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Greg Nickels declares war on Tacoma

Post by Patrick O'Callahan on June 24, 2009 at 7:56 pm |
June 24, 2009 7:56 pm

This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.


Seattle and Tacoma can’t help being neighbors, and they’ve also been friendly rivals at times. The "friendly" part has included an implicit gentleman’s agreement not to fire nuclear warheads at each other’s economic base.


With his covert move to lure Russell Investments out of Tacoma, Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels has ditched the friendliness and turned rivalry into enmity. Plenty of Tacomans take this very personally.


Don’t get us wrong. We’re not talking about the citizens of Seattle or its City Council. Of the city’s political leadership, Nickels alone appears to have initiated secret contacts with Russell executives and offered them a tailor-made break on its business and occupation tax, providing they move the company’s headquarters from downtown Tacoma to Seattle.


Without that tax break, Seattle already had plenty to offer Russell, including lots of cheap, vacant office space and the international cachet of its name. We like to think that Tacoma has more to offer, including $148 million worth of incentives the city is offering the company to stay home.


Tacoma is playing defense here. The loss of its headquarters and its roughly 900 well-paid – and civic-minded – employees would hurt the area badly. If that loss occurs, Tacomans would long remember any complicity on the part of Seattle’s city government.



Can anyone imagine Tacoma’s city manager or elected officials furtively trying to entice Starbucks, or Nordstrom or Amazon to move from Seattle to Tacoma with similar incentives? That would amount to open economic warfare. But that’s exactly what Nickels’ actions look like from this end of the Sound.


Seattle and Tacoma are part of a giant metropolitan area with many common interests, including the need for regional infrastructure and transportation improvements that will often require joint advocacy in the Legislature and Congress. Their respective economies operate in synergy; their real competitors lie abroad, especially in Japan, South Korea, China and other Pacific Rim nations.


Yet Nickels’ strategy would turn what should be a cooperative political relationship into a zero-sum fight that one can win only at the expense of the other. His beggar-thy-neighbor approach to Russell Investments threatens to seriously fray the existing goodwill between Washington’s two leading cities.


Nickels would have a hard time undoing the ill will his secret overtures to Russell have created in Tacoma. But the damage can stop at the door to his office if the Seattle City Council repudiates his nasty little attempt to raid Tacoma’s economy.

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