South Sound leaders made their case for Tacoma to Russell Investments on Monday – including offering more than $140 million in government funding – as part of their months-long effort to keep the finance company downtown.
Russell, the largest company in the city’s core, is on the hunt for a larger headquarters and has indicated it could end up anywhere from A Street, where it’s operated for 20 years, to the shores of Seattle’s Lake Union.
Members of the Tacoma Partnership said they outlined a host of local benefits in a 90-minute presentation made at Russell’s offices, from tax breaks to money saved on not relocating workers to becoming part of a hoped-for revitalization. Among those participating in the Partnership’s pitch: Congressman Norm Dicks, D-Belfair, City Manager Eric Anderson, and Bruce Kendall, CEO of the Economic Development Board of Tacoma-Pierce County.
Several members of the Tacoma Partnership, previously called Project Destiny, discussed the proposal later in the day at a News Tribune editorial board meeting. Anderson emphasized that while the plan is tailored to Russell, it has wide-ranging goals vital to remaking downtown, whether or not the investment company remains.
Kendall likened the morning Russell pitch to convincing The Boeing Co. to assemble the 787 in Western Washington.
“We’re feeling good about how it went,” Kendall said.
Russell spokeswoman Jennifer Tice declined to comment on the group’s presentation. Russell executives did not give the Tacoma Partnership an answer or a firm date on when they’ll make a decision.
Prized not just for its size, Russell is coveted for its high-paid work force, the cachet such a renowned international player brings to the downtown, and its civic and philanthropic involvement.
Today, Russell’s more than 1,100 Tacoma workers are spread across four downtown buildings, with no room to expand.
The Tacoma Partnership on Monday proposed establishing a several-block zone downtown, called an International Financial Services Area, to focus a proposed collection of improvements, including new landscaping, storm drain updates and more public art. The city would build satellite parking near the Tacoma Dome.
City funding would total $65 million, in addition to $54 million from the state and $24 million in federal funding.
“It’s our best strategy for developing downtown in a way that fulfills that dream of a vibrant business environment, connected to residential, hotels and restaurants,” Anderson said.
City business and occupation taxes would be eliminated citywide for certain companies doing international business. And companies meeting certain criteria that build a headquarters in the downtown’s federal empowerment zone would not pay sales tax on construction of a new building.
“This is something we would do with or without Russell,” Anderson said.
Additionally, the group outlined $5 million for education and economic development. About $1 million is dedicated to a new staff position at the Economic Development Board to recruit businesses to the International Financial Services Area. The position, to be funded by the board, could be filled in two to six months. The other $4 million would need to be raised and could go for items such as contributing to the endowment of a chair at University of Washington Tacoma, Kendall said.
Gov. Chris Gregoire also has said she’ll contribute $700,000 to efforts to retain Russell in Tacoma from an economic development account funded by unclaimed state lottery winnings.
When comparing an expansion in Tacoma with other potential sites, Kendall estimated that Russell and its employees could save $134 million over a decade in various ways, including workers not driving farther from their current homes, the city’s cheaper electricity and not paying to relocate employees.
Three downtown sites were included in Monday’s presentation, though Kendall said the group has no opinion on which is better – as long as it’s in Tacoma. Kendall expects the EDB to spend $150,000 putting together the Tacoma Partnership proposal.
Columbia Bank President Melanie Dressel, also a member of the Tacoma Partnership, said the group can feel good about what it put on the table for Russell.
“This is a business decision for them. The presentation gave them the opportunity to say it’s in their best interest to stay in Tacoma,” she said.
Devona Wells: 253-597-8652