Napoleon Bonaparte once said “there are only two forces that unite men — fear and interest.”
The words of the early 19th century French emperor might seem cynical in a modern context. In the Tacoma area, neighbors often make common cause out of loyalty, compassion and other higher virtues.
But on Tuesday, as leaders from 10 Pierce County governments stood in an unusual show of unity and pledged to adopt business-friendly job credits, the forces of fear and interest were clearly the glue bonding them together.
Fear that the Seattle’s punitive, nationally publicized employee “head tax” on large companies, approved by the City Council last week, might chill economic development across the region, including the South Sound.
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Interest in scooping up any high-paying jobs (and associated tax revenue) provided by employers that historically look first to Seattle when choosing where to locate or expand.
As a means to get Pierce County leaders in sync, those two forces are as good as any. Perhaps officials have now laid the groundwork to cooperate more effectively on other joint challenges, such as affordable housing and homelessness.
Tuesday’s united front of civic, labor and economic leaders, anchored by Pierce County Executive Bruce Dammeier and Tacoma Mayor Victoria Woodards, was a well-timed opportunity to renew a message that can’t be repeated enough: The South Sound is open for business.
This might be more about public relations and good feelings than it is a serious effort to effect real change. But the PR boost for the county could be worthwhile.
Contrast the alliance down south with the division up north, where leaders such as King County Executive Dow Constantine have voiced concerns that Seattle’s head tax will hurt employer retention and recruitment.
To their credit, local cheerleaders seized the moment to distinguish the Tacoma area from Seattle without coming off as desperate or poking the big city in the eye.
“We see the world differently than Seattle,” Dammeier told us after Tuesday’s event, before adding: “Seattle can speak for itself.”
For unincorporated Pierce County, he announced a proposal for a one-time job credit in 2019 available to any business, new or old, that creates at least five “family-wage” jobs paying a minimum of $65,000 a year. The credit — $275 per employee — was carefully chosen; it’s an inverse of the same-size per-employee “head tax” Seattle will levy on Amazon and other companies with gross incomes of at least $20 million per year to address rampant homelessness in the city.
Eight local cities and towns — Lakewood, University Place, Puyallup, Bonney Lake, Sumner, Fife, DuPont and Steilacoom — said they planned to match the county’s commitment, though it might take different forms, such as permit discounts.
Tacoma’s participation in the unity pledge was more solidarity than substance. The city already offers employers a range of job-creation incentives and didn’t roll out anything new this week. But given some Tacoma City Council members’ sympathy for Seattle politics and tendency to borrow its ideas, any sign of separation from the head tax is welcome.
This week’s show of Pierce County togetherness is incomplete and far from a panacea. One could question the efficacy of a one-time incentive; Tacoma’s standard $500 job credit can be claimed up to five years. Government leaders also arguably put the cart before the horse since they’ve yet to collect public input or adopt ordinances.
A handful of local cities are also notably missing from the effort — in particular, Gig Harbor, one of the county’s fastest-growing communities. Dammeier told us he’s reached out to them and is hopeful they’ll come along eventually.
But overall, we applaud South Sound leaders for not letting Seattle’s strident message to job creators stand as the final word for our region.
A little healthy fear and enlightened interest can go a long way.