Economic development update stresses positives

Stressing the city’s successes, but mindful of the challenges that remain, Tacoma Economic Development Department officials provided an overview of the department’s 2003-2004 Business Plan at Tuesday’s City Council study session.

The presentation, made by department Director Juli Wilkerson and Assistant Director Robert Arleth, focused on the areas of business retention and expansion, business recruitment, arts, culture and tourism, housing, business districts and neighborhoods.

“Our role here is to stimulate the economy,” Wilkerson told the council, referring to the mission of the Tacoma Economic Development Department, which was created in 1999.

The successes of the last two years were highlighted, including increased business in Tacoma, positive job growth and favorable media coverage.
The city issued 870 new business licenses in 2002, compared with 740 in 2001, officials said.

Also, according to the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber of Commerce’s recent Economic Index, Pierce County is faring better than the state, region and nation, Arleth noted.

The fact that office vacancy rates are dropping is another sign businesses are coming to Tacoma, officials noted.

At a time when the state of Washington has one of the highest unemployment rates in the nation, a blue chip job growth report by the Arizona State University’s School of Business showed that between Oct. 2001 and Oct. 2002, Tacoma gained 4,600 jobs.

“This was really good news,” Wilkerson said, noting a lot of the jobs could be attributed to the construction boom going on in the city.

Tacoma ranked 19 out of 292 cities in the report. Other Washington cities didn’t fare as well. Seattle lost 39,000 jobs, while Spokane reported 5,800 jobs lost.

These recent economic successes have garnered favorable media coverage for the city, including several national endorsements.

Tacoma is ranked 10th in the Digital Cities Survey out of 39 entrants.  The annual Survey is conducted by the Center for Digital Government.

Tacoma is ranked as the 102nd Best Place for Business and Careers by Forbes Milken Institute.

Tacoma was voted one of the Top 5 “Tech Towns” in America by Industry Standard Magazine, Feb 19, 2001.

Even with a struggling state economy, Tacoma has been able to make strides, Wilkerson said.

“I believe we are the shining star,” she added.

In order to keep shining, Wilkerson said the Economic Development Department will “stay the course” by continuing with the same mission of stimulating the economy, focusing on business retention and expansion, culture and tourism, housing and neighborhoods.

Tacoma’s popular “Wired City” advertising campaign will have another run in March and September, this time focusing on the amenities being added to the city – such as the Greater Tacoma Convention and Trade Center currently under construction.

The goal of the campaign is meant to showcase Tacoma as more than a wired city.

“This is the approach you’ll be seeing in the next two years,” Wilkerson said.

The city will continue to promote cultural events like LuminoCity, which bring in people and money to Tacoma.

Tacoma will move forward with its march toward the goal of 2,010 housing units by 2010.

“Housing is the one thing that gives a city a 24-hour feeling,” Arleth said, noting that by the end of this year Tacoma will have reached 36 percent of that number.

Council members were generally pleased with presentation made by the Tacoma Economic Development Department, noting its difficult to promote Tacoma during such a low point in the state’s economy.

Councilman Kevin Phelps said its important to reiterate the best way to build a tax base for maintaining city services and providing a vibrant economy.

Councilwoman Connie Ladenburg said the city needs to do a better job of promoting the livability of Tacoma’s neighborhoods.

A City Council workshop on economic development is scheduled for Saturday, March 1.