Seattle mayor forming council of tech leaders seeking solutions to the region’s growing pains

Jenny Durkan at a mayoral debate before she was elected. (GeekWire Photo / Monica Nickelsburg)

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan is tapping problem solvers in the tech industry to develop solutions to some of the city’s greatest challenges. She plans to sign an executive order creating Seattle’s first ever Innovation Advisory Council to tackle issues like homelessness and traffic.

Durkan will announce the new council at Zillow’s Downtown Seattle headquarters Thursday afternoon. She plans to reveal the co-chairs of the Innovation Council and commitments from Seattle tech companies at the Zillow event but won’t announce the full list of committee members until later on.

UPDATE: Here are the list of companies and organizations who are joining the new Innovation Advisory Council: Amazon, Artefact Group, Expedia Group, Flying Fish Partners, Microsoft, Tableau, WTIA and Zillow Group.

The goal of the council is “to harness the expertise of Seattle’s best technology organizations and brightest minds towards solving the challenges of our City, including addressing the affordability and homelessness crisis,” according to the executive order Durkan plans to sign.

One member of Seattle’s City Council will join the new innovation committee along with “community members and businesses with an expertise in technology solutions, transportation and mobility, logistics, project management, engineering, data analytics and/or software development,” the order says. The group’s mission is to identify ways Seattle can better use data in its efforts to reduce homelessness and congestion. The first meeting will be held by Sept. 21.

It’s the mayor’s latest effort to bridge the gap between the tech industry and City Hall and harness the expertise of technologists to mitigate the consequences of rapid growth.

Earlier this year, Durkan worked to broker a compromise between the business community and City Council over the dollar amount of a short-lived head tax. That tax would have collected funds from Seattle’s top-grossing businesses and put them toward affordable housing. Amazon balked at the tax and threatened to pull out of real estate development projects in Seattle.

Amazon and other companies contributed thousands of dollars for a referendum campaign on the head tax. City Council members called it an unwinnable fight when they voted to repeal the tax less than a month after unanimously approving it.

The head tax debate became emblematic of the chasm between the tech industry and Seattle government. But Durkan has been working to build a bridge connecting the two. The Innovation Council she is creating is similar to the Small Business Advisory Council formed earlier this year to give startups a seat at the policymaking table. Durkan also partnered with county officials to create One Table, a homeless response task force of public servants, business leaders, and other stakeholders. That effort stalled during the head tax debate but its members are working to restart it.

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