Are you still basking in the glow of Tacoma’s ranking as the No. 5 best town in America, according to the August issue of Outside magazine? Well, hold onto your party hat, because Inc., the magazine for entrepreneurs, thinks Tacomans live in a hot town, too.
In its 2008 list of best U.S. cities for doing business, Inc. ranks Tacoma No. 2 among midsize cities and No. 14 among all U.S. cities.
Last year Inc. ranked Tacoma No. 50 overall among more than 330 cities.
“You’re pretty well off” in the greater Tacoma area, said Joel Kotkin, the executive editor of newgeography.com, which conducted the research-and-ranking analysis for Inc.
In a week when Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke lamented to Congress about a U.S. economy pummeled by a housing slump, credit turmoil, stock market plunge, and high energy and food prices, hearing that we live in an area that’s “pretty well off” economically should come as pretty good news.
Other Washington cities also fared well on Inc.’s list – Bellingham ranked No. 18 overall and No. 14 among small cities; Kennewick-Pasco-Richland ranked No. 23 overall and No. 16 among small cities, and Olympia ranked No. 27 overall and No. 20 among small cities.
And yet … lest our collective Northwest heads grow too big, consider that hotshot cities in Florida and California – from the top of Inc.’s past best for business lists – figuratively fell off the face of the earth.
“Florida’s dropping like a stone, and to a certain extent California, has created a lot of room at the top for all sorts of places,” Kotkin said.
States that rocketed to the top of the nation’s economic ladder on the sole strength of their construction industry and real estate growth have plummeted to the lowest rungs now that the housing bubble has burst and the credit markets continue to dry up.
What about us in the Northwest?
“Because you came to the housing bubble late,” Kotkin said, the (housing) prices didn’t jump the way California’s did or Arizona’s did or Florida’s did.
“You could say, ‘You don’t have as bad a hangover, because you didn’t drink as much.’”
So we shouldn’t get drunk with pride then?
“There’s a certain amount of luck to (ranking high on the list) – being in the right place at the right time, not going into the housing bubble early, being on the Pacific Rim with the benefits of international trade,” he said. “But it’s not just that everyone else screwed up. You’ve actually done very well.”
The newgeography.com assessment looks at long-term and short-term economic data – 10-year and five-year trend analyses and a rolling, three-month analysis.
However you slice Tacoma, it looks mighty good.
Job growth across all sectors, relatively affordable housing stock, low hydroelectric energy prices, diverse economic base, international trade growth, mild climate, all indicate Tacoma has “struck a very good balance,” Kotkin said.
Why did Seattle-Bellevue-Everett grade so low comparatively – at No. 55 overall?
Kotkin says middle-sized “ring cities” outside the major metropolis in a region tend to grade out higher as more livable and have gained ground in job growth as employers seek less congested, more affordable places to do business in areas that appeal to families.
Core cities such as Seattle, San Francisco and New York trend toward expensive “childless playgrounds” that seek a label as hip and cool but don’t welcome families or the lower working class.
What if Tacoma wants a little hip and cool without sacrificing its spot on the list?
“Have a strong economy and people will open jazz clubs and hip boutiques because the money’s there,” Kotkin said.
We should feel good about where we live. The double dose of unbiased praise and high rankings from an outdoorsy magazine for active men and a business magazine for entrepreneurs proves the Tacoma area has broad appeal – for now.
Given the shake-up in the rankings between 2007 and 2008 and uncertainty about the future, Kotkin offered a bit of advice for us who live today in an enviable part of the country: “Enjoy it while you can.”
Dan Voelpel: 253-597-8785