As a business location, Seattle has a lot going for it. The vibrant West Coast city boasts one of the busiest ports in the U.S. and is near an active international airport, giving it easy access to thriving markets both domestically and across the Pacific. It's home to a score of universities, which help supply the workforce with qualified and skilled labor.
It's a fine place for commerce. As evidence, here are several notable blue-chip firms that have planted roots in the Emerald City.
The definition of blue-chip stock has always been somewhat loose. Investopedia has as good an explanation as anyone, describing it as the "stock of a large, well-established and financially sound company that has operated for many years."
That would certainly fit the company most strongly associated with Seattle -- which happens to make the product so readily identified with the city -- coffee purveyor Starbucks (NASDAQ:SBUX). The ubiquitous java chain was founded there (although its original location, contrary to tourist legend, isn't the much-visited Pike Place storefront), and the city has served as its corporate headquarters ever since.
The world loves coffee, and it's happy to buy it from Starbucks. The firm keeps growing its revenue, which has risen from nearly $11 billion in fiscal 2010 to a record $16.4 billion in fiscal 2014. Net profit tends to see-saw, but the company consistently lands in the black. Last year it did so to the tune of just over $2 billion.
Investors dig Starbucks stock as eagerly as they quaff its coffee; last week it reached its all-time high of almost $52 per share before retreating a bit.
The world's general store
Any firm that managed to not only survive the dot-com crash of the early 2000s, but become one of the planet's top retailers has to be considered a blue chip.
No matter where you're reading this, the chances are good that you're within a few feet of a product delivered by Amazon.com (NASDAQ:AMZN). Launched in 1994 in the neighboring city of Bellevue, its headquarters was soon moved to Seattle, from which it rules a big retail empire.
It's a restless company. Through constant expansion into new product categories, and a sharp focus on delivery efficiencies, it's managed to become the general retailer of choice for millions of customers. Revenue keeps growing, although the firm's habit of reinvesting much of its take back into the business tends to dampen or even submerge the bottom line.
Amazon has its detractors among the investor community, and its stock has a history of volatility. These days, though, like its coffee-slinging neighbor it's on a tear, recently notching a record high at nearly $450 per share.
Serving up solid results
Seattle isn't only home to a prominent online retailer, it's also the native address of a veteran bricks-and-mortar merchant.
Nordstrom (NYSE:JWN) began life at the start of the 20th century as a shoe store in downtown Seattle, eventually growing into the top footwear outlet in the country. The acquisition of a women's clothing retailer in 1963 helped ultimately transform it into a department store focused on apparel; less than a decade later, the firm went public.
Nordstrom is a steady performer, and over time has managed to grow both its revenue and profitability. It resolutely sticks to the business model that has been effective throughout its history -- a focus on complete customer service in its stores. It's been so consistent in this approach that it's readily identified with this philosophy.
Which, of course, does not come cheap; it requires keeping the firm's outlets staffed with an army of service professionals. Nordstrom's profit margins are thin as a result.
But they're consistently in the black. Investors like that sort of performance and have rewarded the company accordingly. Following a financial crisis-era dip, the share price has risen determinedly from a low of around $11 to the current level of over $77.
Travelers to Jet City
With its numerous advantages and corporate success stories, Seattle continues to attract ambitious companies. Today's up-and-comers might end up as tomorrow's blue chips if they negotiate their businesses well.
One current Seattleite bears an out-of-state name -- Alaska Air (NYSE:ALK), considered to be one of the better non-incumbent airlines in the U.S. Its ability to grow revenues and profitability in a tough business against bigger determined incumbents has made it popular among investors, with its stock more than tripling in value since late 2012.
Continuing in the tradition of Amazon and Nordstrom in locally based retail is zulily (NASDAQ: ZU), an apparel and accessories purveyor that concentrates on the market for young and growing families. zulily itself is youthful, having launched its site in 2010 and gone public in 2013. As such, it's only recently started to hit annual profitability, on the back of sharp revenue growth.
And those young bucks will soon have company in the wannabe-blue chip sphere. Online travel conglomerate Expedia, recently fattened by a series of acquisitions, announced it'll make an Amazon-like move from Bellevue to Seattle by 2018.
It's getting crowded in the Emerald City. The busy metropolis on Puget Sound continues to be a hub for well-established companies, and other enterprises working hard to get to that stage.