Mar. 12, 2009 at 10:31am

Tech in Tacoma

What can we do to make things better?

The way I see it, this recession might actually be beneficial for Tacoma. Because certain sectors like Tech are so small in Tacoma relative to nearby cities like Seattle and Bellevue, a 30% decline in Tech here is much smaller than the same 30% decline in our neighbors to the north. This means that while overall everything is going down, the leading gaps that other cities have over Tacoma is actually shrinking.

That presents an opportunity for Tacoma to snatch up some market share. If we start implementing policies to promote growth in this sector, we could position ourselves to become a more viable option for tech companies. If we do it right, we could benefit from the eventual recovery without having paid so much in losses. This isn't limited to only the tech sector, but being a part of it I'm a bit partial to that end of the spectrum.

So what do you think? What could Tacoma do over the next few years to make itself more attractive? What programs, policies, messages, and tax benefits could we set up now to help us reap a payoff of more jobs, businesses, and economic  growth later?

comments [19]  |  posted under recession, tacoma, tech


by fredo on 3/12/2009 @ 11:22am
Well since you asked, the city council could abandon the B & O tax like most progressive cities have. They could also waive business license fees for all businesses with gross revenues below a reasonable threshold perhaps $500K or $1M. Thanks for your superb posting.

by thriceallamerican on 3/12/2009 @ 11:51am
I think one of the big problems that tech companies face in Tacoma is hiring qualified workers...something that is not a concern if they locate in Seattle or BellevueRedmondKirklandPleasantvilleStepford. Now this is somewhat founded because, indeed, it probably is somewhat hard to hire qualified workers at a tech company in Tacoma. But interestingly, I'm not absolutely sure it means that qualified tech workers don't live in and near Tacoma...they're just going to good jobs they already have in Seattle and BRKPS. (I'm a fine example. Until recently I worked in Tacoma, but when I was ready to move on all of the good Software Engineering jobs, and particularly ones at startups, were up in Seattle, so here I am a regular Sounder commuter...)

So what can we do about this? That's sort of guesswork, but I'll point to a couple of recent blog postings:
- One of my own, regarding resources for the funding and incubation of startups
- One from Andrew Fry, which examines some of the existing companies in Tacoma (all non-consumer-oriented) and touches on some ways to make tech more visible here

I guess if I was going to distill some bullet points, they would be:

- Networking!: If companies are going to find tech workers in Tacoma and vice versa, there needs to be ways for these connections to occur
- Fostering entrepreneurship: Looking forward to Andrew Fry making his startup weekend happen here. I'm also aware of some folks trying to get a Barcamp event going. Both of these things relate to networking, but at the same time just generate a culture where people are thinking about new ideas for startups.

Here's the thing...between UWT, PLU, and UPS, we have excellent schools here for turning out software developers AND people more on the business side of things, and we need to figure out ways to get the people graduating from these institutions to stick around. But that's going to take interesting job opportunities (either via existing companies or a good environment for creating startups). So I sincerely hope we can get the wheels rolling on that...

by morgan on 3/12/2009 @ 11:56am
Well, since you asked, the city should push to remove sales tax and create state income tax. For Tacoma, a shadow city and bedroom community for Seattle, this would mean more stable and predictable income sources for local governments. Having the sales tax is doubly bad for Tacoma because local residents are driving north to support Seattle business which brings in income which then goes to support Seattle economic development. Not to mention that sales tax takes up a larger percentage of income of lower income residents which Tacoma/Pierce County has greater of in comparison to Seattle/King County.

by Nick on 3/12/2009 @ 11:58am
I agree Fredo, I think anything we can do to remove hurdles to small business would really go a long way. The payoff of the resulting future growth would outweigh the lost tax/licensing revenue in the near-term a thousand times over.

by fredo on 3/12/2009 @ 12:20pm
Morgan, interesting thought. The city could certainly remove the portion of the sales tax attributable to the city. Not sure how the city council could eliminate all the sales tax, much of which has been voter approved (i.e. Sound Transit) nor institute an income tax.

by izenmania on 3/12/2009 @ 1:15pm
Well yes, that is why Morgan said "push to", rather than "actually do". I would hope that on some level the state government is interested in listening to city government input on such matters, at least to add to their considerations.

by intacoma on 3/12/2009 @ 1:38pm
How about we extend the lightrail to Dubai

by izenmania on 3/12/2009 @ 1:42pm
That would be a helluva commute. Light Underwater Bullet Rail, anyone?

by ensie on 3/12/2009 @ 2:33pm
Am so on board with eliminating the sales tax and instituting an income tax.

by jenyum on 3/12/2009 @ 2:59pm
Yes, another vote for an income tax.

Unfortunately the state tried that a few times in the twentieth century and the state supreme court said it was unconstitutional. So to make it stick we'd need a state constitutional amendment.

It would help a lot of small techy startups if they'd get rid of the $70 fee for a home business license.

by fredo on 3/12/2009 @ 7:10pm
Geekery asked what would help Tech businesses or other businesses locate in Tacoma as opposed to other Washington locations. Suggestions to institute a state income tax seem to be a bit off topic.

by Altered Chords on 3/13/2009 @ 12:52pm
Say no to tech in Tacoma. Why we're an International Financial Services kinda town. When that sector comes out of the septic tank, they'll be sure to clamor to Tacoma.

by jenyum on 3/13/2009 @ 1:26pm
I disagree. Tech companies are much easier for the average person to start up than an international financial services company. If we want more small businesses with real potential for growth, tech is the way to go.

by Altered Chords on 3/13/2009 @ 4:25pm
That was an attempt at wry humor. We select IFS as a focus industry and the industry melts down.

Attract tech firms. Absolutely, great idea. I don't think finding qualified emplyees will be the monumental challenge because our cost of living compares favorably to Sealle/Bellevue/Redmond. Residents who live north of Tacoma will enjoy a "reverse" commute (eveyone else is goint the other way).

by intacoma on 3/13/2009 @ 4:35pm
How can we attract more online porn companies to move in? I know there are a few in pioneer square but none that I know of in downtown Tacoma...

Who seriously wouldnt be happier with a bunch of pornstars enjoying our amazing city, City of Destiny is already a great porno name, amirite?

by Nick on 3/13/2009 @ 4:42pm
@Altered Chords

Your joke actually brings up an important point - we really need to diversify the types of industries we try to attract. As much as I love tech, we cant go all tech just like we can't go all finance or all healthcare. I understand the need for the whole IFS thing to help encourage Russell to stick around, but that issue aside, why not start some initiatives for other industries as well?

It doesn't have to come with a $125M pricetag, just a simple branding of different downtown districts would be a great start. Then maybe sprinkle in some tax incentives if businesses of certain industries choose to locate within certain areas.

Grouping industries together within a downtown isn't just so you can nickname a part of town the "financial district" or "silicon alley." It also stimulates the development of a community, which in turn accelerates economic growth beyond what would happen otherwise.

by jenyum on 3/13/2009 @ 4:56pm
Sorry altered chords.....oy...I think my sense of humor has been busted.

by NineInchNachos on 3/13/2009 @ 8:28pm
according to wikipedia a couple of gay porn stars come from Tacoma. The city economic development council should emphasize this more in their literature.

by rithean on 3/13/2009 @ 9:48pm
How about office and meeting facilities that small businesses can use at an for cost price while they get started? I'm sure there is plenty of space downtown that is not being used right now.

Getting away from the office workers... How about programs for apprenticeships? Partner with businesses and give high schoolers a plan for after graduation. I know there are some programs out there now, but it is a great way to learn a trade.


I'm just a computer geek that has fallen in love with Tacoma.

So, what's almost as fun as sitting in front of a computer all day? Talking about the growth and development of a new Tacoma, duh!

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