South Sound business leaders sound off on 2012 & 2013

John Wolfe, CEO, Port of Tacoma
“This past year saw dramatic changes at the Port of Tacoma. We launched an aggressive strategic plan to build new and improved facilities and stronger connections to our customers and community over the next 10 years. While the economic recovery remains slow, we are seeing encouraging signs of growth. New container shipping lines and services are connecting us with more parts of the world than ever, and demand for agricultural and construction equipment overseas continues to fuel increased cargo volumes. We are ready to build on this work in the new year.”

Dick Larman
Executive director, Lewis County Economic Development Council

“For Lewis County, overall the economy is doing better, as we have more new large investments here now than in the last couple of years. We have only 30 miles up and down I-5 that we can fill up with industrial zone access, so it’s going really quick — and then we’ll be done with it, and we’ll have to start building again. Also, we have had more hires in some industries and less in others, but overall we’re much better off in 2012 in terms of employment.”

“My summary is that, for Lewis County, if you have a job and you’re doing well, then you’re feeling pretty good about the economy. So, let’s put it this way: 11 percent of the people (the unemployed) are nervous, but 89 percent are pretty confident that things are looking up again.”

Craig Hill
President of the Tacoma-Pierce County Association of Realtors

“If you are looking for the bottom of the Pierce County Residential Real Estate Market, you may have missed it.  The year is ending with sales prices and the number of sales on the rise while the inventory in decreasing.  The trends are for a healing, but still fragile market.

“2012 was “calm” in Pierce County with no radical changes in values or total sales. The largest change was Inventory which at 2,960 the end of November, lower by nearly 32 percent, relieving some of the downward pressure on prices. While the Pierce County Average Sale Price rose to $218,812, about 6.8 percent ($1,446) over the year, the median price remained at $195,000 which appears to be defining market bottom. The total number of residential sales during the year increased by 299 (3.7 percent) to 8,213.”

Joe Wilczek
CEO, Franciscan Health System

“Fundamental changes in health care continued to occur in 2012, both locally and nationally, that are redefining how, when and where patient care will be delivered in the future. As the federal Accountable Care Act is implemented, health systems like ours are focusing more than ever on providing care that emphasizes quality, patient satisfaction and affordability. Our commitment to excellence will be constant in 2013 and beyond. Our mission to create healthier communities will always be our compass.”

Hugh Carr
Business Development Manager, Americold, and chairperson, World Trade Center Board of Directors

“Americold has seen a dramatic increase in its business in 2012 which is primarily associated with import/’export trade through the Port of Tacoma, but also referral business from the Port of Seattle. Our warehouse operates at close to 100 percent occupancy on a year round basis and, because of that, we are planning an expansion which will double the size of the warehouse, from 195,000 square feet to 180,000 square feet. We currently have a total staff of approximately 100 employees and with the expansion will create another 50 jobs.”

Shawn Slattery
Board Chair, Federal Way Chamber of Commerce, and owner, Clearly Windows: Window Cleaning and Exterior Care

“Reflecting over the past 12 months is such a healthy exercise. Thinking back to what went well and also determining the things which need to be changed or modified to meet the current needs of our clients. This has been an exciting year as the economy continues to make a comeback. Clearly Windows: Window Cleaning and Exterior Care has experienced increases in several of our service niches and we are very optimistic that 2013 will continue to see a return to spending we have been missing the past couple of years.

Joseph Piek
Public Affairs Officer, Joint Base Lewis-McChord

“Long-term, the return of the troops to JBLM should have a stabilizing effect on the surrounding communities. …  With the return home of many of our service members, combined with expectation future deployments will be less frequent, this should reduce the overall roller coaster impacts on this region’s schools, businesses and communities.”

Florence Chang
Executive Vice President, MultiCare Health System

“This year, MultiCare proudly added two new facilities — MultiCare Auburn Medical Center and MultiCare Covington Emergency Department — that provide expanded access to care for our patients in South King County. We also were thrilled to receive further recognition of the outstanding quality we provide to patients when MultiCare Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital was named a Top Hospital by Leapfrog.

MultiCare Allenmore, MultiCare Good Samaritan and MultiCare Tacoma General hospitals also were honored by Leapfrog with “A” ratings for their commitment to quality. We worked to better connect with our patients through our electronic medical record patient portal, increasing the number of people using MyChart by more than 20 percent. And we continued our work to provide better health care and better service at a lower cost to the community.”

Mike Mille
Senior Vice President, Valley Bank, and board member, Kent Chamber of Commerce

“Permits for new construction are starting to show some signs of improvement heading into 2013.  New construction increases for 2013 are forecast at a 3-4 percent rise over 2012

“Sales tax increases for 2012 are 3.7 percent above 2011 and are forecast to increase by over 4.0 percent in 2013.  Real estate excise taxes declined by approximately 1.3 percent in 2012 and are forecast to increase by over 5 percent in 2013 providing a nice increase in revenue to local municipalities. 

“The consumer price index is down 1.1 percent in South King County in 2012 and is expected to remain flat in 2013.

“The South King County commercial real estate market has seen steady leasing and a continued inching down of the vacancy rate.  Positive absorption continues to reduce vacancy rate which stands at 6.34 percent down 105 basis points since the end of 2011 and 188 basis points down from its peak of 8.22 percent at the end of 2010. 

“Locally, the south county area is faring much better than the nation as we are led by a surge in aerospace jobs.  The latest projections for 2012 reflect a 2.7 percent increase in employment, nearly twice the national rate.  Over the next two years, employment growth is expected to increase by 2.3 percent and 2.4 percent respectively.” 

Amy J. Remington
Sales manager and loan consultant, Guild Mortgage, and Tacoma-Pierce County Association of Realtors 2013 Affiliate Chair

“2012 was a turnaround year from the mortgage industry. Home values bottomed out in early 2012 and we have seen small increases throughout the remainder of the year in many areas of Pierce County. This not only supports the economy through the direct benefits of a home sale, but indirectly through stabilizing home prices making it easier for existing homeowners to refinance. We look forward to 2013 as continuing strength in the local housing market and rates near historical lows makes for a perfect time to buy a home.”

Chris Free
Principal, Rapport Benefits Group Inc., and president, Washington Association of Health Underwriters

“2012 was a big year in the health insurance world.  Our industry, including insurance carriers, brokers and administrators, has experienced a deluge of new regulation. The new regulations have created a lot of extra work for our industry without a commensurate increase in revenues. On the other hand, the new regulations have also put our industry in the limelight and it gives brokers more opportunity to talk about what’s going on with the employee benefits world.  So, while there is new work to do, there is also new opportunity for brokers.

“The hard part has been the impact on our clients. It has been very difficult to burden our clients with hours of new compliance work to keep up with the new regulations.  It’s been even more difficult to present the record high rate increases that health insurance companies are having to issue. Overall, our industry is in an incredible state of flux with an insurmountable amount of uncertainty.  It’s a very difficult environment in which to do business.”

Brian Haynes
Immediate past chair, Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber Board of Directors, and CEO, Rainier Connect

“We have become the voice for business. We created a new energy as the business advocate fostering better engagement by bringing together local officials and local businesses. Now we’re positioned, not just in Tacoma, but throughout Pierce County to create jobs and to advocate for business.”

Rick Riccobono
Director of banks, Washington State Department of Financial Institutions

“For community banks, been a long, tough slog — although it’s actually been a good year, in the sense that it gave banks the opportunity to clean up bad loans and real estate that was residing on their books. In 2013, it will be the last phase of the cleanup of crises, as the economy continues to bounce around like it has in the past couple of years … But what we need right now is a freeflow of credit.”

Ken Sharp
President, Kent Chamber of Commerce, and owner, Minuteman Press

“Overall, the economy seems to have stabilized with very slow but sustained growth. Unfortunately, the foundation for continued growth continues to be a concern, especially as the Federal Government wrestles with the “fiscal cliff” issues and our local businesses face increased local taxes. Indicators are very positive for further competition and demand for commercial space and improved employment in the Kent Valley. 

The Chamber had an excellent year working with its members, the City of Kent and local educators on issues of mutual importance including taxes, roadways and worker education and training. The Chamber is growing and building a strong reputation as a successful advocate for local businesses.”

Chuck Valley
General manager, Best Western Premier Plaza Hotel & Conference Center
and member, Puyallup Sumner Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors

“I’ve seen growth in the Puyallup community and growth in businesses that continue to locate corporate offices in the Puyallup community. For us, that growth translates into people staying over night and more business travel. We opened up a new hotel in Puyallup, the Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriott, and we remodeled the Best Western Premier Hotel & Conference Center. It’s a good time to build even though it may seem counter-intuitive to most.”

Matt Matayoshi
Executive director, Mason County Economic Development Council

“What’s important for us is that we’ve turned a corner after the economy took a significant downturn. This is the first time our unemployment is below 10 percent.”