A major upgrade is underway for the Puget Sound’s tech economy. Nearly a decade after they first arrived in 2004, tech giant Google has officially launched its most dramatic expansion in the area to date. In a Thursday ceremony featuring high-profile speakers, including Congresswoman Suzan DelBene, Google broke ground on an enormous, sleekly modern new facility in Kirkland. When completed in 2015, the 180,000 square foot building will double the company’s footprint in the area, as well as its staff.
Google currently employs about 1000 people between its Kirkland and Seattle offices. The new facility will allow Google to hire nearly 1,000 more.
“This area gives us access to some world-class talent, whether it’s from University of Washington, or from people who want to move here because it’s a good place to live,” said Chee Chew, Google’s Kirkland Campus director. “Today means more opportunity and more jobs.”
Kirkland Mayor Joan McBride was visibly giddy at the ceremony, asking if she should dance around with her Google-branded shovel, and gushing about Google’s outreach to local neighborhood groups. Her comments provided a glimpse at what it took to get to this point, something she elaborated on after the ceremony.
“Some neighborhood groups were pretty concerned about the congestion this could cause on some streets,” McBride said. “Google has spoken very carefully with them, and they’ve made adjustments. Googlers are a big part of the community at this point. They live in our neighborhoods, visit our restaurants and get involved. One is on our human services commission. They’ve worked shoulder to shoulder with our City Council and neighborhoods to make this happen.”
Google’s facility is located only a few miles from Microsoft’s Redmond campus, the originator of Puget Sound’s tech ecosystem. Some have seen the expansion as a not-so-subtle attempt to attract talent away from its competitor. Congresswoman DelBene, a former VP at Microsoft and one of the company’s most high-profile alumni, brushed aside such concerns.
“A competitive environment is a healthy one,” said DelBene. “Google has had an impact of $3.5 billion on our state economy. Anything that can expand our region’s already strong tech presence is a good thing.”
In its quest to attract the top minds in tech, Google is known for creating a workplace that employees never want to leave. A tour of Google’s existing three-building facility does not disappoint in this regard. Climbing walls, massage chairs and coffee tables featuring Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots are all on clear display, and the aromas from gourmet cafeterias beat many upscale restaurants.
Seating straight out of Dwell Magazine is arranged throughout the buildings, each of which is decorated to honor a different aspect of local culture. The “transportation” building features Boeing imagery throughout, while concert posters litter the walls of the “rock” building, which has meeting rooms named for Nirvana, Sleater-Kinney, Temple of the Dog and just about any other notable Northwestern band you could name.
Photo credit: Drew Atkins
While the new building’s perks haven’t been detailed yet, architectural renderings depict long, curved walls, a big front lawn and a green roof space with views of Lake Washington.
Google's proposed new office building in Kirkland. Image: DLR Group.
According to Dave Tomson of Spokane-based SRM Development, which is overseeing the facility’s construction, this new Google building will honor a different aspect of local culture: its environmentalist tradition.
“The goal is to build this to the standards of LEED Gold,” Tomson said, referring to the rating system for how environmentally friendly a building is. “If we can, we’ll make it LEED Platinum. It’d be one of only a handful of buildings in the state to reach that. It’s important to Google that they’re perceived as leading the way to being carbon neutral.”
At the ceremony, speakers praised Google not only for its economic impact on the area, but also for its efforts to become a part of the Puget Sound community. As one of the first tech giants to open satellite offices in the Puget Sound, Google paved the way for the likes of Facebook to venture into the area. While Google has been been expanding ever since – adding new buildings to its Kirkland campus and bringing an office in Fremont online – the groundbreaking was high on symbolic value.
Similar to Amazon’s expansion in Seattle, the signal it sends is crystal clear: We’re here to stay.
Photos by Drew Atkins