On March 7, 2019, more than 550 leaders representing 77 companies from across the region came together at the Greater Tacoma Convention Center for the 41st EDB Annual Meeting. Attendees heard an update on the EDB’s recruitment and retention work, celebrated the unveiling of the Excellent 10 and this year’s Golden Shovel Award winner, and listened to an economist/futurist/author/human spark plug espouse the art of strategic foresight.
EDB Board Chair Jason Whalen, attorney with Ledger Square Law and deputy mayor of the City of Lakewood, welcomed the bustling crowd and drove home what the EDB is all about. “Our mission to grow high-wage jobs in Tacoma-Pierce County is vital and your support is greatly appreciated,” Whalen said. “Economic development is fundamentally about partnerships. Your participation, both financial and otherwise, makes all the difference.”
Scaling The Great Pyramid
EDB President and CEO Bruce Kendall welcomed attendees from around the globe and across academia and industry sectors. “Why do we do what we do? Why do we recruit, retain and grow great companies? The bottom-line answer: quality of life starts with a job.”
But jobs don’t just happen, Kendall said. Community and culture have a huge influence. “We come together in organizations like the EDB, chambers of commerce, WorkForce Central — and, the list goes on — to bring resources to the task of helping companies grow,” he said. He pointed to The Great Pyramid, a metaphor for the job-creation eco-system. The foundation is Economic Infrastructure (talent, technology, capital, taxes, regulations and physical infrastructure). In the middle, you’ve got your Network of Suppliers (private sector companies and non-profit organizations supplying services, raw materials, components and parts). Topping the pyramid are Primary Firms (companies making a product or service and largely exporting it outside our region). The more primary firms a community has, the more dollars circulate in the market and spur economic activity. That’s where the EDB spends 90 percent of its time.
Kendall encouraged attendees to become more involved across all levels of The Great Pyramid. Employers who engage the workforce system are more successful in finding great talent. Elected government officials and staff who get out and meet companies where they work find ways to serve them better. Suppliers who pursue deeper connections with their primary customers gain market share.
If you are not sure where to start ascending the pyramid, the EDB can help.
The Excellent 10
This year’s Excellent 10 are projects selected by the EDB for their positive impact on the Pierce County economy in the previous year. The winners are, in alphabetical order: 905 Main (Sumner); AIM Aerospace (Sumner); Carlson Paving Products (Frederickson); Lincoln District Streetscape Improvements (Tacoma); Pacific Seas Aquarium and Eastside Community Center (Metro Parks Tacoma); Pantages Theater Renovation (Tacoma); Tool Gauge (Tacoma); Super Post-Panamax Cranes (Tacoma Tideflats); John W. Walstrum Center for Advanced Manufacturing Technology (Lakewood); and Wellfound Behavioral Health Hospital (Tacoma). Full project descriptions are available on the EDB website at edbtacomapierce.org/2019-excellent-10/.
Golden Shovel goes to the Port of Tacoma
The Golden Shovel Award is presented annually to organizations or individuals that have made significant contributions to the economic wellbeing of Tacoma and Pierce County. This year the EDB honored the Port of Tacoma in recognition of its centennial. It’s been a remarkable 100-year journey. In 1918, the port was established on 240 acres of land in the Tacoma Tideflats and supported a few hundred jobs. Today, it covers more than 2,700 acres in the port industrial area, creating more than 29,000 jobs and nearly $3 billion in economic activity. Commissioners John McCarthy and Dick Marzano accepted the award, along with Rod Koon, the Port’s senior manager of communications.
Rebecca Ryan: Human spark plug
Keynote speaker Rebecca Ryan is the founder of Next Generation Consulting. Trained as a futurist and an economist, Ryan helps businesses, governments and communities imagine the future and then act on their insights.
Ryan explained America’s seasonal cycles, noting the country goes through “wintertime” about every 80 to 100 years. We’re now in our fourth winter, triggered by the 2007 Great Recession. But we’re getting closer to spring and can feel the thaw. It’s time to set the table for the next spring (and for our children and grandchildren). Enter the art of “strategic foresight.”
Strategic foresight is a process used by Fortune 500 companies, the U.S. military, NATO, The World Bank and others to plan for the future based on trends and forces likely to affect them. It relies on forward looking vs. depending on history to help anticipate challenges, take advantage of opportunities and gain competitive advantage.
To develop foresight, you need the right mindset, network and budget. Be open and ask good questions. Invite the right people to the table, and not just people who agree with you. Bring some “edge thinkers” (aka “weirdos”) into the mix. If you’re building for the next generation, ask them to join the discussion. And, don’t assume your budget from five years ago is going to apply to what’s five to fifteen years down the road.
Bottom line, the process requires a big dose of courage. But that’s what it takes to ensure organizations and regions succeed in the future. While strategic foresight demands time and commitment, Ryan left the group with something to jump-start the process. If an ambitious competitor opens shop tomorrow, hell bent on putting you out of business, what are three things you’d do?
If you weren’t able to attend, or you’d like to relive your favorite parts of the event, the 2019 EDB Annual Meeting is available on YouTube at youtu.be/GjUGfCR5lp4.
Futures Boot Camp: A workout for what’s ahead
No drill instructor’s squats or burpees were required, but attendees at the Futures Boot Camp got a great workout around setting their sights on what’s ahead.
On the eve of the EDB Annual Meeting, Rebecca Ryan offered an interactive bonus session to table hosts and sponsors. Around 50 futurists representing a wide swath of sectors came with lots of questions and big ideas. “In public transportation, how will different mobility options work?” “How do we bring all the data together to create a healthy future?” “What will the Amazon effect mean for retail in the future?” “With technology changing our industry, are we nimble enough to get people the services they want?” “In higher education, are we producing the right kind of products for this region’s economy?”
Out with the old
Ryan explained that most planning for the future is done by relying on old data. “It’s like driving across country while you’re looking in the rear-view mirror,” she said. “Most of our planning has a bias to the past. We need to have a bias toward the future.”
Ryan shared the six-step process of “strategic foresight:”
Determine which domain to explore
Scan for forces and trends
Forecast plausible scenarios for your domain’s future
Identify crossover issues that emerge in your scenarios
Envision the future you prefer
Backcast by creating milestones and strategies to achieve your vision
Using strategic foresight to see a project to fruition doesn’t happen in a couple hours, so the group focused on steps 1 and 2. Teams selected domains with a projected lookout of 10-20 years, such as the future of brick and mortar bank branches by 2035; the future of money movement by 2030; and the future of poverty by 2030.
A good deal of “camp” time was devoted to The Big Sort, an exercise in slowing down. Teams discussed and debated which forces and trends will have the most impact on their domain’s future. Using data to drive the conversation (and candy to create some creative charts), teams were able to determine immediate opportunities or concerns for their domain now and in the future.
The exercise offered a glimpse into the futurist realm, and it wasn’t all fun and games. EDB Board Chair Jason Whalen, attorney with Ledger Square Law and deputy mayor of the City of Lakewood, said, “We grappled with how to define the impact,” he said.
Scott Jones, senior vice president and division manager of Newland Communities, noted, “Although we were focused on one topic, we realized how many variables affect it.”
“We’re all capable of being futurists,” Ryan told the campers. “We’re capable of having the discussions. Don’t be afraid of the future.”
‘State of’ addresses tout economic opportunity in South Sound
Pierce County Executive Bruce Dammeier and City of Tacoma Mayor Victoria Woodards recently gave their “state of” addresses and both highlighted economic development themes among their remarks. Here are our top-three takeaways from each address:
2019 State of the County highlights:
Local businesses are expanding and new businesses are coming and bringing jobs. AIM Aerospace, Tool Gauge and Carlson Paving Products are expanding operations and adding jobs. In Frederickson, Best Buy is building a 400,000-square-foot warehouse center, and Chicago-based Logistics Property Company will add five new buildings to the landscape. San Diego-based ScaleMatrix opened a facility in early March on the South Hill Puyallup Centeris campus, bringing new technology that will attract even more companies and jobs to the region.
We’re not done helping businesses come to and grow in Pierce County. A proposed ordinance presented to the Pierce County Council is designed to further remove barriers to doing business here, and the County’s Red Tape Reduction Taskforce helps streamline codes and create a one-stop shop for permits.
Leveraging technology to make county government more transparent and accountable. The County’s online portal and online site provide easy access to data from across county government. Watch for more features of the Open Pierce County initiative, including online access to the County’s checkbook and the ability to see if construction projects are on schedule and on budget.
Watch and listen to the full State of the County address (and learn more about the “Pierce County Way”) here. https://www.facebook.com/pierceco/videos/2070872789614888/?
2019 State of the City highlights:
It’s all about living wage jobs. The city will continue to partner with local anchor institutions like the EDB, Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber and Manufacturing Industrial Council, to strengthen our economy and grow local opportunities, and look for better ways to communicate with employers and entrepreneurs investing in Tacoma. That includes making green jobs a priority.
We’re keeping our eye on on medium- and small-sized businesses. For 2019-20, the City of Tacoma plans to increase outreach to businesses with 5 to 50 employees by nearly 50 percent.
Reducing barriers to doing business. Efforts to simplify and streamline the commercial permitting process will continue.
Watch and listen to Mayor Woodards’ full address (including more about her Coffee With the Mayor event series) here.
What’s happening around the rest of Pierce County?
Other local municipalities also provide annual or periodic city updates, and they all support the importance of economic development. Here’s where to find the addresses:
City of Auburn https://www.youtube.com/user/watchauburn
City of Lakewood https://cityoflakewood.us/city-manager/state-of-the-city/?
– Economic Development Board