Last summer, when Betty Capestany announced she would leave the Bellevue Chamber of Commerce, where she had served as CEO since 2001, to become Pierce County’s economic development director, the news surprised many Eastside business leaders. Her connections to King County and the Eastside ran deep.
Still, Capestany had South Sound connections. Her husband, George, is a local artist who was raised in Tacoma. And Capestany said that, while working up north, she often partnered with South Sound business leaders on regional issues.
Today, Capestany’s attention is focused on Pierce County, which is home to approximately 878,000 people; nearly 393,000 people work in the county; and the county’s top employers include Boeing, Columbia Bank, CHI Franciscan Health, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, and MultiCare Health System. With so much attention placed on employment opportunities and job growth in King County, Capestany noted, “I feel like we’re kind of a secret. Pierce County has added over 41,000 jobs in the last five years. People still don’t know about that. So, it’s about telling that story. We have great talent and great opportunities here.”
One way the county is announcing it’s ready for business is through incentives like the Family-Wage Job Credit program. Enacted in January, the program awards a one-time, $275 credit per job to employers who create at least five new and permanent family-wage jobs in unincorporated Pierce County. The credits can be used toward business-related fees, such as building and land use permits.
Capestany shared her observations on the differences between King County and South Sound economies, Pierce County’s push to grow its aerospace industry, and the county’s new program to spur family-wage jobs.
Q: Why did you choose to leave the Bellevue Chamber of Commerce after 17 years?
A: Serendipity is the word that comes to mind. It was just one of those things that fell into place. It wasn’t an easy decision. But the opportunity to come down to a county, which is wider and broader than just a city, was a big attraction piece. There is a lot of intersection between King County and Pierce County. Most businesses don’t look at city or county lines. They look at where the infrastructure is for them to do business.
Q: In June, you traveled to the Paris International Air Show with a delegation from Pierce County. What was that experience like?
A: I grew up in a Boeing family. My dad was a Boeing executive on the military end of it. Every community I have worked in, Boeing has been a major employer. So, I feel like I kind of know them.
But the Air Show flipped my mind. I was floored and impressed at how deep and mature the supply chain is and how many thousands of businesses are part of it. It used to be Boeing would make everything for themselves. Then they started outsourcing. We have over 70 suppliers just in Pierce County that are part of the aerospace industry.
Q: Did you return from the air show with any leads and opportunities?
A: We met with a bunch of different companies. Some of them were companies we met with in the past and that we keep nurturing, hoping they want to establish a presence here. Others were new on the horizon, and we thought they might be a great match. Hopefully, in the future, we can tell you some good things that have happened.
Q: What can you share about the effectiveness of the county’s new family-wage job credit program?
A: We are trying to get the word out and let people know to take advantage of it. Some are in the pipeline. Some are getting ready to open and might qualify for it. Others are probably adding jobs and haven’t even thought to apply. It’s something that’s probably not top of mind when you are running your company and busy trying to make it in the marketplace.
Q: What’s the difference between leading the Bellevue Chamber and leading Pierce County’s Economic Development Department?
A: It’s a bigger scope in terms of geography. We go from Mount Rainier to the (Sound). That’s a huge geographic area. You have differences, whether it’s Wilcox Farms or Boeing aerospace. It’s just a variety of companies. It’s been interesting to learn some of those pieces in the equation.