South King County in 2017 is expected to benefit from an increase in commercial development, which will spur competitiveness among the manufacturing base and spike job growth.

Countywide unemployment was at 3.7 percent in 2016 with 47,700 new jobs created compared to 2015—a 3.6 percent year-over-year job growth.

“All signs indicate that the diversification of our region, the diverse clusters that we have here, the strong Fortune 100s and global attention, will continue to bode well for job growth,” says Suzanne Dale Estey, president and CEO at Economic Development Council of Seattle & King County. “There is a record level of construction in Seattle, Bellevue and south King County, and I’m optimistic that that will continue to hold.”

One high profile property in Kent at 26600 72nd St. along East Valley Highway is set to break ground in 2017. CenterPoint, a developer based in Illinois, plans to build out more than 200,000 square feet of industrial and office space.

Bill Ellis, economic development analyst for City of Kent, says 2016 was a robust year in terms of commercial building permits.

“(City of Kent) added $42.3 million of additional permit evaluations through November,” Ellis says. “We completed plan reviews of 21 new commercial buildings in 2016, which was six more than 2015.”

Ellis says vacancy rates in his city continue to go down, while other measures continue to increase. Employment is on the rise, especially among manufacturers in Kent's industrial valley.

“Our manufacturers continue to be in a competitive place for hiring people,” Ellis says.

To provide more housing for new job seekers choosing to live locally and also for those living locally but commuting north, Ellis says Kent will be prioritizing investment in 2017 on developing the downtown more.

Ellis says the city has selected Landmark Development Group Incorporated to build 500 market-rate apartment units and 12,000 square feet of retail on 24 acres along the Green River on the city-owned golf course property.

The city in 2017 will also start planning where to site a new parking garage to serve the transit station at Kent Station. The current garage is operating at capacity.

According to its assigned booster, Kent is imagining more development to come, starting at the golf course property, as the western anchor, and running along the Green River, the rail line, and Meeker Street. He says there is a potential to develop many hundreds of housing units along Meeker Street.

From her suite in downtown Seattle, Estey says the biggest good news in South King County is the continued growth of Blue Origin. The space industry private sector leader is projected to continually hire anywhere from 15 to 20 new jobs per week. Estey adds that there is also a future significant growth opportunity tied to Blue Origin that the EDC is working hard to capture.

“The big question is where do they manufacture the elements of the BE4 rocket, including the engine,” Estey says. “That is the opportunity we are working hard to capture — that is our biggest opportunity.”

Estey says emphasis on strengthening the supply chain at the Boeing plant in Renton is also being felt all throughout South King County.

One example is Project Chamfer, which is a code name for a top secret recruiting effort by the EDC to attract a South Carolina-based aerospace tooling company.

“They want to be near the Renton plant,” Estey explained. “We have shown them a number of different sites in south King County and don’t yet have a decision from them yet.”

The economic development specialist says it’s likely the company will move to South King County in 2017.

Boeing is also investing in its future workforce by building a 71,000-square-foot Workforce Readiness Center on the Boeing Auburn campus, where 5,300 are employed. This is the first new structure for the aerospace giant at its Auburn in 25 years. Construction of the building, which started in December, will carry on throughout 2017.

The center’s role will be to improve skills of existing employees and to train incoming staff, strengthening Boeing Auburn’s core mission of fabricating parts for commercial airplanes production moving forward. Construction of a second building on the campus will start in 2018.

“It’s a big commitment to Auburn’s workforce numbers and keeping jobs local in Auburn and Washington state,” says Doug Lein, economic development manager for City of Auburn.

He says growth in terms of mixed-use and transit-oriented development in his downtown will continue to show movement in 2017.

Since Lein came to Auburn in 2010, the city has been proactive in urban renewal — selling four city blocks near the Sound Transit station for private development.

On block one at the corner of South Division Street and West Main Street sits the five-story, 126-unit market rate Trek Apartments, which opened in spring of 2015. Lein says the building is 98 percent leased and attracts Seattle workers looking for good quality housing at lower rents.

On the block to the south, Merrill Gardens will begin to open units in January. This represents four-stories of market-rate apartments for those 62 years and older. Developer Teutsch Partners LLC also plans to develop residential and retail on a third block adjacent to Merrill Gardens. Lein says the company will break ground on the third block in spring 2017.

Finally, a California company is looking to create commercial office space mixed with residential or a hotel on a fourth block near the transit station. Lein says this developer is hoping to have permit applications for approval in January or February and break ground this spring.

Lein says Auburn City Council approved a 10-year Economic Development Strategic Plan in December.

“We took into consideration thousands of hours of interviews with elected officials, other agencies, and partners around the region,” Lein says. “We identified about anything you can imagine. If businesses do well, our quality of life goes up. It’s really important that you pay attention to all aspects of the economy to make economic development work.”

Meanwhile, city leaders in Federal Way continue to work at improving the vibrancy of its downtown core. The performing arts and event center at the 21-acre Town Center site will open this summer, and a hotel adjacent to the under-construction PAEC will break ground sometime this new year.

“We have the university initiative, which we spent the last two years working on,” says Tim Johnson, Federal Way’s economic development director. “The mayor has been making inroads for locating an institution of higher learning for a satellite campus. It fulfills the mayor’s mission and goals to try to increase the percentage of the (Federal Way) population that possesses a four-year degree.”

Johnson says Federal Way will also open a Tier 1 data center. He says this will help in establishing infrastructure to support tech-based companies choosing to locate there. One of the first will be a Washington, D.C.-based internet service provider called Cogent Communications. It will open an office in Federal Way sometime in 2017.

Johnson says the mayor will continue to be aggressive in the recruitment of businesses, especially those from California that want to grow and expand.

“We will see several major announcements in 2017,” Johnson says.

Finally, he says California’s Industrial Realty Group will continue with  repurposing of the former Weyerhaeuser headquarters property, which it bought in 2016. That situation has been complicated by December's disintegration of a prior deal with Indianapolis-based ChillBuild LLC; that company had planned to purchase 19 acres and build a freezer and cold storage plant there, with Renton’s Orca Bay Seafoods to relocate and occupy part of the facility.

Amidst citizen concerns that the pastoral, woodsy 430-acre campus could morph into industrial space, Federal Way’s City Council met in December to consider a moratorium on developing the property. That moratorium was voted down, and IRG has pledged to be responsive to public concern — especially from vocal citizen activist group Save Weyerhaeuser Campus — over what will become of the land.

“Some of the major concerns this group has had go away with the freezer going away,” said Tom Messmer, vice president of special projects at IRG, in a December interview.

“Some of the concerns were freezer-specific. The frozen seafood reprocessing. The ammonia as a refrigerant. The fact that the building was 66 feet tall was an issue. Those issues all go away. I can’t imagine a scenario where the next buyer we find to buy this land is going to build a freezer.”

Johnson, for his part, remains optimistic.

“It’s very dynamic and very fluid right now in Federal Way,” he says.

That’s a good descriptor for the South King County region as a whole and what’s to come of it in this new year.