Tacoma may be making some inroads on the development front, says a Colorado consultant, but it still has a long way to go before becoming a viable economic power. Ross Boyle of Growth Strategies Organization (GSO) of Vail says Tacoma’s problems are ingrained. They cannot be repaired with Band-Aids, such as the city’s new theme: “Tacoma: America’s Most Wired City,” which was proposed to the City Council Feb. 1 by consultant Ted Levine, he says.

“I’m not buying that Tacoma is the No. 1 wired city in America,” Boyle told a recent leadership session of the Tacoma-Pierce County Economic Development Board and the Chamber of Commerce.

“Omaha had three fiber-optic systems in place in 1984,” he told the session. “If Ted thinks you can get away with calling Tacoma ‘America’s No. 1 wired city,’ then God bless him—but you should be aware you’ve got an awful lot of competitors out there.”

Boyle had been hired jointly by the Chamber and the EDB to assess Tacoma’s economic performance and business competitiveness. He provided a series of comparisons between Tacoma and 11 other western cities, all but one larger than Tacoma.

Boyle recited a litany of problems faced by Tacoma. One of the most prominent is Tacoma’s dead-last ranking when the overall education level of its workers is compared to that of the other cities in the survey. Boyle reported that 13.5 percent of Tacoma’s adult labor force has no high school diploma—fourth lowest among the 11 cities—while 21 percent of its workforce has only a high school education, the highest on the list in that category. Eighteen and a half percent of the City’s workers do have at least a bachelor’s degree—but that’s the lowest of any city in the survey.

In terms of percentage of public school graduates, Tacoma was nine percentage points below the national average, Boyle said.

“I’ve got to tell you,” he said, “the national average is lousy—being 9 percent below the national average is something to be concerned about. Quality of education is what corporations look for when they come in to a community—the quality of education.”

Boyle told those at the meeting at the World Trade Center in Fife that Seattle should be looked upon as one of Tacoma’s biggest assets. Yet Tacoma-Pierce County residents leave daily for well-paying jobs outside the area that just are not available here, he said

“In the production of goods, Tacoma does not have a very substantial presence,” said Boyle. Tacoma-Pierce County is more government dependent for jobs at all levels than than any of the 11 other communities examined. Twenty-two percent of Tacoma’s workforce is employed by the federal, state, county or city governments, he says.

The other communities included Colorado Springs, Tucson, Albuquerque, Salt Lake City, Spokane, Seattle, Boise, Portland and San Jose.

By Richard Sypher, Business Examiner staff