From the Field: Korea’s Economy is Strong, but Sluggish

Stephen Gerritson
Vice President, Economic Development
Council of Seattle and King County
Chair, CleanTech Alliance Board of Directors

Governor Jay Inslee is currently leading a trade mission to Korea and Japan to expand exports, attract inbound investments and promote Washington State as a great place to do business. Stephen Gerritson is on the road with Governor Inslee, and offered the following report from Korea. Read his Japan report here.

Korea enjoyed 7% to 8% economic growth rates in the not-too-distant past when it was one of the "Four Tigers." Today, however, the economy is sluggish due in part to an aging population, a declining birth rate and the lack of demand for its exports in China and Japan, its major trading partners. Sluggish does not mean weak, though. Demand for consumer goods (particularly western goods) is strong, and there is a lot of disposable income here.

Today we met with three U.S. companies with a presence in Korea that are doing quite well – Boeing, Costco and Microsoft.

  • Boeing both sells to Korea and buys from Korean companies (there are Korean components on every plane that Boeing builds).
  • Costco has 11 stores and a warehouse here, and membership is growing fast enough that several more outlets are planned. Many of the goods sold at Costco in Korea are locally made as well.
  • And Microsoft is, well, Microsoft. The company’s operating system and software sell well, as do all of their gaming products, and they are rapidly moving into cloud computing.

The general consensus is that Korea is a market that continues to hold great potential for U.S. companies, particularly now that the bilateral trade agreement is in effect. There were at least six Starbucks within walking distance of our hotel, and a few Chevrolets and Fords amongst the Kias and Hyundais on the highways.

This wraps up the Korean leg of our mission. Tonight we arrived in Kobe, Japan.

Contact Stephen Gerritson or visit the Economic Development Council of Seattle and King County's website to learn more about the trade mission to Korea and Japan, and how Washington State cleantech companies can expand exports, attract investors and generate foreign partnerships.