The appeal to attend Wednesday’s annual South Sound Summit at the Greater Tacoma Convention Center — and to stay for the entire event — was almost too good for any local businessperson to resist: At the end of the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber’s day-long gathering of updates from key business leaders and breakout sessions, there was to be important dialogue surrounding a $300 million community project.

That project is a big one: A proposed privately financed soccer complex in Central Tacoma that includes a stadium, eight recreational fields, shops, and 520 units of housing. Maya Mendoza-Exstrom, general counsel of Seattle Sounders FC, explained what the new facilities could mean for the Tacoma region leading up to the 2026 World Cup.

“We are in a battle with other regions to be one of 10 chosen cities by FIFA in Zurich,” Mendoza-Exstrom said. “But it’s about more than trying to host the World Cup. It’s about investing in youth soccer players and growing talent right here in our region.”

The new facilities, if approved, will have the capability to host international teams as well as local youth practices and games. One hundred days of free public use will be available, so all members of the community have access to the stadium for recreational use. MultiCare Health System CEO Bill Robertson said MultiCare has pledged $20 million toward the facility to be used for a full medical facility for the women’s team — the first of its kind and caliber in the country.

“It’s a good old grassroots community-based investment where taxpayers see returns while a new culture is also built, in addition to the millions of dollars that teams will spend in the local community,” said Tim Thompson of Goal Tacoma.

The project made the local business community aware of the possibility of construction.

Prior to the announcement, which preceded a networking session with light hors d’oeuvres and beverages, attendees were treated to a day replete with information-filled opportunities.

The day kicked off with a Future of the South Sound luncheon, during which the crowd heard from a number of community leaders in various sectors. They included: Dr. Ali Modarres, assistant chancellor for community engagement from University of Washington Tacoma; Bruce Kendall, president and CEO of the EDB for Tacoma-Pierce County; Dan Absher, president of Absher Construction; Tom Pierson, president and CEO of the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber; Tanya Durand, executive director of the Children’s Museum of Tacoma; David Fischer, executive director of Tacoma Arts Live; Korbett Mosesly, senior policy analyst for the City of Tacoma; Bill Roberston, president and CEO of MultiCare Health System; and Bruce Dammeier, Pierce County Executive.

Each of the above leaders spent a few minutes talking about their respective sectors.

Modarres began by announcing that Pierce County has crossed the 900,000-population barrier for the first time, though our unemployment rate still is a bit high. “We can do better than that,” he said. On education, Modarres said the higher-education aspect in our region is quite high. “(Now) let’s give (graduates) the jobs to stay here. … We need to make sure that we invest in this region in an equitable way. … We need to think about jobs that pay more.” On housing, Modarres commented, “We need more of it, in every price range and to make sure we build for those who are here and those who will be with us.”

Absher said he’d love to see some office towers built; Pierson said, “We need to move the needle in terms of homelessness,” which led to a deeper discussion on the issue; Durand spoke about inspiration she received from a recent trip to recently renovated Pittsburgh, while Fischer added his thoughts on how closely Pittsburgh — a city he also visited along with Durand and other area leaders — parallels what he’s hoping Tacoma can replicate. “What culture brings is a higher-quality of life,” he said. “The arts engage in all learning modalities. They help us teach history, math, science, and language arts. We’re not just a nice thing to have … we are essential.”

Mosesly shared some takeaways from his perspective, including that, “If we decreased the poverty rate in Tacoma by 1 percent it could be $84 million in purchasing power back into our community.” Robertson shared three ideas, including, “If we can imagine it, we can do it. … I like to say the (South Sound region) is the healthiest region in the United States.”

County Executive Dammeier closed the luncheon portion of the day with a summary of his thoughts and hopes for the community. “We have to be a community that (people) choose to come to,” he emphasized. “I want a vibrant Pierce County where people choose to live, work, and raise a family. We want to make the county government a government you are proud of.” Dammeier circled back to the issues of housing and homelessness and said helping people get their lives back on track is the “core” to the quality of life in our area.

“We’ve got to stop taking people and moving them from where they live to where they work and start making where they work be where they live,” Dammeier said.

The remainder of the afternoon consisted of hour-long breakout sessions. Topics that were highlighted included:

  • Solving the Right Problems in the Gig Economy

When it comes to the gig economy, experts sitting on this panel agreed on the importance of looking at today’s generationally and racially diverse workforce. As younger and more progressive employees move into the workforce, companies need to focus on purpose over profits to avoid high turnover and attract a workforce that can adapt to the changing professional landscape. This includes providing more flexibility, responsibility, and agency to employees in all sectors.

  • Small Businesses in the South Sound

Effective communication and the creation of a positive workplace culture are among the most important pieces of a successful small business; leaders from M Agency, Anthem, and Gordon T. Jacobs Remodeling Co. agreed that they also are among the most challenging elements of entrepreneurship. They recommended that business owners get back to the basics, be fruitful before multiplying, and to lead with the “why” behind the business so that vision doesn’t get lost.

  • Retail in the South Sound

Four popular retailers in the South Sound — the minds behind Wooden City (Abe Fox), Ice Cream Social (Layla Isaac), Tacoma Night Market (Leah Morgan), and eTc Tacoma (Umi Wagoner) — spoke to the shift in retail as the gig economy becomes ever more present and as more stores migrate to online platforms. Their responses centered around community: A strong group of supporters committed to a brand is the main element that keeps small businesses like their own thriving year after year.

  • Digital Advertising Made Easy for All Business

A breakdown on digital advertising was conducted by Jill Nealey-Moore, COO of online ad aggregator Humming Inc. Of the $240 billion spent on advertising so far in 2019, 54 percent has been on specifically digital ads, Nealey-Moore said. Part of the reason for this is due to the number of individuals living in the digital space, but also because business owners are able to quantify the return on investment for marketing dollars spent this way. She suggested familiarizing yourself with the digital ecosystem in order to capitalize on customer acquisition through online ads.

An end-of-day keynote was delivered by Matt Griffin, CEO and co-founder of Combat Flip Flops. The entrepreneur and veteran announced the release of his new documentary, Here Am I, Send Me, which follows the story of Griffin and his fellow service members honoring the 75th anniversary of D-Day through a free fall jump above Normandy, France.

The jump included the mother of a decorated veteran who wanted to honor her son’s service, as well as numerous contributions of time and resources in order to make the event and resulting film possible.

Griffin explained that he could not have completed the project without tapping into his network of fellow service members. “You’ve got to love the network,” he said. “When you hire a veteran in the South Sound, you get their whole network.”

After countless potentially debilitating obstacles, Griffin’s group completed the jump and released their documentary memorializing the event.

Just before the close of the South Sound Summit event, the Life Christian Academy drum line celebrated the culmination of a successful year of supporting local businesses with a surprise performance. The sound of the percussionists encompassed the ballroom of the Greater Tacoma Convention Center, and was replaced with ferocious clapping upon its finale. Audience members left the event with a rejuvenated inspiration for conducting business in the South Sound, looking forward to the developments to come.

From left to right: Josh Dunn of South Sound Business magazine, Chris Dunayski of Gordon T. Jacobs, Bryan Reynolds of Anthem Coffee and Tea, and Bobbie Bailey of M Agency prior to a panel on small business in the South Sound.