Open For Business? Study aims to kick-start downtown Tacoma's economic development

A consultant hired by the City of Tacoma to provide recommendations for sparking economic development downtown says the city needs to do more to draw companies in so-called “primary target sectors” such as financial services, IT and software design, business and professional services, creative arts and design, and international trade and logistical services.

Angelos Angelou, Principal Executive Officer of Austin, Tex.-based Angelou Economics, shared his views and the study’s findings at City Hall July 22 during Tacoma City Council’s weekly study session.

The six-month study, which included meetings with 14 focus groups, was commissioned by the City as part of its goal to create a plan that would increase private commercial investment in downtown Tacoma and provide high-wage job opportunities for the region’s residents.

According to the study, downtown Tacoma’s $4.8 billion economy employs 39,300 people who earn $1.92 billion and generate $39.5 million in tax revenue annually. He also said the city has a good reputation for fast-track permitting, a growing University of Washington Tacoma campus, relatively affordable housing, good public transportation options, and lower-than-average business operating costs.

But downtown Tacoma could do more.

He cited the city’s difficulty in retaining and recruiting high-skilled labor, lack of foot traffic downtown, lack of available Class A office space, perception of high crime rates downtown, and a poor (but improving) image within the greater Seattle and Puget Sound region. “Tacoma has to find its place in the region,” said Angelou. “I’m certain your neighbors to the north are not spending any time thinking of Tacoma.”

One of Angelou’s biggest concerns was the number of vacant city-owned parcels of land in the city’s central business district. He encouraged city leaders to engage with developers on mixed-use projects that would help spur downtown retail activity.

Angelou Economics’ study offered seven goals for Tacoma:

1. Become a premiere location of choice for primary target sectors by leveraging Urban Waters and Puget Sound Partnership to further develop industry sectors;

2. Foster an entrepreneurial culture and greater awareness of independent and local businesses;

3. Stimulate investor interest in downtown Tacoma;

4. Develop downtown Tacoma into a “talent magnet” by creating a young-professional marketing strategy and engaging young professionals in economic development efforts;

5. Support and expand the economic development agenda of the University of Washington Tacoma and community college partners by working with the university to develop and urban strategy and establishing an informal work group;

6. Increase retail opportunities in downtown Tacoma;

7. Raise world-class profile of downtown Tacoma.