Ask Pierce County legislators about their top spending priorities as the state’s 2019-21 capital budget is put to bed this weekend, and most will quickly land on a three-letter word: UWT.
Continuing to grow the University of Washington Tacoma’s downtown footprint and expanding the school’s ability to produce highly sought-after graduates for the high-tech economy has strong support in the local delegation.
The trick is making sure the entire Legislature appreciates UWT’s value to the state and region, and invests accordingly.
University leaders and community partners are seeking $1.8 million to establish bachelor’s degrees in mechanical and civil engineering, a logical addition to the thriving computer and electrical engineering programs already on campus.
They’re also requesting $4 million to design an Innovation Building, a bold idea to break down barriers between engineering students and those enrolled in the venerable Milgard School of Business. The extra space will allow UWT to eventually increase campus enrollment by more than 500 full-time equivalents across a range of degrees.
Back in February, this Editorial Board made its case for keeping UWT on a steady growth trajectory as it gets ready to turn 30 next year. We called it an indispensable asset for a placebound population, noting that 93 percent of students come from Pierce, Thurston and South King counties, and 80 percent of alumni remain in Washington.
But don’t just take it from us. Several private and public employers hungry for engineering talent have lobbied legislators to approve UWT’s two-year capital budget request, including:
* Globe Machine Manufacturing, a 100-year-old company on the Tacoma Tideflats. Globe has gone on record not just asking the state to commit money to UWT; its CEO also pledges to help raise at least $10 million in private support for the project. Globe needs more homegrown engineers to build robots for manufacturing industries worldwide.
* U.S. Navy facilities in the South Sound. The Naval Undersea Warfare Center at Keyport and the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard both struggle to hire and retain engineers for their civilian national defense workforce. Shipyard officials say they’d have no trouble employing half of the projected 90 new mechanical and civil engineers UWT expects to produce annually by 2025.
Another factor working in UWT’s favor is that Chancellor Mark Pagano — a mechanical engineer by training — is hitting his stride in his fifth year leading the campus. Pagano has a vision to make Tacoma a regional nerve center for high-skill, high-wage jobs and is well positioned to see it through.
Legislators, of course, are juggling a multitude of requests in the waning days of the session and are looking to spread well over $4 billion in capital funds across the state. In the big picture, committing $5.8 million to the University of Washington Tacoma should be an easy call.