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Tacoma's Rebirth Features City-Owned Telecommunications Infrastructure, Downtown Revitalization, New University Campus

April 26, 2004


In 1997, Tacoma Power invested nearly $100 million to build "Click Network" — a 700- mile, largest city — owned telecommunications infrastructure in the nation. The private sector followed with its own $200 million telecommunications investments, and today Tacoma is more "wired" than just about any city its size.

With a population of 193,556, Tacoma, located roughly fifty miles south of Seattle in Washington State's Puget Sound Area, was in the mid — 1980's considered to be a city on the decline. Crime was rampant, the city's downtown waterfront, a federally designated superfund site, was wasting away, and pulp mills choked the air, resulting in what residents termed the "Tacoma Aroma."

In the 1960s, '70s and '80s a new interstate freeway route by passed downtown Tacoma and retail businesses moved out to the mall. The federal government declared Tacoma's waterfront an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) "Superfund" site.

In the late 1990s, the community made several facilities downtown, including parking garages, a hotel and office space. The city tore down dilapidated buildings in high crime areas with hopes that the blocks would be rebuilt by the private sector. But investors weren't interested. Crime and interest rates were too high, and Tacoma wasn't viewed as a sound business investment.

Downtown is now a bustling cultural corridor with several museums and theaters. With a light rail line, a renovated waterfront featuring market-rate housing and clean air, Tacoma now prides itself on being, in addition to the above progressive steps, "America's #1 Wired City."

Another amenity seen to fruition in the evolving community-wide drive of energized citizens under the leadership of Tacoma Mayor Bill Baarsma was to turn a large portion of Tacoma's aging and dilapidated downtown into the thriving University of Washington Tacoma campus now a reality. It's located right across from a restored Union Station, a passenger station built in grand style in 1911 as a tribute to the then prospering region. A renovation project begun in 1988 and opened in 1992, marking the rebirth of the once tattered city and sparking additional private sector investment.

The university area, immediately across Tacoma's main street from Union Station, contained old warehouses used to house the goods transported by railroad. The buildings were old, run-down and boarded up, but underneath were historic structures with lots of potential.

Again the community pulled together a convincing proposal. They showed university officials and the state legislature what the campus could be, and won the bid. In 1995, work got underway to renovate several historic buildings into what is now a 40-acre urban university campus right in the heart of downtown. The University of Washington Tacoma now offers many undergraduate and graduate degrees, including a growing business school and the state's only Institute of Technology. Today, five more historic warehouses are being transformed into additional classroom space, a student and media center and 10,000 square feet of retail space.

Economic development now moved to the key priority for Tacoma in 1998 and the city council embarked on a new department devoted solely to that task. The city's political leadership with citizen input developed a list of capital projects and other priorities. Enter, among these telecommunications. Now "wired", businesses could get hooked up faster and save start-up costs, connect satellite offices as if they were in the same room, and do business anywhere in the world. The new system proved to be both start-up companies and global firms, such as the Frank Russell Company headquartered in Tacoma, which was the first company to use "Click Network."

In 1999, the city started a marketing campaign aimed at the selling point of being "wired." That new image has taken hold and reflected in the private sector's confidence to invest in the city. From 2001 to 2002, Tacoma added 7,000 new jobs to its workforce.

Tacoma now is focusing on a marketing and business recruitment push aimed at protecting its public investments. The city is marketing to retail businesses and restaurants, attracting them to the city so that the museums, the convention center, and other investments succeed over the long-term.

Tacoma's BSIP Project

To cap all of these efforts, a new overhaul of the city's electronic and manual processes and systems cranked up — to the tune of $50 million. The phrase "efficient government" will no longer be an oxymoron when America's #1 Wired City, Tacoma, WA, implements its Business Systems Improvement Project (BSIP). This implementation makes Tacoma the first city in the nation to completely integrate its general government and utilities business functions with a citywide enterprise resource planning (ERP) solution from SAP. The implementation includes finance, human resources, work management, and customer information systems in general government departments such as police, fire, and public works; as well as in the city's six public utilities.

A few of the improvements that BSIP will achieve:

  • Electronic government features, such as Internet access for utilities customers to pay their bills and request or cancel service; and electronic access for permitting and tax and license customers.
  • Efficiencies on public works and utilities projects as engineers manage projects with real-time access to scheduling, time reporting, procurement, and billing information.
  • Tracking the entire purchasing cycle from order submission, goods received, to accounts payable, so the city can maintain tighter controls and vendors receive timely payments.
  • Faster responses to citizen inquiries through a centralized tracking system.

For more information, contact Martha Anderson, Tacoma Economic Development Department, 747 Market St., Room 900, Tacoma (WA), 98402; 253-591-5207; fax: 253-591-5232; email: manderso@cityoftacoma.org