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How The South Sound Can Carve Out A Future Apart From Seattle

"Airborne - Auburn, Washington" by brewbooks is licensed under CC by 2.0
Auburn, Wash., is in King County, but considered part of the South Sound region Ali Modarres, a professor at the University of Washington Tacoma.

When Ali Modarres looks at a map, he doesn’t see a line dividing King County and Pierce County. Instead, the urban studies professor sees the booming area right around Seattle as one region and everything to the south, from SeaTac in King County down through Pierce County, as another.

That latter area is what he defines as the South Sound. Southern King County, he said, has more in common economically and demographically with Pierce County than it does with Seattle and Bellevue.

Modarres leads the urban studies program at the University of Washington Tacoma. He said these South Sound cities have to band together and plan for the future, or risk becoming little more than suburbs of Seattle.

“What really this region needs is a planning alignment," he said. "People don’t need to all agree on one thing. What they really do need is to begin to think about what are the major issues that they all are concerned about.”

In January, Modarres convened a group of political and economic leaders called the South Sound Alliance. It includes representatives of cities like Auburn and University Place, as well as officials from both counties and state economic-development agencies. 

Modarres said they have a chance to pick industries to build a regional economy around. He cited cyber security and medical technology as examples -- sectors that jive with the growing tech industry in Seattle and Bellevue without trying to replicate it. 

"Seattle and Bellevue and others are successful. Good on them," he said. "They did the right thing at some point in [the] 1970s. Thirty years from now, we could be there, but not necessarily in the same way." 

He said an economic plan could build on the South Sound's assets, including an educated workforce (too much of which, he said, now commutes north for jobs) and a cluster of healthcare institutions such as the MultiCare Health System and CHI Franciscan Health.

When it comes to jobs, Modarres said, if Auburn competes with Fife and Fife competes with Tacoma, it’s the South Sound as a whole that will miss out.

The South Sound Alliance has its third meeting on April 27 in University Place. Modarres said he hopes to expand the group and lock down a stable roster of participants in the coming months. 

Will James is a former KNKX reporter and was part of the special projects team, reporting and producing podcasts such as Outsiders and The Walk Home.