of old, dependent entirely on aerospace (and thank goodness), Boeing is still an essential part of our economic landscape and community. And though a Boeing job may not be cradle to the grave security anymore, it’s still one of the best jobs in town.

2. Microsoft – about 40,000 employees
Though the company was actually founded in New Mexico, Bill Gates quickly moved the company back to his Puget Sound home and launched the great Seattle tech boom, which is still shaping the region today. Microsoft remains a powerful economic and political force in the region, being seen as chiefly responsible for the “no-transit” design of the new 520 bridge. Until people stop buying PCs, expect Microsoft’s dominance to continue.

3. University of Washington – about 25,000 employees
Notably, the top 3 employers all slashed jobs in 2009, but remain alone at the top. The University of Washington has been among the very hardest hit universities in the nation by budget cuts, but remains a major employer. The UW’s national stature as a major research university is primarily the legacy of powerful senators Scoop Jackson and Warren Magnuson, who in the ‘60s and ‘70s secured huge rewards of federal investment in the school. Today, it’s considered one of the best value undergraduate educations in America, and boasts highly ranked medical, law, and business schools.

4. Amazon – about 15,000 employees
No company did as much in the ‘90s to push online shopping into the mainstream of America, showing that the experience could be safe, fast, and inexpensive. More importantly for Seattle, Amazon built a robust structure that survived the dot-com bubble burst of the end of that decade, and has thrived despite the massive retail downturn in recent years.

5. Weyerhaueser – about 10,000 employees
Weyerhaueser’s prominence in the Northwest may have waned, as other industries have grown while logging and wood processing has remained static, but Weyerhaueser also has a more reliable future. As long as trees grow back and people buy things made of wood, expect this dependable local employer to remain a presence.

6. Group Health Cooperative – about 9,000 employees
Founded in the late 1940s, Group Health’s non-profit health care model has been a model to the rest of the nation for decades, showing innovation not only their payment model but as an early adopter of all-electronic medical records. With a hospital on Capitol Hill and dozens of other medical facilities around the region, the cooperative employs almost a thousand doctors and thousands of nurses and other staff. And this is one industry that expects to grow for the indefinite future.

7. Fred Meyer – about 8.700 employees
Based in Portland, Fred Meyer became the dominant Northwest grocery chain, with numerous stores in Oregon, Idaho, Washington, and Alaska, before merging with Kroger (owner of QFC). Kroger has bought dozens of grocery chains nationwide, but has so far maintained local branding and styles—nobody would mistake the inside of a massive Fred Meyer for the more boutique QFC. With its corporate offices remaining in Portland, the vast majority of Fred Meyer jobs in the Seattle area are retail, stocking, and other store-level jobs.

8. Bank of America – about 7,300 employees
The failure of Washington Mutual (the largest bank to fail in U.S. history) was a shock to the local economy. But not too long ago, WaMu was only one of two major banks in Seattle. SeaFirst bank was the largest bank in Washington and a major employer, serving as the primary tenant for the tallest building in the city, the Columbia Center tower. When SeaFirst was bought and merged into the mammoth Bank of America, BofA kept many of their financial service offices in the area.

9. Qwest Communications - about 7,000 employees
Formerly U.S. West, this telecommunications firm was the result of a merger of three of the “Baby Bells” that connected phone providers across the Northwest and Mountain West. Lately, as traditional phone service has declined, Qwest has expanded to provide cable and internet services throughout the area, competing primarily with Comcast and Verizon. Qwest has remained engaged with the Seattle community, providing sponsorship money for the Seahawks stadium, now named Qwest Field.

10. Nordstrom – about 6,000 employees
Nordstrom has braved difficult retail headwinds and thrived even under difficult recent years. Unlike other national department store chains, the Seattle-based Nordstroms has expanded not by acquisition of other chains, but on their own, store-by-store. This approach has allowed the upscale retailer to maintain tight control of their customer-focused shopping experience. Frequently rated one of the best companies in the U.S. to work for, Nordstrom looks strong in coming years, announcing the opening of 26 new stores in the next three years.

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