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Jon Talton

Analysis and commentary on economic news, trends and issues, with an emphasis on Seattle and the Northwest.

April 23, 2013 at 10:30 AM

Vote of confidence in Tacoma means the region wins

State Farm Insurance will fill the former Russell Investments headquarters in Tacoma. (Photo courtesy of  Russell Investments)

State Farm Insurance will fill the former Russell Investments headquarters in Tacoma.
(Photo courtesy of Russell Investments)

At the risk of seeming to repeat myself, the decision by State Farm Insurance to fill 300,000 square feet in downtown Tacoma vacated when Russell Investments moved to downtown Seattle is a victory for the entire region. The company will keep an operations center in DuPont, where it employs 1,000. The downtown Tacoma claims center offices are set to eventually handle another 1,100 workers.

While rivalry between Seattle and Tacoma, and Bellevue and Seattle, is real, it also represents what should be considered old thinking. The real competition is between the Puget Sound region and every other high-quality metropolitan economy in the world. So a healthy and growing Pierce County economy is important to Seattle and the Eastside. Another bonus: It can ease the understandable fear of Tacoma residents that they’re stuck in a zero-sum game where other nearby cities steal their economic assets. That would be a big step toward greater cooperation between the Port of Tacoma and the Port of Seattle to address the region’s competitive challenges against other ports.

The State Farm move sends a signal to national site selection executives. Back-office operations for large corporations can bring plenty of well-paid jobs, even if Tacoma doesn’t win coveted headquarters. It has a cost advantage here over other parts of the region. To keep the momentum going, city, county and state economic-development officials will need to be in the hunt for similar targets.

Tacoma is working on other projects, such as building a cluster of research and companies dedicated to urban clean-water technology, and the University of Washington’s downtown Tacoma campus is rich with potential. The Tacoma area has a ways to go. Its unemployment is higher than in Seattle. The effects of military cutbacks on Joint Base Lewis-McChord have yet to play out — and here the goal shouldn’t be to perpetuate military Keynesianism, but to make sure the civilian economy grows to offset a transition to what we hope is a peacetime posture.

Even so, the State Farm decision is a big win, for everybody.

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0 Comments | More in Tacoma | Topics: Joint Base Lewis-McChord

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