WTC makes pitch to City for restored funding

How important is the growth of international trade to the city of Tacoma?

That was the question during yesterday’s economic development committee meeting at City Hall, where the trade-promoting organization’s executive director, Andreas Udbye, made a pitch for restored city funding.

To be sure, city money for WTC has dropped over the past five years. In 2002, WTC received $60,000 from the city, $35,000 per year in 2003 and 2004, and $20,000 for the 2005-2006 biennium. It’s a trend tracing back to 2004, when the city, facing $29.6 million in debt, aimed to balance the books by reducing funding amounts for local service providers.

“It has had an effect on us in that we don’t have the same resource level,” said Udbye. “It’s sort of hand-to-mouth.”

Udbye briefed the committee on WTC’s recent activities, including trade missions to China, Japan, and Honduras, and speaker presentations that included Rep. Adam Smith, Secretary of State Sam Reed, and Rep. Dave Reichert, and a delegation of trade representatives from India.

Udbye also praised the group’s efforts to help local businesses by developing Web sites and promoting their products on international trade missions. Last year, WTC helped Smith Western, a custom giftwear company headquartered in Tacoma, create its first corporate Web site; it also brought Brown & Haley products on international trade missions. And Udbye also noted that many international guests who visit WTC stay in Tacoma hotels and visit local businesses.

“I know it’s been tough budget-wise [for the city],” said Udbye. “Hopefully, there is a little bit of a ripple effect to Tacoma from doing these activities.”

Historically, the city has funded WTC at levels ranging from $9,500 in 1993 to $68,878 in 1995. According to Elizabeth Willis, WTC’s director of corporate development, roughly one-third of the organization’s $460,000 annual budget comes from the public sector. Another third comes from private memberships, and the remaining third is through sponsorship of WTC events. WTC has four full-time employees, and a large number of unpaid interns who rotate through the organization each year.

Udbye asked the committee to consider two funding options for the 2007-2008 biennium budget. One proposal: a $40,000 annual basic contract for professional services . Another idea: an $80,000 annual contract that also includes administration of the Sister City program.

“It’s the right thing to be coming to us and making this request,” said Councilmember Rick Talbert. He added the timing was right because councilmembers were starting to focus on the city’s biennium budget.