Tacoma’s Destiny is still before us

By Morf Morford
Tacoma Daily Index

It’s hard to imagine a more counter-productive business model than the one Pierce County seems to have embraced. We beg and bribe, we whine for attention like a neglected puppy, we constantly present ourselves as eager to be the lowest bidder or the biggest compromiser.

We will (eagerly) welcome, even subsidize any mental health facility, sex offender center, toxic waste site, detention center, methanol plant or prison expansion. We are the desperate lover who will take any suitor no matter how abusive, unfaithful or temporary.

Tacoma’s business history is packed with “almost” stories – the ventures that started (or were inspired) here, and then, like ungrateful children, left home and never looked back. In fact most of them don’t even acknowledge us or their “humble” beginnings.

Who would believe that one of the largest candy companies in the world:http://www.mars.com/nordics/en/about.aspx began in Tacoma? Mars is currently based in Copenhagen with more than $35 billion in global sales, is still family owned and employs 80,000 people in 78 countries.

TNT 10/2/1983: Baskin-Robbins' 31 flavors Tacoma's gift to the world

TNT 10/2/1983: Baskin-Robbins’ 31 flavors Tacoma’s gift to the world

Who knew that Irv Robbins would open his own ice cream store, and meet Burt Baskin and establish Baskin-Robbins (TNT 7/24/1968: Former Tacoman with ice-cream business in 37 states, opens in Tacoma. TNT 7/29/1981, pg 7: Ice cream empire began here. TNT 10/2/1983: Baskin-Robbins’ 31 flavors Tacoma’s gift to the world).

If you look at the official Baskin-Robbins website, you will not find even a mention of Tacoma (https://www.baskinrobbins.com/content/baskinrobbins/en/aboutus/history.html).

Did you know that Costco was established by a couple guys from Tacoma? The ever-present “Kirkland” brand could just as easily have been “Parkland.”

There are many – too many – more. Weyerhauser, Russell and now DaVita – they all move on. But they were never meant to stay. Apparently they knew – and we all know now, their destiny would lie elsewhere.

We cry and cajole and lower our standards even more when we hear, or think we hear, that they are thinking of leaving. We are the desperate, clinging lover that pouts and shrieks and whines. Like a jilted individual, we drive away far more than we attract. And, unfortunately, our status as the disregarded lover is the stuff of public discussion:http://www.seattletimes.com/business/tacomas-fits-and-starts-recovery-takes-another-blow/.

To put it mildly, this is not the best material for our community marketing. Maybe it’s just me, but I’m not convinced that focusing on our distance from Seattle should be our first selling point (http://tacomameansbusiness.com/why-tacoma).

But it’s better than the arguments we’ve made before. It’s usually phrased a bit more delicately, but our marketing pitch is usually a variation on “We’ll take your toxic dump, your mentally ill, your half-way house, your hazardous waste, your incarcerated immigrants, your sex offenders or anything else no one else wants.”

Other regions might have restrictive zoning or safety standards (we do too, but we are willing to waive them on request). Driving around Pierce County, it’s hard to escape the sense that we love industrial sprawl and pockets of residential density. We seem to like traffic snarls and bottlenecks. And we seem to specialize in unfinished projects.

History shows that we will gladly take projects neighbors hate and other communities don’t want.

Who knows how we got here. Like everything else, our identity and character has emerged from hundreds of small decisions, unfortunate circumstances and forced choices.

Bankruptcies, mergers, economic declines and greener pastures have taken company after company from us.

But I don’t really care how we got here. I want Pierce County to shake it off and get to work and do what every successful community and individual does – we need to build on our strengths – not our weaknesses. No more desperation, no more second best. No more compromising discount bids.

Seattle can have their big companies, Amazon, Microsoft, Starbucks and Boeing (if they can keep them). That’s just not who we are.

The industrial-sized business model doesn’t fit us. We are the natural home of the small-to-mid sized company, the entreprenuer just beginning, the idea too new, novel and fragile for the big city. We are where ideas, visions and businesses begin. We are where it all starts.

Big cities need us more than we need them. Have you noticed how many businesses have their showcase headquarters in Seattle while the real work goes on in the warehouses and shops out in the suburbs and smaller towns?

The industrial park in Sumner is a perfect example. REI, Amazon and many more have far more workers in Sumner than in Seattle. Check out the Sumner Industrial Park website here (http://www.sumnercorporatepark.com/Default.htm). Be sure to note the Space Needle prominently displayed.

Tacoma’s identity is not, and should not be wrapped around industrial parks. But we do have immediate access to them – and to the ports that connect us to the global markets. These, and many more aspects, geographically, politically, economically or culturally frame us and set the stage for who we are.

Tacoma has strong links to its past, but our eye is, and always has been, on the future. Each generation builds its own legacy and defines its identity anew.

Got an idea for your own business?

Got a business idea you think the world needs? There are many avenues you can pursue if you do.

The City of Tacoma has a variety of programs to assist beginning businesses. A good place to start is Tacoma Means Business (http://tacomameansbusiness.com/).

If you are on a budget and need office space, Tacoma has several options. You could try Surge Tacoma (http://www.surgetacoma.com/) or Union Club: http://www.unionclubtacoma.com/. Both offer a range of office related services.

If you need more than office space, be sure to check out the William Factory Small Business Incubator (http://www.williamfactory.com/). Among many other things, they offer small business training  on a variety of issues including government contracting, prevailing wages & certified Payrolls and sub-contractor requirements. If you want to be notified of these no-cost sessions, please contact ellis@williamfactory.com