Celebrating 120 years of employer advocacy


In 1904, the ice cream cone was invented, the United States began construction of the Panama Canal, and a group of employers came together in Seattle to form the Citizens’ Alliance, which later became known as the Association of Washington Business (AWB).

Over the years, AWB has grown to become the largest and oldest statewide business association representing all industries in every part of the state. We’ve seen Washington employers through good times and bad, witnessed tremendous booms in population and the birth of entirely new industries, from aviation to high tech.

Now, as we commemorate 120 years of advocacy on behalf of Washington employers, we’re looking back at major milestones, not just in our history but in the history of our members — the employers who have built and shaped our economy, our communities and our lives.

The association got its start in downtown Seattle’s old Lumber Exchange Building, but within a few years it was clear the mission to serve employers went beyond the city. In 1911, the association changed its name to the Employers Association of Washington to reflect the expanding scope.

Over the next few decades, it continued to grow and expand. In 1944, near the end of the second World War, the association merged with the state’s manufacturers association and changed its name to the Association of Washington Industries. Eighty years later, we continue to serve as both the state chamber of commerce and the state manufacturers association.

In 1967, the association moved its headquarters from Seattle to Olympia and two years later changed its name one final time, becoming the Association of Washington Business.

From the beginning, the member companies that comprised AWB and its predecessor organizations saw value in banding together to advance their cause. Through two world wars, two global pandemics, the Great Depression and Great Recession — and countless advances in technology — our mission and vision has proven remarkably consistent.

Today, AWB’s mission is articulated as being a “catalytic voice and unifying voice for economic prosperity throughout Washington state.” That’s not too far removed from the mission and vision during any previous era, and yet our daily lives couldn’t be more different.

Who could have imagined in 1904 what life in Washington would look like in 2024? And who could have predicted the central role our state would play in the daily lives of people all over the world? 

Every day, people wake up with Starbucks coffee. They log onto a computer running Microsoft’s operating system. They go online at Amazon and elsewhere to order products that are flown throughout the world on Boeing airplanes and delivered to doorsteps by UPS, a company founded in Seattle a few years after AWB began. 

Anyone can have a “Washington Day,” not just those of us who are fortunate to call the state home.

People all over the globe shop at grocery stores full of Washington crops shipped in trucks built by PACCAR, a company founded shortly after AWB got its start. They look for houses on Zillow and book vacations on Expedia. And they enjoy beer made with Washington-grown hops and wine made from Washington grapes. 

Looking back at 120 years of history, we are grateful not only for the ice cream cone and the Panama Canal, but also for the privilege of working alongside the state’s employers, helping them advocate for policies to strengthen the economy and create the conditions that would one day result in people all over the world waking up to a great “Washington Day.”

— Kris Johnson is president of the Association of Washington Business, the state’s chamber of commerce and manufacturers association.