It’s going to be a big week for Tacoma.
Sure, we get a mention in that Steve Miller song. And we’ll always have Ted Bundy. And, recently, Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo started calling out our name at the line of scrimmage … at least before he broke his collarbone over the weekend.
But it’s not every day that the president of China comes to town.
That’s exactly what we have to look forward to Wednesday, when China’s Xi Jinping will come to Grit City, and specifically Lincoln High School, as part of a visit to the state.
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Of course, Xi will be cordial enough to humor Seattle and Bill Gates with a bit of his time during the Pacific Northwest portion of his U.S. jaunt, but T-Town obviously holds a warm place in his heart. I guess that’s one of the benefits of the sister-city relationship we’ve enjoyed with Fuzhou since 1994.
So just how big of a deal is Xi’s visit for Tacoma?
On a scale of one to 10, Mayor Marilyn Strickland described it as an 11.
You’d expect nothing less from a mayor who spent months working behind the scenes, with plenty of others, to help make Xi’s Tacoma stop a reality. Clandestine meetings and tea dates go back to as early as April, the mayor tells me. The first sign that making it happen was a real possibility came over the summer, when Xi’s people reached out to Lincoln Principal Pat Erwin.
While initially Strickland says she figured getting Xi to Tacoma was a long shot, she says “it got real,” when U.S. Secret Service agents accompanied a delegation from China to Tacoma over the summer.
“I’m not going to sit here and try to take full credit for what’s happening,” Strickland explained, citing a relationship with China that’s decades in the making. “Everything just aligned. And the opportunity was here for us.”
Quantifying what this moment in history will mean for Tacoma — in the long run — is a difficult proposition.
“I don’t know that we have specific metrics (to judge the trip by), but think about the folks who have visited Tacoma in the last 20 years, and the level of prestige they have. This is the second most powerful man on the planet,” Strickland said. “One of the things that I have really worked hard to do is to raise (Tacoma’s) profile. This definitely does that.”
In terms of name recognition, the news of Xi’s planned trip to Tacoma has been very good for such efforts. Google alerts at City Hall have apparently been working overtime. Just two days after the visit was announced Strickland told me “nearly 400” news outlets had picked up the story with “some mention of Tacoma.”
Since that time the mayor says she’s done “no less than a dozen” interviews with media outlets across the country and China.
“Our PR department is giddy,” Strickland said.
Evidence of what we’ll call the “Xi Bump” can be found in prominent publications like the Wall Street Journal, which ran a lengthy story last week on the motivations behind the Chinese president’s visit, including describing Tacoma as an “industrial port city” that has benefited from “an influx of Chinese investment in recent years.”
Specifically, the Wall Street Journal article cited the EB-5 program, which grants residency to foreign investors who use their money to create U.S. jobs.
The fruits of the program, the paper argues, can be found in recent development projects like the proposed 24-story, 300-room hotel tower next to the Greater Tacoma Convention & Trade Center that Yareton Investment and Management LLC is currently working on, as well as the Foremost Dairies building renovation at South 25th Street and Pacific Avenue.
Michael Fowler, who consults Tacoma on trade and investment with China, told the WSJ that he’s “expecting that our EB-5 projects will get a boost because people will take notice of Tacoma.”
That’s all well and good, and rosy projections — to be taken with a grain of salt — come with the uncharted territory this visit puts Tacoma in. But the truth of the matter is we really won’t know what impact Xi’s time in Tacoma will have on our fair city for years to come. It could be good for business. It could be good for tourism. It could mean more Chinese students come here to study.
We just don’t know.
Strickland did say that during a recent interview with a Chinese news outlet she was told that all of China’s 1.4 billion people will be watching the trip closely, and after Xi’s last U.S. visit in 2012, “everyone in China suddenly wanted to visit Iowa.”
Nothing against Iowa, but you’d have to figure that bodes well for us.