A few pieces of advice for Tacoma's new economic development guy

contributing writerAugust 19, 2012 

Tacoma has a new community and economic development director – Ricardo Noguera, most recently holding a similar post in Visalia, Calif. He starts his new job Sept. 10.

One might at this point raise the question of whether the city actually needs an economic development department, given the existence of an Economic Development Board for Tacoma-Pierce County and a Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber and a Tacoma Regional Convention & (sorry, +) Visitor Bureau. If it does, the line of questioning might continue, what are its point of differentiation and its level of communication and cooperation with those other entities?

But why be churlish when the guy hasn’t even had a chance to see if the pens left in the desk by the last guy still have ink in them? Instead, in the spirit of a warm Northwest welcome, we offer a traditional gift of unsolicited advice:

 • Even if you never bring a single new job to Tacoma, you will still earn the public’s undying gratitude by pledging never to hire a single consultant for the purpose of drafting a sweeping redevelopment vision, heavy on the rainbows and unicorns, that consumes time, energy and money and is instantly shelved and forgotten before the ink is dry. For an illustration of what not to do, review the recent umpteenth visionary report on redeveloping Seattle’s waterfront, which mainly caused the development of widespread snickering and eye-rolling. Yes, Tacoma is in the midst of the umpteenth planning exercise on what do to about downtown – but you’re inheriting that one.

 • Speaking of rainbows and unicorns, dismiss all use of the words “world class” from your planning efforts. For that matter, dismiss from your attention anyone who uses the words “world class” except in an ironic fashion. True world-class status is hard to come by. Truly world-class cities don’t need to be told that they are. Seattle is not and is in no danger of becoming a world-class city (shh, don’t tell them that). It could become a really good largish American city. Tacoma isn’t going to become a world-class city, but it can become a really good mid-sized American city, one that its citizens enjoy living in and businesses want to move to.

 • Speaking of Seattle, you will no doubt be introduced on your first day to an unceasing drone about regional cooperation and how it’s counterproductive to steal businesses from other cities (unless, of course, it’s Russell). Ignore this talk. In fact, make judicious poaching a part of your economic development strategy. The fight over the Sodo arena, coupled with other city government actions, has revived the feeling among many industrial businesses in that area that they’d be better off somewhere else. Why not make that somewhere else this place?

 • Not that poaching is the only economic-development tool at your disposal. A huge component of success in your new posting is recognizing the attributes Tacoma has – and for all the carping you may hear in this town, Tacoma has quite a few to work with – and leveraging those for business growth and job creation.

We’ve kicked around more than a few ideas for growth in this space: Amateur sports. The Museum District as an anchor for tourism. The cluster of higher-ed institutions. The port as a draw for shipping and logistics companies. The military bases and the expertise held by those leaving the military for civilian ventures. The aerospace cluster. The cluster of companies in composites and other technologically advanced manufacturing sectors.

You could do a lot worse than to start with a base like that to work with. Make something of it and the community might even hold off on the unkind words about the need for your office – for a few months anyway,

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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