Hey Tech Companies: Move to Tacoma ...

The City of Tacoma's Economic Development Department gets some attention from Geekwire this week for an ad running in the San Jose Mercury News this week. The idea behind the ad is to attract Bay Area tech firms looking for a satellite location in the Pacific Northwest.

Will it work?

It’s not yet clear whether the marketing campaign will pay off. Ricardo Noguera, the economic development director for the City of Tacoma, said in an email to GeekWire that the ads “just came out this week.”

We were originally tipped off to the Geekwire article by a friend who is a Tacoma resident and daily commuter to a certain city north of Tacoma. Some of his insights resonate with us...

At the risk of stepping on some toes... I don't think this will work.

You can't lead your recruiting messaging with "We're cheap." If you could, Alabama would be a tech hot bed right now. Objectively, Tacoma lacks Seattle's cluster of other tech companies and its highly educated workforce. That's not a slam on Tacoma at all - our economic makeup is just different - but the reality is that's one of the big draws of being in Seattle right now.

Transportation is a big challenge too. Bellevue now has concrete plans for rail between its core and Seattle, and our funding for rail is still being debated in the legislature. Ultimately we are asking these companies to consider being isolated from Seattle and its benefits, with no easy connection between the two cities, and without the infrastructure and support they're looking for. I'd love for this to happen of course, but maybe we should start smaller and work our way up.

... I think we DO have the foundation for a legitimate tech sector here, albeit one that's going to be very small. UWT is doing some awesome stuff, and there's only room to grow there. We could become an amazing incubator for tiny companies, especially when paired with our educational institutions. 

Talk of cheap rent makes us sound... well, cheap. And companies bargain-hunting for satellite office space seem likely to pull up stakes for the next cheapest offer that comes along. Why not attract companies using the assets we have, and give them a reason to put down roots - a reason that has more staying power than bargain basement per-square-foot office space?

We like the idea of attracting more companies to Tacoma - almost as much as we like the idea of new companies growing from the ground up right here. Our bullet points might look something more like this:

  • Million dollar views
  • Top-tier universities
  • A growing entrepreneurial community
  • Room to grow
  • An amazing hyperlocal blog

Do you like the idea of advertising Tacoma and its many assets in other cities? If you were going to write the ad, what would you say?


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Comments

Jesse

If you want to be great, you have to prepare for it.  Tacoma isn’t prepared for an economic boom of any sort.  How do you prepare?  Just like a job interview.  Offer more than the competition, look “put together,” give the perception that others want you, and ask what the companies need and deliver it… don’t go in to the interview and guess what their concerns are.  Talk, preferably face to face.  Don’t email or text when you can meet up. 

When I say Tacoma isn’t prepared for a boom, I mean that the perception and sustainability of Tacoma is negative to an outsider.  Pacific Avenue looks great but climb the hill through downtown.  What do the roads look like?  How about the sidewalks?  Can you see highly educated people, especially young women, walking by large vacant lots in the dark of winter to get to work?  It creates HR recruiting problems for a company.  What about the lack of people walking around because there’s very little shopping in the core - this creates safety issues.  How about that B&O tax and how it effects high grossing companies with small margins?  Every road looks different and there are about 30 different streetlight types in the core.  Does that say that Tacoma is prepared and has it’s act together?  I mean, the “leadership” organization of the County government won’t even consider downtown.

Then, Tacoma has to compete with Seattle’s hip reputation and it’s superior views.  Tacoma faces a port.

Until some of these concerns are solved, Tacoma will continue to get the stuff Seattle doesn’t want - call centers, non-profit headquarters, Federal and State programs, etc.

April 23, 2015 at 11:03 am / Reply / Quote and reply

18 | 4

Terry

There is a lot more to this fair city than downtown. You’re right about one thing…. downtown is a big money loser. Almost 50% of all the real estate is tax exempt. The rest of the city gives downtown money to keep it going. Downtown does have some nice white collar jobs, but much of that money ends up in Puyallup or Gig Harbor.

So here’s the real deal with high tech jobs… workers can live anywhere they want to! I know a couple of guys who work for big tech firms who live in North Tacoma by choice. They work from home and sometimes fly around the world for business meetings. They like it here. So it’s time to ditch any old fashioned notion of Tacoma being some sort of “jobs center” because 30% of all jobs are currently not tethered to an office and that number is growing by more than 1% a year. Tacoma needs to focus on being a nice place to live and the “jobs” will fallow. Bill Evans knows what time it is. Who do you think those high end apartments in Proctor are going to attract? Work-from-home folks from Seattle maybe? Proctor is a cool neighborhood and way cheaper than Capital Hill. Take the Sounder up North once a week to check in with the boss? Buy a North End house at half the price of a Seattle home? There are enough work-from-home White Collar jobs in King County to power Tacoma 2X over. All we need is to be a good place to live, not one thing more.

April 24, 2015 at 12:56 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

5 | 1

talus

Tacoma’s not doing well on the state, regional, or national non-profit office front.  It really ought to be a sector from which the city can attract some new (albeit mostly small) employers.  A non-profit salary is liveable here (increasingly less so in Seattle), and the vibe in Tacoma is decidedly not bland and corporate unlike more and more parts of Seattle.  Also, Tacoma’s not a bad location for those needing to be in both Seattle and Olympia regularly, as many non-profit issue advocates do.

April 24, 2015 at 1:26 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

4 | 1

Xeno

I love non-profits like the next person but they generate no property tax revenue for the City and the City currently has a big problem where over 50% of Downtown generates no tax revenue for the city because of government agencies and non-profits.  Normally, this land would be the largest generating, but it is a testimony of why we have a tenuous budget each year.

April 24, 2015 at 5:55 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

4 | 2

MR

Unforunately, an ad that reminds us of the 70’s probably won’t resonate with techies.  In fact, they don’t ever look at print. I hope I’m wrong…..

April 23, 2015 at 12:59 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

3 | 1

anonymous

No, it won’t work.  Look at the place.  Admittedly, it probably isn’t as scary are violent as many Seattlites make Tacoma out to be.  But, here’s the thing: vacant lots, bums sitting around on street corners, vacant and rundown buildings galore, crumbling streets, all make Tacoma look like the last place you want to be.  Add to it the fact that Pierce County is so stuck in the past that glass recycling is still not available, come on!  You have a glass museum but don’t offer glass recycling?????  You can’t attract people as forward thinking as tech sector leaders when you can’t even get your own waste management system to do a best practice that is several decades old.  (I remember when we started recycling co-mingled glass in a conservative small town in rural Ohio in the LATE 1980S!)  I’m here because it’s cheap.  Long term plan is San Francisco or Seattle, while I tolerate Tacoma and put money in savings.  Yep, you’ve attracted the young, financially saavy, unwilling to spend money, and ready to move on to something better.  Admittedly, I’ll be here for a while (I’m pretty young), but I am certainly not sold on Tacoma.

April 24, 2015 at 8:57 am / Reply / Quote and reply

2 | 5

talus

We don’t do glass recycling?  Who’s driving that truck that picks up my glass bin every other week?  I understand changes may be on the way, but I doubt doing away with curbside pick-up will be acceptable to TPU customers.

Also, since voluntarily moving to Tacoma from Seattle and based on frequent visits to both downtowns these days, our “bum” problem is nothing compared to Seattle (or SF).  Hopefully you’ll find the grass as green as you hope elsewhere.  Personally, having lived a few places in the thrall of full-on tech booms, I’d take Tacoma any day.

April 24, 2015 at 1:16 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

7 | 0

JDHasty

Any jurisdiction that can no longer afford to provide weekly garbage collection is on a downward trajectory. Any jurisdiction that longer proactively places rat poison in sewer manholes is on a downward trajectory.  Any jurisdiction in which street maintenance can no longer keep pace with deterioration is on a downward trajectory.

Tech Companies are by their very nature looking toward the future.  If a company is already here the cost of relocating may keep them here, but it takes forward looking leadership to attract forward looking companies to locate anywhere.  That applies to forward looking residents as well.  Of course there is what is known as market dislocation to consider. 

In case you are not familiar with the term a market dislocation is a situation in which a person or thing, such as an industry or economy, is no longer working in the usual way or place.  Subsidies, such as property tax abatement and taxpayer funded “public/private partnerships” can and do affect decisions regarding individuals and businesses locate, but market dislocations are seldom a viable strategy in terms of long term sustainability, they always rely on robbing selected Peter to pay for collective Paul.  And the “selected Peter’ who is must be looked at with lustful eyes is successful businesses.  It is far better to rely on the fundamentals of what makes a community attractive in the long term.     

The Gods of the Copybook Headings


AS I PASS through my incarnations in every age and race,
I make my proper prostrations to the Gods of the Market Place.
Peering through reverent fingers I watch them flourish and fall,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings, I notice, outlast them all.

We were living in trees when they met us. They showed us each in turn
That Water would certainly wet us, as Fire would certainly burn:
But we found them lacking in Uplift, Vision and Breadth of Mind,
So we left them to teach the Gorillas while we followed the March of Mankind.

We moved as the Spirit listed. They never altered their pace,
Being neither cloud nor wind-borne like the Gods of the Market Place,
But they always caught up with our progress, and presently word would come
That a tribe had been wiped off its icefield, or the lights had gone out in Rome.

With the Hopes that our World is built on they were utterly out of touch,
They denied that the Moon was Stilton; they denied she was even Dutch;
They denied that Wishes were Horses; they denied that a Pig had Wings;
So we worshipped the Gods of the Market Who promised these beautiful things.

When the Cambrian measures were forming, They promised perpetual peace.
They swore, if we gave them our weapons, that the wars of the tribes would cease.
But when we disarmed They sold us and delivered us bound to our foe,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: “Stick to the Devil you know.”

On the first Feminian Sandstones we were promised the Fuller Life
(Which started by loving our neighbour and ended by loving his wife)
Till our women had no more children and the men lost reason and faith,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: “The Wages of Sin is Death.”

In the Carboniferous Epoch we were promised abundance for all,
By robbing selected Peter to pay for collective Paul;
But, though we had plenty of money, there was nothing our money could buy,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: “If you don’t work you die.”

Then the Gods of the Market tumbled, and their smooth-tongued wizards withdrew
And the hearts of the meanest were humbled and began to believe it was true
That All is not Gold that Glitters, and Two and Two make Four
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings limped up to explain it once more.

As it will be in the future, it was at the birth of Man
There are only four things certain since Social Progress began.
That the Dog returns to his Vomit and the Sow returns to her Mire,
And the burnt Fool’s bandaged finger goes wabbling back to the Fire;

And that after this is accomplished, and the brave new world begins
When all men are paid for existing and no man must pay for his sins,
As surely as Water will wet us, as surely as Fire will burn,
The Gods of the Copybook Headings with terror and slaughter return!


Rudyard Kipling

April 24, 2015 at 1:43 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

4 | 10

Rollie

And today we discover Tacoma is on the top 21 list of cities to run in around the world. That sounds like something to promote when businesses look at us.

April 24, 2015 at 9:14 am / Reply / Quote and reply

4 | 1

JDHasty

The Nose: Please pass the Prozac because Tacoma area is rather sad

Read more here: http://www.thenewstribune.com/2015/04/23/3755738/the-nose-please-pass-the-prozac.html#storylink=cpy

No company wants to locate where optimism is lacking.  This is the market place talking and the politicians are not listening.

April 24, 2015 at 11:12 am / Reply / Quote and reply

6 | 6

CA

For a whole bunch of reasons, Tacoma simply isn’t going to be able to compete with Seattle/Bellevue for tech companies.  It just ain’t gonna happen right now people.  And that’s ok.  We don’t need to.  I think Tacoma’s focus for the next decade-plus should be higher education.  Lets make UWT a destination university.  Apparently Spokane is going to be home to WSU’s new medical school.  Good for them. 

What’s next for UWT?  Urban Waters is great.  The Milgard Business School is great, as are many other programs.  But what comes next?  I know there’s a master development plan for UWT.  How can our local politicians speed things up?

I really think UWT is the ticket.

April 24, 2015 at 12:54 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

6 | 2

Altered Chords

Attending an event 2 weeks ago in Puyallup I spoke with about 12 people over a 2 hour stretch.  8 of them live in pierce county and work in downtown seattle.  That’s 9 including me.  One guy works for a San Fran based co and works out of his house in Lakewood.

I work by the space needle - almost 1/2 of the people here live in pierce county.  @anonymous - Have you been to Pike st. area lately?  Belltown?  Pioneer square?  Homelessness and open air drug dealing are rampant in downtown Seattle.  What leads you to not see that and only see the bad in T-town.  Take a walk down N. 36th from about Proctor to Ruston way, then head up to Pearl on Ruston - do it on a sunny day.  You will never want to leave tacoma

April 24, 2015 at 2:29 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

4 | 0

Sid

Tacoma needs to stop force feeding the rest of the world why Tacoma is cool and start remembering that there are people here that are willing to make it a better place and are tired of the stupidity of our city council and the neglect of our safety and human decency.  Enforce code, increase law enforcement and pay attention to the small details, it is not that hard, beautification is key. 

It blows my mind that skeleton signs are still not banned, dirty rotten fencing along bridges and parks are still not changed, the parking lot next to Lincoln high looks like crap, our streets suck, Graffiti cover ups are left to look like crap on major bridges and most disturbing of all, A guy from Gig Harbor totally punks out county council, as if they have no spine.  Forward thinking does not exist here, it is only talked about and wished upon. 

This city is in an amazing location of undeniable beauty that is not found in many places.  People should be waiting in line to find development space here, yet lots sit empty for decades and will continue to do so, until we beautify this city and hold property owners accountable.  Beautify the city ALL OF THE CITY and people will start to notice Tacoma.  Would you want to sit next to someone with serious body odor, dirty finger nails and a horrible attitude?  No tech company or serious business wants to sit with us until we make changes.

April 24, 2015 at 3:29 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

7 | 4

Devan Williams

Tacoma needs to stop force feeding the rest of the world why Tacoma is cool and start remembering that there are people here that are willing to make it a better place and are tired of the stupidity of our city council and the neglect of our safety and human decency.  Enforce code, increase law enforcement and pay attention to the small details, it is not that hard, beautification is key. 

It blows my mind that skeleton signs are still not banned, dirty rotten fencing along bridges and parks are still not changed, the parking lot next to Lincoln high looks like crap, our streets suck, Graffiti cover ups are left to look like crap on major bridges and most disturbing of all, A guy from Gig Harbor totally punks out county council, as if they have no spine.  Forward thinking does not exist here, it is only talked about and wished upon.  

This city is in an amazing location of undeniable beauty that is not found in many places.  People should be waiting in line to find development space here, yet lots sit empty for decades and will continue to do so, until we beautify this city and hold property owners accountable.  Beautify the city ALL OF THE CITY and people will start to notice Tacoma.  Would you want to sit next to someone with serious body odor, dirty finger nails and a horrible attitude?  No tech company or serious business wants to sit with us until we make changes.

I agree, Especially downtown. Work to get rid of the smelly mills in the waterfront. One thing I think Tacoma has going for it is historic architecture. If the sidewalks get fixed, the street lamps it stored and the old buildings vacant or not get a face lift the city already would look better. The roads in Hill Top need to be raved and side walks need to be redone. I also think the city should focus on planting trees in the area and keeping the streets beautiful. Hell even Wright park could use and actual paved trail and more maintenance.

April 25, 2015 at 7:43 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

2 | 5

Carl Allen

“Work to get rid of the smelly mills in the waterfront. One thing I think Tacoma has going for it is historic architecture.”

Historic architecture or smelly architecture?

April 26, 2015 at 7:13 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

1 | 0

JDHasty

“Work to get rid of the smelly mills in the waterfront. “

Yea, that’s the ticket - you “progressive” dimwits have destroyed and/or chased most of the businesses that supported blue collar workers with living wage jobs out of town.  By the time you are through all that will remain in Tacoma will be government, “non-profits” and service industry jobs for blue collar workers.

April 27, 2015 at 8:41 am / Reply / Quote and reply

4 | 4

thackerspeedRegistered

Purchase Resolution on this week’s Tacoma City Council Agenda:
$2,000,000, plus sales tax, budgeted from various departmental funds, for Herman Miller furniture and services as needed, for a term of five years.

Meanwhile, over at the Economic Development Department, the whiz kids of affirmative action are jumping up and down and waving their arms trying to get the attention of companies that represent state-of-the-art records storage and management—-modern file clerks.

Hey! This is Tacoma, not New Delhi.

April 27, 2015 at 9:58 am / Reply / Quote and reply

0 | 0

thackerspeedRegistered

Tacoma…One of the world’s six major deep water ports; access to one of the world’s best intercontinental freight railway systems; access to one of the world’s best intercontinental highway systems; access to one of world’s best air freight systems—-in total, one of the world’s best distribution networks for hard goods.

TACOMA MESSAGE BOARD—-Wanted: Desk Jockeys and Mystical Dreamers. Can provide access to bicycle paths, light rail passenger service, free bus pass, local monuments that berate past city leaders. Prefer interns who will volunteer services.

April 27, 2015 at 12:11 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

2 | 2

Jonathan Paul

If Tacoma wants to attract established technology companies and startups to the area, the best thing it can do is sell the Click Network to Google Fiber like Provo, Utah did with their municipal network. With affordable access to gigabit speeds (for consumers and businesses) and the Google brand securely rooted in Tacoma, Seattle startups will be much more inclined to look at Tacoma as a potential destination for their business. No one is going to move their startup to Tacoma because it provides a longer runway for their startup funding (because Tacoma is “cheap”). We have to lay the foundation for building an ecosystem and a business friendly environment. The city has proximity to great universities and UWT has solid computer science department. Tacoma would be smart to revise it’s B&O tax, something that drives companies away. Also, given our proximity to JBLM and companies like Amazon / Boeing, it might be smart for Tacoma to take a shot at attracting commercial drone companies to the area. A lot of cities try to recreate the Silicon Valley mold for turning the city into a tech-oriented economy, but in many cases it does not work. Instead, cities should focus on their unique strengths / assets and build around them. Mark Andreessen wrote some valuable insights on this subject: http://a16z.com/2014/06/20/what-it-will-take-to-create-the-next-great-silicon-valleys-plural/

April 27, 2015 at 3:31 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

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