Business Columns & Blogs

Tacoma, Boeing and scammers all fuel the fire for hot-button topics

In this season of reflection and contemplation, we pause to consider the topics discussed in this space in 2013, secure in the knowledge that, whatever else befalls us, we will never run out of ideas for columns, not so long as there is:

Tacoma. In our continuing campaign of offering helpful, unsolicited advice for economic self-improvement, whether the city wants or welcomes it, we have discussed everything from amateur sports (a continuing theme) to the need for a local travel show to the Tacoma Dome to State Farm’s move downtown to the port.

Tacoma is in an interesting place right now. The national and regional economies, if not exactly robust, are at least not in freefall, a condition prevalent for some industries in the housing-led recession of half a decade ago. The city has scored some nice wins in recent months of long-discussed projects finally moving, of companies investing here for new facilities or expansions of existing facilities.

If none of those projects represents a huge attention-grabbing headline of landing, say, a new aircraft assembly plant (although State Farm might come close for its importance to downtown), neither has Tacoma recently endured the sort of kick-in-the-gut loss of losing, say, a major aircraft assembly plant. Not to be too Pollyannish about it, but a lot of little wins, and preserving the wins and gains it has already accumulated, is better for long-term economic vitality than betting everything on one huge win.

That suits Tacoma better. So does getting comfortable with the notion that Tacoma isn’t Seattle, and that’s a good thing, too. Seattle will get what it gets, like Amazon’s near-maniacal hunger for office real estate, almost without trying. Those differences play to Tacoma’s advantage; with real estate prices being bid up, the likelihood of luring another Russell to Seattle with cheap office space diminishes.

Tacoma’s success will depend on its ability to carve out its own niche in developing its own identity, its own specialties (what can it do in the realm of water technology, for example), its own advantages (the port, industrial lands and freight mobility), while reducing or counterbalancing the negatives (come up with a model of governmental operation that looks good by comparison with Seattle’s sounds like a low bar to clear). The ideas are there; coordination and execution of them is the tough part. Not that that’s news for Tacoma. To quote the lead on the column written immediately after the State Farm announcement, “It’s never easy for this town, is it?”

Especially not when you consider what’s happening with ...

Boeing. Given the whiplash-inducing turns over the last two months in the 777X saga, saying with certainty that the plane will be built elsewhere carries the whiff of a fool’s errand. Still, for Boeing to go through this exercise of soliciting bids from other states only to give the work to Everett, it would have to tacitly make two embarrassing admissions: That the financial concessions it demanded from the IAM weren’t so critical after all, and that it doesn’t have confidence in its ability to get a new site up and running and producing the plane on time for customers (in other words, not repeating the 787 debacle).

What are the odds on that?

Our own little corner of the world has a lot at stake in this, from the employees who work at Boeing facilities in Pierce and King counties to the Frederickson plant and its role in the 777X to the network of machine shops, components manufacturers and other vendors who supply Boeing. We also have virtually no say or influence on the parties involved, as various politicians are discovering. Even more disconcerting is the long-term trend, fueled by a series of announcements made in 2013, of Boeing moving work to and making expansion plans for other locations; the 777X is merely a part of and potential accelerant to that trend.

Boeing is a major component of news in this region; it was even more so in 2013, and the intensity will be turned up even more in 2014. It will still be a major component of the region’s economic news in 2023 and 2024; right now it’s not looking like such prominence will be the result of good news in 2014.

The criminal element.A column that generated considerable response (including an email from South Africa) was one generated by a personal peeve: Dealing with phone calls from fraudsters purporting to be from Microsoft and warning of hacker attacks on one’s computer.

And wouldn’t you know it, after a lull of a few weeks, just as your columnist was preparing this, the phone rings. It’s the same read-from-a-script-in-accented-English spiel, the same background noise suggesting a boiler-room operation filled with callers looking for victims, the same indignation and denials when accused of being frauds, the same click of a connection being severed as the fraudster senses things won’t be going according to the script and it’s time to move on to the next target.

We suspect we won’t be writing a lot about this in the new year. Not because the calls will cease or that awareness of this scam won’t spread — for all the publicity over the years, email pleas for assistance in moving large sums of money out of some country, usually in West Africa, still occasionally pop up in the spam section.

It’s more likely, though, that those organizing and running the “Windows Security Center” scam will have decided they too need to move on, and will concoct some new technique for stealing from some and annoying others.

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