Leaders examine economic development strategies

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During its Jan. 8 meeting, Tacoma City Council’s Economic Development Committee took a look at recent efforts to boost the local economy and plans for more in the future. The meeting began with a presentation by Betty Capestany, director of Pierce County Economic Development Department. The department has collaborations with numerous cities, business groups and institutions of higher education. “We know how to partner and collaborate,” she remarked.

Capestany said the county has land that could be utilized for manufacturing. She would like to see more corporations set up regional headquarters here.
Focus areas for the organization in 2019 include growing technology sector jobs, creating more class A office space, the Tideflats sub-area plan and the next commercial airliner for Boeing.

Next up was Tom Pierson, president and CEO of Tacoma/Pierce County Chamber of Commerce. He noted that his organization was the first chamber in the nation to support an increase in the minimum wage, which Tacoma voters approved several years ago. He said that efforts to improve the economy must take into account the environment, job creation and social equity. “They all have to work together,” Pierson observed.

Bruce Kendall, president and CEO of the Economic Development Board of Tacoma/Pierce County, covered some recent success stories. One is Tool Gauge, a Tacoma company that manufactures parts for Boeing airliners. The business is undergoing a $22 million expansion of its facility in Nalley Valley. Tool Gauge has about 135 employees now and plans to add another 100. Another is New Cold, a Dutch company that built a cold storage facility that stores frozen fish and potato products.

Another is Infoblox, a network control and security company based in Silicon Valley that established a branch office in Tacoma. The company setting up shop here “is a seal of approval from Silicon Valley,” Kendall said. Pierson said Infoblox is committed to looking for talented workers here. The improvement in the graduation rate of Tacoma Public Schools makes this a more appealing location for such businesses because their employees want strong schools for their children. “That is a huge mindset shift.”

He also reminded the council of the importance of the Port of Tacoma, which he described as “a gateway to the world.” Kendall said all businesses on the Tideflats have a strong commitment to the environment, in part because customers demand it.

Councilmember Conor McCarthy said there are many buildings with class B and C office spaces in need of seismic upgrades. He thinks the Legislature should provide some funding for this.

Kendall said companies appreciate the presence of Joint Base Lewis-McChord because of the pool of spouses and retirees as job candidates. “This is a huge recruitment asset for us.”

Councilmember Robert Thoms said that 600 to 700 people leave active duty at JBLM each month. He would like to see more of an effort made to recruit them for post-military careers. He noted that many would be ideal candidates for openings with Tacoma Police Department.

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