It felt a little bit desperate.
The video, as you may know by now, was produced in response to the controversial “head tax” the Seattle City Council recently passed. The tax — which will help that city fund efforts to deal with a growing homelessness and affordable housing crisis — impacts businesses with more than $20 million in annual revenue.
That aim is laudable. But reaction to it has been predictably mixed and messy.
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I’ll leave debate of the dreaded head tax for another day, another column and maybe another city altogether.
Still, I can’t help but dream of a day when Tacoma doesn’t come off like a forlorn city begging for any piece of the action it can get in situations like this.
That’s exactly how the Chamber’s video leaves me feeling ... once again.
“NO HEAD TAX HERE,” the video proclaims in all caps over a sweeping, gorgeous aerial shot of the Thea Foss Waterway.
The intention is straightforward: A not-so-subtle invitation to businesses that might be tiring, or scared off by, Seattle’s political climate.
“YOU’LL LIKE TACOMA,” the video continues, paying homage to another act of promotion, this one more than a century old, dating back to the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition of 1909.
Perhaps unwittingly, this nod to the past also nods to just how long Tacoma has been flailing for larger regional relevance.
When it comes to the Chamber’s latest sales pitch, I understand the underlying factors at play. I feel the sting when some outsider makes an outdated “Tacoma aroma” joke, and I’m as guilty as the next Tacoman of waiting for this city to get the respect it deserves.
Like many, I also look at Tacoma’s downtown and its diverse neighborhoods and can’t help but view it all in terms of potential. I often see what could be, not what presently is, and get frustrated by the slow trod of progress, the still-empty storefronts and the missteps along the way.
Yes, I see Russell Investments and DaVita leave town and then State Farm follow suit, and I know something needs to be done. Until the city has the jobs to make it more than a bedroom community, there will always be an understandable air of frenzied economic distress here.
At the same time, I’ve also been in this area long enough to recall too many of these glossy, futile efforts. Fact is, the original “City of Destiny” has tried to sell this area to the world and the region so many times that it feels like a new approach is long overdue.
Whether it was dubbing Tacoma “America’s No. 1 Wired City” or any of the other catchphrases that never caught on, we either need to hire a far more creative marketing firm or rethink our strategy.
That’s the thing — there’s so much here to sell. From quality to life to the people to the untapped business opportunities and beyond, there’s little question that Tacoma and Pierce County are ripe for investment, entrepreneurship and new people.
Put another way, the hard, frantic sell on Tacoma ultimately sells us short — and, historically, it hasn’t worked. Instead, we end up looking like a guy in a headset at the county fair trying to offload Shamwows instead of a city and a county with something real to offer.
It’s not a great look, because as is so often the case, the proof is in the pudding — not the PR.
Maybe we don’t need a new video as much as we need to ditch the inferiority complex.
Which brings me back to that tag line, "You'll Like Tacoma."
"The slogan was developed specially for a World's Fair, and the fact that the community didn’t want to be passed over or ignored," local historian Michael Sullivan explained.
Sullivan was diplomatic. He called the effort a success because it’s remembered to this day, and because the ultimate impact — you know, whether it actually worked or not — is “hard to judge.”
That’s OK, because I’ll say what Sullivan won’t:
The mere fact that we’re still trying to sell Tacoma in carnival-barker fashion tells you all you need to know.