Gregoire discusses COVID, chronic homelessness and more at Rotary meeting

Former Washington state governor heads Challenge Seattle.

Challenging and rewarding is how former Washington state governor Christine Gregoire described her seven-plus years as chief executive officer of Challenge Seattle.

Speaking virtually at the Rotary Club of Mercer Island’s Sept. 21 meeting, Gregoire discussed how her alliance of CEOs from 21 of the region’s largest private-sector employers are tackling the issues of COVID 19, chronic homelessness, racial equity, education and more.

Challenge Seattle has made itself known as a provider of civic leadership and engagement, she added.

During her presentation, “Ensuring the Seattle Area Continues to Thrive,” Gregoire said that all these issues are addressable if everyone works together as a community and, “If we all think big and bold, if we all look out to the future and if we look, quite frankly, at others and their successes and where appropriate — bring it home.”

When COVID hit, Challenge Seattle gathered for an emergency meeting and established a public-private partnership with Seattle/King County and the state as they worked to make personal protective equipment available and much more. Two of its corporations, Amazon and Microsoft, had employees start working remotely at the outset.

In January of 2021, they met with Gov. Jay Inslee and the Department of Health and assembled a command center to develop mass-vaccination capability that was then nonexistent. People around the country took notice of that crucial public-private partnership.

“There have been several articles written about it. Fortune ranked it the most important public-private partnership in the country. New York Times said thousands of lives could have been saved if this is how the rest of the country had reacted,” Gregoire said.

On the issue of chronic homelessness, Gregoire said that after Challenge Seattle conducted immense research, they submitted a report to the Legislature that highlighted what needs to be implemented: emergency housing with services; a command center dedicated to chronic homelessness; employment of the most qualified caseworkers; and a focus on transparency, accountability and evaluation for taking corrective measures where it’s necessary.

“The problem is growing exponentially everywhere in the state and cries out for help,” she said.

Challenge Seattle has partnered with Washington Roundtable to establish Washington Employers for Racial Equity, an organization that includes more than 80 CEOs and 12 sponsor organizations.

They are focused on establishing and sustaining an inclusive workplace; calling for demonstrable progress in hiring, promotion, leadership and compensation that’s equitable for Black workers; supplier diversity; and support for Black-owned businesses. Gregoire and her organization have committed to a stretch goal of investing $2 billion in support of racial equity over the next five years.

On the education front, they have worked closely with students, teachers and principals to show them the work atmosphere, how to provide real-life classroom lessons and how to boost their leadership skills when challenges arise.

“Whatever you like, whatever you dream about, whatever your hobby (is), there’s employment for you here locally,” Gregoire said of the students, who will need the necessary skills and education in order to qualify for jobs.

Rotary president Jenny McCloskey was grateful for Gregoire’s robust presentation and encouraged attendees to delve into the multiple layers of vital information on the Challenge Seattle website at

“We are very thankful that you were the governor, and I know it’s a transition to work with private and public and it’s great that you’re heading such an organization like Challenge Seattle,” she said.