My hope for the future of the Eastside

The Eastside is quite simply the best place in America to live, raise a family, and pursue a career.

By Rob McKenna

The Eastside is quite simply the best place in America to live, raise a family, and pursue a career.

My hope is that the factors that have made possible our unparalleled quality of life will grow even stronger in years to come. Among the most important factors are strong public education, a thriving technology sector, and a vibrant community live characterized by outstanding volunteer leadership.

I moved to Bellevue with my parents in 1977, as a high school sophomore. More recent arrivals to our area might be surprised to learn that while Bellevue’s public schools at that time were strong (which is why my folks chose Bellevue when my dad retired from the military) that was not true throughout the Eastside. Our high-tech sector was nascent – Microsoft’s move to the Eastside was still years away – and we were still largely a bedroom community for Boeing engineers and workers in downtown Seattle.

The Eastside was a vibrant community in those days, as it is today. However, as I observed in an article in the Bellevue Journal American newspaper around 1990, the same 100 or so people seemed to run everything. They were and are great people, there just weren’t enough of them.

Moreover, despite the Eastside’s growing diversity, few community leaders at that time were people of color or immigrants, and very few were under 40.

As a young lawyer working in downtown Bellevue during the late 1980s and early ‘90s, I was active with the Chamber of Commerce and Bellevue Downtown Association. I served on several city of Bellevue committees and its newly created Transportation Commission. That was all terrific, but I noticed that I was nearly always the youngest person involved, usually by more than a decade or two.

At the same time, I regularly was asked by other community leaders where they could find other younger people to recruit into civic leadership roles, and by many young professionals who I met how they could become involved. A group of us came together to create a networking organization we called Forum Eastside, and that led us to design and launch Advance Bellevue, a leadership program intended to jumpstart the civic engagement of younger people in our community.

Not long after that, a similarly-minded group to our north created Leadership Institute. Over time, it became obvious that a combined organization made the most sense and the rest, as they say, is Leadership Eastside history.

These developments have directly contributed to the Eastside’s success as a community, including its public education system and economy. Many of graduates of Advance Bellevue, Leadership Institute, and Leadership Eastside have gone on to play important leadership roles in our school districts and in local and state governments. In those leadership roles, they have helped strengthen our most important civic institutions: our public schools and colleges, our cities and county, and countless non-profit organizations.

They have fostered a spirit of community involvement, and worked hard to recruit and encourage younger and more diverse individuals who reflect the Eastside’s vibrancy and its future. These individuals often come from companies in our burgeoning high-tech sector, and they understand what our high-tech companies need to be successful – especially an educated workforce of life-long learners who turn to our higher education institutions again and again throughout their careers to update their skills for a fast-paced economy.

Education, the economy and community: all three are vital to our quality of life, and all three depend on the spirit of volunteerism, and of volunteer leadership, which Leadership Eastside embodies and supports. Congratulations on its 10th anniversary, and best wishes for many more years of making a difference in our communities.

Rob McKenna is a former Attorney General of the state of Washington. He lives in Bellevue.