Yes, Tacoma is ready for a tech boom – but it needs better leadership

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By David Kirichenko

Tacoma is ripe for a thriving tech economy of its own. We need to provide the infrastructure and brain power that will attract and support innovation, to diversify our economy, and to create an entrepreneur-friendly environment that will expand Tacoma’s economic growth. The city needs to emphasize a start-up culture; to invest in dedicated economic zones where fiber is installed and businesses can hit the ground running. As well as incentivizing companies to develop their businesses in Tacoma, we need to attract and welcome companies squeezed out of the Seattle market, luring smaller tech firms to find a place in our ecosystem to grow and prosper. A hub of startups would perpetuate as they benefit from growing together. 

When Russell Investments left for Seattle in 2010, Tacoma lost 900 high paying jobs. Lacking the name and prestige Russell sought as a big international firm, the city failed to retain them despite offering major enticements such as tax cuts. “Seattle has the name, the image, the prestige, where they may not have to offer some of the things that Tacoma has to offer,” said Oscar Oliveira, managing director of the Broderick Group. The city has thus far failed to replace those jobs. 

In a previous attempt to retain DaVita, Tacoma built an $850,000 parking lot for their employees, as well as offering other incentives. Yet just a few years later, Da Vita is leaving too – the time and money spent on this effort will be difficult if not impossible to recover. The city also invested staff resources helping to prepare a bid for Amazon’s new HQ, despite not meeting many of the required criteria. In retrospect, that money could have helped develop new office spaces or dedicated economic zones that provide more resources for startups and entrepreneurs to thrive. It is certainly not too late for city leadership to acknowledge this and shift their strategy.  

The RAIN Incubator was launched in September of 2017 as a nonprofit life science innovation hub in downtown Tacoma, to develop local talent, companies, and jobs. Teaming up with partners such as RAIN will have a positive impact on the city. Tacoma needs to innovate and prepare the city for the future – a future that provides local talent with jobs in fields like biotechnology and computer engineering. 

The city can help to set a vision for the future, inspired by Tacoma’s name, “The City of Destiny.” We need innovators and entrepreneurs to drive Tacoma toward becoming the economic powerhouse it is destined to be. Investing in dedicated economic zones will send a strong message, inviting innovators to Tacoma and encouraging those who are already here. The city must foster growth through innovation and sustained investment in the community. Then, Tacoma – like its neighbor to the north – can finally have a boom of its own.  

David Kirichenko currently works in the tech sector for Amazon and is a Global Shaper with the World Economic Forum. 

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