Opinion

Outbound commuters don’t sap Tacoma strengths

Microsoft tech evangelist Jeremy Foster raises a fist in solidarity after concluding a 2014 workshop for computer science, engineering and IT students at the University of Washington Tacoma. The UWT’s high-demand programs are an asset for Tacoma heading into the future.
Microsoft tech evangelist Jeremy Foster raises a fist in solidarity after concluding a 2014 workshop for computer science, engineering and IT students at the University of Washington Tacoma. The UWT’s high-demand programs are an asset for Tacoma heading into the future. News Tribune file photo

A few weeks ago, News Tribune columnist Bill Virgin shared his thoughts on the greater Tacoma area's prospects as a place to live and work, claiming that Tacoma lacks a plan to generate, attract and nurture more local companies.

We appreciate the attention and cordially invite him to reach out to our economic development team for a tour to better understand what’s actually happening in our community.

Today, 238,000 people are employed here; of those, 83,000 commute into Pierce County each morning to join 155,000 residents at work.

Another 135,000 people live here and commute to their jobs elsewhere in the metropolitan region. Do we have a plan to capture these outbound workers? Yes, and both the public and private sectors are engaged.

We promote the natural beauty and outstanding quality of life of our region, which is essential to attracting and retaining skilled workers and businesses. From Point Defiance to Point Ruston and our entire waterfront, to our museum district and historic theater district, we have unique assets including diverse neighborhoods throughout the city.

We also have quality academic institutions, such as the University of Washington Tacoma, the University of Puget Sound, Pacific Lutheran University, the Evergreen State College Tacoma, a number of community and technical colleges, and private schools serving K-12.

Tacoma Public Schools also now receives national recognition for innovation and continues to produce outstanding graduates.

We are focused on the key growth sectors of aerospace, advanced manufacturing, health care, international trade/logistics and cybersecurity. We help local companies such as Infoblox find qualified tech workers it needs as it grows.

Computer science, business and engineering degrees can be earned at our community and technical colleges and at UWT, UPS and PLU.

We help entrepreneurs start businesses through programs like VIBE (Veterans Incubator for Better Entrepreneurship) at UWT, and Spaceworks, which provides low-cost space to emerging companies and is a joint effort between the City and Chamber of Commerce.

We help small businesses grow equitably throughout the city with our neighborhood revitalization efforts, small business lending, infrastructure investments, and increasing private investment as seen in the Hilltop, Dome, McKinley, Lincoln, South Tacoma, Sixth Avenue, Stadium and Proctor Business Districts.

We recently received a grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce to open a Minority Business Development Association office at City Hall.

We constantly look for ways to improve doing business here. The City permitting process is now an online system which enables developers, contractors and builders to apply for and track permits electronically. This saves time and money in the long run. We are also proud of our publicly owned utilities, which have some of the lowest rates in the region and are leaders in sustainability.

2017 will be an exciting year. Tacoma was recently ranked one of the hottest markets in the United States for rental construction with a vacancy rate of 3 percent. Several projects are scheduled to break ground including:

▪ Nearly 2,000 housing units.

▪ More than 3 million square feet of industrial space in the Tideflats.

▪ The Convention Center hotel, the Town Center project near UWT, and a mixed-use residential and retail project financed by foreign direct investment from China and Vietnam.

Additionally, our local economy is bolstered by promising tech companies growing and recruiting graduates from UWT. In partnership with MultiCare and Joint Base Lewis-McChord, UWT will open a biotech incubator near campus later this year.

Lastly, we believe it is important to note that Tacoma provides employment for 50 percent of the local workforce, a significant statistic for a city our size in a major metropolitan region. Some residents commute to King County but they own homes, pay rent, pay taxes, send their kids to school, shop and dine locally, contributing to our growing economy.

With the recent passage of Sound Transit 3, it will become easier for people in the metro region to travel south to Greater Tacoma. As our talent pool grows, as more people choose to move to the South Sound and as we produce more graduates and train residents in high-demand fields, Tacoma will fulfill its destiny as an international waterfront city that is a leader in education, the arts and environmental stewardship, and home to people from all walks of life.

Marilyn Strickland is mayor of Tacoma. Bruce Kendall is president and CEO of the Economic Development Board for Tacoma-Pierce County.

  Comments