By Morf Morford
Tacoma Daily Index
Tacoma-Pierce County offers many things. From quality schools, magnificent, stunning parks, historic neighborhoods and breathtaking views of mountains and waterways we have a setting few cities could dream of matching.
One thing we, as a region, have struggled with is stable and promising employment.
In the years before COVID, Tacoma-Pierce County sent more than 100,000 workers each day to work sites outside of the area.
The best jobs, word on the street has it, are in Seattle, or Portland, or San Francisco.
It doesn’t really matter where, especially in this era of at least the possibility of remote work, but the bottom line is that very, very few of us believe that we can find our fullest career possibilities in or around Tacoma.
Many of us might imagine success, even stardom, in some mythologized urban center, but do any of us imagine Tacoma as the setting for the ideal creative or entrepreneurial center?
There’s a psychological principle that we are what we do. It’s true of cities as much as of individuals.
What Tacoma-Pierce County has done, and seems determined to keep doing, is start businesses that, like many individuals, seek the brighter lights and possibilities of larger cities, and leaving Tacoma-Pierce County as a footnote, at best, in their corporate histories.
From Mars (the largest candy company in the world) to Weyerhaeuser to Baskin-Robbins to more companies to count, these world-changing companies, began here and leave their humble origins in the mists of memory with nary a mention on their websites.
That was (apparently) tolerable a generation (or more) ago.
One more thing that Tacoma-Pierce County has been doing that defines us, and hampers our future is our eagerness to take opportunities that other areas don’t want.
Tacoma-Pierce County, for whatever reason, loves to be the low bidder, the desperate suitor, of projects and programs unattractive and unappealing or downright impossible that other cities would not even consider.
Remember just a few years ago, the groveling Tacoma went through as it appealed to Amazon to base its second headquarters (HQ2) here?
And who could forget the public relations fiasco that was the methanol plant controversy not that long ago?
Or the Northwest Detention Center – the only for-profit incarceration site in our state?
For whatever reason, Tacoma-Pierce County keeps looking for, even begging for, that short-cut, that silver bullet to “save” us.
Our local governments and agencies spend millions seeking, offering incentives from tax rebates to interest-free loans to companies to please, please look at us.
Many of us who didn’t support, or even actively opposed, those ventures did not oppose them because we didn’t support “jobs” in our community, but because each one of them, and too many more to mention, brought in their own people, hired few locals, except for the most menial jobs, and when the prospects looked better, or the toxic legacy became too great (as in ASARCO and many manufacturing residents of our Port) they filed for bankruptcy or skipped town.
We all know we can do better than that.
Yes, we all know that we need jobs – but we need jobs that stay, that people want, and jobs that leave our neighborhoods, communities and environment healthier and stronger, not depleted and poisoned.
It is not that complicated. We just have to leave behind our carefully curated second-rate view of ourselves.
We already have assets and attributes few areas – even Seattle – could match.
Up until recently we had affordable housing and office space. We still have some, but, much to the surprise of many (but not those of us who pay attention to such things) Tacoma-Pierce County has become one of, if not the hottest real estate markets in the entire country.
I have to ask, like the global movement away from fossil fuels, COVID and rising sea levels, who didn’t see that coming?
And who isn’t seeing what else is coming?
The future is not Amazon or high rolling venture capitalists or foreign investors. The answer is right here.
We in Tacoma-Pierce County have already, or have within easy reach every element attractive to the next generation of entrepreneurs and innovators.
We just don’t seem to know it. Yet.
The active ingredients for an appealing, cohesive and dynamic community are already here.
You want a motivated, young and skilled work force?
We have good schools from universities and community colleges to hands-on training institutes.
What other county has two (!) well respected vocational colleges?
You want people who have lived or travelled – and have connections around the world? Look no further than JBLM, our Port of Tacoma, our vibrant international communities with roots everywhere from Ukraine to Thailand to South America and far beyond.
What other area has immediate access to ocean transport, continental rail lines and a major international airport?
Who doesn’t love our historical buildings across (and beyond) downtown? What city wouldn’t love to have our inventory of solid industrial warehouses?
We once had a thriving inter-urban transit system – and are rebuilding a new one now.
We have several co-working spaces and business incubators for those with a vision for their own business.
When it comes to life beyond work, who doesn’t love our ample and nearby local parks, with wilderness areas and family-friendly attractions within easy reach – and of course, our mountain hovering in the distance.
I just have one request for those who pursue, and we all hope, find success; don’t leave us behind.