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Originally published July 24, 2009 at 3:59 PM | Page modified July 24, 2009 at 8:01 PM

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If Microsoft falters, who will step up?

The drop in revenues at Microsoft should not have been a surprise to Wall Street. There is a recession on, a nasty one, and Microsoft is too big to dodge a thing like that. Microsoft is still strong. Still, if Microsoft ceases growing, who is ready to take its place in the Puget Sound region?

THE drop in revenues at Microsoft should not have been a surprise to Wall Street or anyone. There is a recession on, a nasty one, and Microsoft is too big to dodge a thing like that. The company said six months ago it was beginning layoffs. That was the warning.

Microsoft is still strong. The report that spooked investors showed a drop in revenues of only 3 percent, and a profit margin on the remaining business of 23 cents on the dollar. That is still a fabulous profit. Yet at the moment, Microsoft is not growing.

The Seattle area has relied heavily on Microsoft to employ a whole generation of its smartest citizens — and noncitizens — at good pay. If it ceases growing, who is ready to take its place?

The other corporate pillar hereabout, Boeing, has been sending signals that it may set up a second 787 line in South Carolina. It is not the first time Boeing has talked about putting work elsewhere, and if it opened a line in a right-to-work state, most of its commercial airplane work would still be here for a long time.

Much of the reaction to Boeing's statement has been ho-hum, as if Boeing were just making threats to extract more from politicians and unions.

It would be too bad if people woke up one morning and found that company meant what it said.

The obvious question: If Boeing ceases to put its new manufacturing here, who is ready to take its place?

If Boeing and Microsoft both stop growing, who is ready to take both their places?

This area has a third enterprise, not all under one corporate ownership. It is the maritime enterprise, particularly ocean shipping. That enterprise has also been shrinking. And there are reasons to worry about Puget Sound's maritime position in the long run.

Start with new container ports in northern British Columbia and in Mexico's Baja California. Also the planned widening of the Panama Canal. Also bottlenecks in our century-old rail network. Also the political idea that trade should not stand on its own, but be made subordinate to domestic (read: Eastern and Southern) politicians.

If Boeing and Microsoft and ocean shipping stop growing here, who is ready to take all their places?

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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