The Tacoma Empowerment Consortium (TEC) has run out of money and time. As the money the federal government had promised to Tacoma began to dwindle during the final months of 1999, the Consortium’s future grew bleaker and bleaker until last week when it closed its doors—perhaps for good.

March 3 was the staff’s last day. Director Shirl Gilbert will stay on for about a month more, completing paperwork and overseeing the final stages of shutting down the operation.

“I’ve been told flatly that we were a victim of politics,” says Gilbert.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development had intended to send Tacoma a $3 million grant in 2000—equalling the grant in 1994 that lead to the creation of the Consortium.

“In an election year, with the current vice-president running for president,” Gilbert says, “there was no way a Congress controlled by the opposition party was going to release hundreds of millions of dollars into urban centers around the country when Gore could try to take the credit.”

Yet Gilbert says hope is not dead that TEC will rise again.

U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks (D-Bremerton) has announced that he will continue to work to re-establish funding for the empowerment zone initiative.

“If Gore wins,” Gilbert says, “we believe funding might be reinstituted in 2001. Even if a Republican candidate wins, we believe some funding may be made available. It’s just that an election year is not a good time for this kind of program.”

Though TEC’s funding has run out, some programs administered through the office may survive. TEC used the original $3 million grant it received in 1994 to bring together a coalition of existing not-for-profits—often simply contracting to have one of its partner organizations run programs funded by grant money funneled through the TEC.

It appears that the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber of Commerce will handle any administrative duties that may still be required. The Chamber also is expected to take over the lead role the Consortium has played in trying to create a federal International Services Development Zone (ISDZ) for Tacoma area businesses.

The Tacoma Urban League, the Metropolitan Development Corporation, Goodwill and the Private Industry Council will continue to oversee some business-loan and workforce-training programs.

By Christopher Hord, Business Examiner staff