One morning in early August, Bill Herling stood on the deck off his new, top-floor office in downtown Tacoma, as he smirked and pointed toward the standstill on northbound Interstate 5. “I used to have to sit in that,” he said.

The co-founder and CEO of Humming — one of Tacoma’s newest tech companies — used to drive every weekday from his Gig Harbor home to his tech startup across the street from Amazon’s downtown Seattle complex.

“We were in Seattle because we thought we had to be,” said Jill Nealey-Moore, Humming’s COO and cofounder. “But we both live in Gig Harbor. And once you start talking to people, you find out a lot of people are driving to Seattle every day who don’t want to drive to Seattle.”

Humming strips the middleman, mystery, and most of the cost out of online advertising. Its simple online tool uses artificial intelligence to scrape a business’ website and quickly creates optional online ads. Then the small business owners, nonprofits — or anyone, really — can quickly tweak, target, and place online ads with a minimum ad buy of $35.

“One of our clients, a local doctor here, had to suspend his account with us because he got overwhelmed with new patients,” Herling said. “The advertising agency model is cumbersome, complex, and outdated. We want to disrupt that. We feel very confident we will.”

So, Humming and its now 15 employees packed up and moved to the top floor of the Chamber of Commerce Building at South 11th Street and Pacific Avenue — but not without trepidation or second and third thoughts.

“I’d call Jill at night and say, ‘This is a mistake. It seems so self-indulgent. We’re going to lose people,’” Herling said. “Jill talked me off the ledge a couple of times.”

Nealey-Moore, a Ph.D., has experience at things like that. She has dramatically scaled back both her course load as a psychology professor at the University of Puget Sound and her caseload seeing patients so she could
co-create Humming.

“We’re a bit gritty as a company,” Nealey-Moore said. “We definitely fit the ethos of Tacoma.”

Now after opening Humming in Tacoma in June, Herling has a prediction: “We’ve done more in two months here than we did in a year in Seattle. We’re proving it works in Tacoma … and I am confident you’re going to see it happen more and more.”

Those words mean the world to Patricia Beard, business development manager for the City of Tacoma’s Community and Economic Development Department.

“It’s been said that, ‘Seattle is one hour from Seattle,’” Beard said. “Congestion alone has made Seattle a difficult place to do business.”

To leverage Seattle’s traffic disadvantage, the City of Tacoma has partnered with a newish organization, Startup253, to specifically target, support, and nurture technology startup companies from the idea stage to funding to launch to success.

Lee Reeves, Startup 253 cofounder and fund manager, said he feels a new wave rolling toward Tacoma.

“Tacoma supports startups,” Reeves said. Then he rattled off all the ways — the Readiness Acceleration and Innovation Network (RAIN) Incubator; Veterans Incubator for Better Entrepreneurship (VIBE); The Pioneer Collective at Courthouse Square, encouraging city and county governments; a host of co-working spaces; and the planned 20,000-square-foot Technology Center at Old City Hall.

Even typically pro-Seattle publications have run recent articles calling Tacoma the perfect destination for big-city folks who have grown weary of gridlock, costs of living, and gentrification. 

Are you ready, Tacoma, to catch the wave of ex-Seattleites and new tech companies — and the vibrancy and economic boom that come with them?