At Cascade Designs, just south of downtown Seattle, something new is coming off the shop floor: a compact, no-frills water purifier designed to bring clean water to struggling populations in rural Africa.
The device, able to chlorinate water by the 55-gallon drum, was designed with help from several big nonprofits, including one funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the world’s largest private philanthropy, and the United States military. And it is an example, in its mix of altruistic and profit-seeking motives, of how fortunes earned a generation ago at Microsoft, the computer software giant, are still shaping economic life here.
Microsoft, co-founded by Mr. Gates and Paul G. Allen, put Seattle on the map as a tech-rich city before the boom of dot-coms. Mr. Gates and Mr. Allen then took some of the billions they made and, starting in the early to mid-2000s, set out to work on global health at the Gates Foundation, and fundamental science in cell and brain research at the Allen Institute.
The result: In trying to change the world, they are also changing their backyard. Their causes, such as clean water, sanitation and health, are spawning a new ecosystem of global health care companies, research institutes and academic expertise at places like the University of Washington.
A study sponsored last year by the Washington Global Health Alliance said that global health–a mix of research, logistics and manufacturing–now accounts for more than 12,000 jobs in Washington state and nearly $6 billion in economic activity. In addition, there are growing networks of second-generation, nonprofit leaders who were schooled at the Gates Foundation or Allen Institute, and have now filtered out to form a kind of self-reinforcing army. Seattle is first in the nation in private foundation revenue per capita, according to the Urban Institute, with two and a half times the amount of the No. 2 city, San Francisco, where philanthropic technology wealth has also soared.