Seattle Week In Review: The Whole Everything Store, Yes, All of It

In 20 years, which of these two Jeff Bezos-related announcements this week will have had a bigger impact: The $13.7 billion deal for Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN) to acquire high-end grocer Whole Foods Market (NASDAQ: WFM) or Bezos’ stepped-up philanthropic ambitions, indicated by a tweet Thursday requesting ideas for how to give away his money ($84.8 billion, as of midday Friday, according to the Forbes real-time billionaires list—the market liked the acquisition news)?

While you’re thinking about that, we’ll also review the surfeit of Seattle-area tech news this week, including a hot take on the role an individual Whole Foods store might have played in the big deal; an interesting patent granted to Amazon that bricks-and-mortar retailers would probably love to see; a national apprenticeship push with a potential model in Washington state; funding for startups Xealth and Pivotal Commware; a new lawsuit against the Trump administration from Washington state’s attorney general; and a milestone for renewable energy.

—For some Seattleites, the Amazon-Whole Foods acquisition has an element of historical-geographic resonance, perhaps even inevitability.

Before Amazon moved its corporate headquarters to South Lake Union—and now the adjacent Denny Triangle—the neighborhood was a collection of shabby old warehouses and commercial laundries, vestiges of a different Seattle. The change was coming, as it always is. But for me, working then at The Seattle Times, which is still based in the neighborhood, the bright line dividing that past era from our modern one of mid-rise tech offices, gleaming glass condo towers, and everything else that characterizes new Seattle was the arrival of the Whole Foods on the corner of Westlake Avenue and Denny Way, celebrated with a “bread-breaking” ceremony on Nov. 8, 2006.

This amenity signaled the direction of this neighborhood and the city around it as clearly as anything else (particularly with the benefit of hindsight). I enjoyed spending part of my whole paycheck on lunch and groceries there, from time to time.

You could argue that this particular Whole Foods store was integral to the $13.7 billion acquisition ($42 a share, all cash) of the 39-year-old Austin, TX-based chain. Which store do you think Amazon executives visited most frequently as they sought to reinvent the grocery business and contemplated this historic bet? I’ll bet you a can of 365 Everyday Value Pumpkin Puree it was the one at 2200 Westlake.

—Can you get that pumpkin cheaper on Amazon? The commerce giant was awarded a patent on technology to guard against showrooming, the practice of using a mobile device to comparison-shop online while in a bricks-and-mortar retailer. (Can we start calling them concrete-and-glass retailers?) See this report from The Verge.

—Amazon is one of the companies working with Apprenti, a new registered apprenticeship program for the tech industry from the Washington Technology Industry Association. This week, the Trump Administration sought to encourage apprenticeships as a way to help people find careers. Apprenti, which is in the process of expanding to two more states this year, looks like a perfect fit. Here’s our coverage and Trump’s executive order directing a bunch of federal agencies to do more to encourage apprenticeships—without increasing funding for them.

—Funding for a couple of interesting new Seattle-area companies this week:

Bill Gates, Still the Richest™, invested in the latest startup to come out of Intellectual Ventures. Pivotal Commware raised $17 million to commercialize metamaterials for use in terrestrial communications.

Xealth raised $8.5 million from DFJ and several hospital customers, including Providence Health & Services, where it was incubated, for a platform to help physicians prescribe digital health services and devices.

—To round things out, here are a couple of energy headlines:

Washington state’s top lawyer, Bob Ferguson, joined 10 other state attorney generals in suing the Trump administration’s Energy Department over slow-walking new standards for energy efficiency. The standards for industrial equipment such as boilers, compressors, coolers, and power supplies, were finalized in December, according to Ferguson’s office.

“The Trump Administration has no legal right to stand in the way of these important standards,” Ferguson said in a news release. “The benefits to consumers and the environment are too important to allow the Trump Administration to block these standards.”

Meanwhile, wind turbines and solar panels generated a record 10 percent of all U.S. electricity in March, according to the Energy Information Administration. In 2016, wind and solar accounted for 7 percent of U.S. electricity generation, but in several states—North Dakota, Texas, California, Iowa, Oklahoma, and Kansas—they produced 20 percent or more of the electricity used last year.

Benjamin Romano is editor of Xconomy Seattle. Email him at bromano [at] xconomy.com. Follow @bromano

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