We don’t have to be at the mercy of challenges

contributing writerFebruary 5, 2012 

The saying “everyone talks about the weather but nobody does anything about it” is as applicable, and potentially misleading, in community economic development as it is in meteorology.

It is true we cannot summon sun at our whim, but we certainly can do something about the weather’s effects – like getting out of the rain, or at least wearing the right gear if you have to be outside.

Similarly, there’s not a lot we can do about many of the economic conditions that affect us as individuals and as a community.

The Port of Tacoma is an important economic presence, but we don’t have much control over the global macroeconomic forces that determine how much container traffic is moving through it.

The economy rises and falls – mostly the latter lately – on housing, but there’s not a lot we can do to hurry the resolution of that industry’s debacle. Not until the inventory of foreclosed homes is reduced, and not until the economy improves to the point that people feel more comfortable about buying homes, should we expect housing to no longer be a drag on the economy, much less a significant contributor to growth.

Then again, not all of the economic weather that lands on us is bad. Pierce County stands to gain from production rate increases at Boeing, but it’s not as though we have a lot to do with the state of the market for passenger jets.

The larger point that sometimes gets lost is that, on a local level, we’re not powerless to avoid the rain.

So as we move into the second month of 2012, let’s run through a checklist of what’s going on at the local level. There are encouraging signs already that the community is not waiting for skies to clear.

We’ll start with a theme harped on several times in this space, the idea of Tacoma as an amateur sports center to bring in events and visitors from around the Northwest or even the country.

The inaugural Let’s Play Sports Fest, put together by Tacoma South Sound Sports (the former Tacoma-Pierce County Sports Commission), may have had as a primary goal getting the community acquainted with the wealth of participatory activities available locally. But it’s also one more piece in a broader marketing effort to establish some mind-share that Tacoma has the facilities, and interest, in landing amateur sports events.

This paper, and this column, recently noted the efforts by several local colleges to build the Tacoma College Entrepreneur Network. The organization itself will be a major contributor to the community if it can foster an entrepreneurial environment in town and generate businesses. But it’s also significant for what it shows in the potential for Tacoma’s colleges and universities to cooperate on academics, arts and culture, research and marketing, all with the goal of promoting Tacoma as a college town (something that Seattle, despite having three locally based universities, has done little with).

Then there’s the big-ticket item of 2012 – the opening of the LeMay museum.

It’s no trick getting throngs out for opening weekend, especially for an attraction that initially promises to be as popular as the LeMay. The challenge is to keep people coming back, and staying for the art, history, glass and children’s museums, plus whatever else we might have downtown. For all the talk of a Museum District, Tacoma will need to redouble (retriple?) its efforts to build and market such a district.

These alone won’t carry the regional economy. But a handful of shingles doesn’t make a roof, either; what Tacoma does to develop these small sectors could in combination provide a decent shelter when economic storms developing elsewhere threaten to unload on us.

Bill Virgin is editor and publisher of Washington Manufacturing Alert and Pacific Northwest Rail News. He can be reached at bill.virgin@yahoo.com.

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