Tacoma has historically been known for its industrial presence, but today the growing city of nearly 215,000 people prides itself on the diversification and evolution that are paving the way for significant investment opportunities.
“If you were saying, ‘What’s Tacoma’s character today?’ it’s not just industrial anymore. It’s a variety of different things, and we pride ourselves on the diversification of businesses because, as a welcoming city, we have to have portals for all people to enter the market and then also to live here,” said Elly Walkowiak, assistant director of Tacoma’s Community and Economic Development Department.
By doing this, Tacoma is staking its claim as a dynamic city on the rise. Brimming with artists, musicians, entrepreneurs, business owners, and other professionals working in such sectors as healthcare, education, and technology, Tacoma is experiencing impressive growth. In fact, in downtown alone, well over $1 billion is being invested to revitalize the city. Private investment has surpassed public investment by a roughly 5:1 ratio, said Walkowiak.
“When I talk about what’s that $1 billion comprised of … most of that is the private market responding. That is an incredible story to show the strength of the marketplace here in the South Sound in Tacoma,” Walkowiak said. She also noted that international investments are skyrocketing. Take, for instance, a four-star hotel and a mixed-use project located adjacent to Tacoma’s Convention Center. “In my tenure here, we have seen the largest foreign investments in our city’s history,” Walkowiak said.
The city may be in the midst of a transformation, but its roots are far from forgotten. Home of the Puyallup Tribe and other Native Americans for thousands of years, Tacoma took its name from the Native American name for Mount Rainier. Settlers arrived in the early 1850s, and the area made a name for itself in the lumber industry when investors built the Hanson & Ackerman Mill in 1869, as noted by city-data.com. The construction of the mill sparked a boom, and four years later, Tacoma enjoyed another major development as it was selected as the terminus for the Northern Pacific Railroad.
In the years to follow, Tacoma, which was incorporated in 1884, would continue to grow and attract settlers as the railroad, lumber, and coal industries fueled industrial development.
The city also has more than 100 years of rich maritime history. Its close proximity to Commencement Bay and Camp Lewis (now known as Fort Lewis) was of benefit during the shipping industry rush of World War I, and, in 1918, Commencement Bay was declared an official U.S. Port of Entry. Today, Tacoma is home to the seventh-largest container port in the country, with a footprint of more than 2,700 acres, according to the city’s Community and Economic Development Department website makeittacoma.com.
“The port still continues to be a major economic anchor for this community. Even though we see Tacoma evolving, its industrial roots are strong,” Walkowiak said.
More recently, healthcare, education, and financial services have entered the spotlight as key industries fueling growth, as well as the tech sector.
“The area that we’re growing now and having more emphasis on is the technology sector. That is part and parcel due to the growing demand for these types of services [and] the innovations that are happening with technology. The University of Washington (Tacoma’s) Institute of Technology is growing,” Walkowiak said.
Rounding out the quality of life is the city’s emphasis on the arts and nature. Two significant examples include the Museum of Glass, which opened its doors in 2002, and the new Pacific Seas Aquarium at Point Defiance.
Located along the Thea Foss Waterway, which was once an empty industrial wasteland and Superfund cleanup site, the Museum of Glass has proven instrumental in the restoration of the waterway community. According to the museum’s site, it initially focused exclusively on renowned glass artist and Tacoma native Dale Chihuly. However, Chihuly insisted that glass artists from around the world also be featured. Today, the museum attracts more than 100,000 visitors annually.
In September, the city celebrated the opening of the new Pacific Seas Aquarium, the largest capital project in Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium’s 113-year history. It is roughly 20 percent larger than its predecessor. According to the Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium, the $51.6 million project was funded largely with capital improvement bonds, with additional money supplied by The Zoo Society through donations from individuals, corporations, and foundations.
The state-of-the-art aquarium represents four years of design and construction and, according to the zoo, it has “more secrets to reveal, more animals to come, more finishing touches to be done.”
“The Pacific Seas Aquarium delivers a transformative experience,” said Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium aquatics curator Neil Allen in a news release. “It’s a wonderful feeling to see children’s eyes light up when they see and connect with these amazing ocean animals.”
There’s no doubt that Tacoma is in the midst of a significant transformation and brimming with opportunities.
“The investment opportunities are ripe here, and we are working actively to court investments to help grow businesses here,” Walkowiak said.