Tuesday, February 28, 2012

An Opportunity to Vote

Have you ever voted in Pierce County's Conservation District?

Are you aware of the work of the Pierce Conservation District? It is a public agency, chartered under state law and founded in 1949, whose function is “to make available technical, financial and educational resources, whatever their source, and focus or coordinate them so that they meet the needs of the local land manager with conservation of soil, water and related natural resources.”

Its mission is “to protect the natural resources and sustainable agriculture of Pierce County, by empowering local individuals and communities.”

The Conservation District works with landowners, municipalities, and other groups to help with various conservation projects – helping to maintain farmland, creating rain gardens, stenciling on storm sewers that the water drains to the Sound, etc. The Stream Team has many volunteers who conduct water quality testing throughout the District.

There are opportunities to volunteer, for those who are interested.

The Conservation District has a budget of about $2M, and is funded by an assessment of $5 per parcel of land, as well as grants from the County and the State and other conservation organizations. It works through its own staff, with some conservation contractors, and many volunteers. More information about the Conservation District, its strategic plan and its activities, and opportunities to volunteer are found at its website: http://www.piercecountycd.org/home.html, which includes a way to subscribe to its newsletter.

Very few people vote in its elections, at least partly because few people are aware that they are happening and how to go about voting. This year’s election for Pierce Conservation District Supervisor will be held on March 27th. Conservation District elections are held separately from all other elections, and being a registered voter does NOT make you a registered voter for its elections!

To register to vote in these elections, e-mail Selena Corwin (admin@piercecountycd.org). You must apply by 4:00 p.m. on March 6th. E-mail her your name and address and tell her that you are a registered voter. You will then receive a mail-in ballot every year. You may also vote in person at the Conservation District office on March 27th between 4:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. The District Office is located at 5430 66th Avenue East, Puyallup.

City Center Luncheon Reborn

The City Center Luncheon series provided once-a-quarter opportunities to hear about activities in downtown Tacoma.  Since late 2003 the series has been a great success.  In fact it has been so successful that people want more details about what's coming.  In addition, downtown is only a starting point for things impacting Tacoma.

In order to accommodate the speed of happenings in downtown and the greater community, The Chamber is expanding the program to monthly luncheons featuring the greater Tacoma community.  This means that over the next few months there will be a series of luncheons with a a variety of topics. 

To capture this new breadth and changing topic, the name of the series is also changing.  This March, please welcome the Chamber Luncheon Series, featuring...

...Downtown Tacoma (March)
...Environment (April)
...Tacoma (May)
...Healthy Communities (June)
...New Tacoma Awards (July)
...and more...

To register for any of these luncheons, please contact Savannah Kimball at 253-683-4881 or savannahk@tacomachamber.org

The March Chamber Luncheon will feature an update on things happening around downtown Tacoma, including:

- Mayor Strickland presenting on where Tacoma is headed in 2012.
- WSDOT presenting on the coming closure of Exit 133 from I-5 to I-705
- Tacoma Public Works presenting on what road construction lies ahead in downtown
- Introduction of the New Tacoma Awards and opening of nominations

Monday, February 27, 2012

Flood Plain Plan Set Back

When the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) published its updated map of the Puyallup River flood maps in 2005, it started a long and challenging problem for the Puyallup River Valley including Fife. Tacoma and the Port of Tacoma.

Civic leaders have been working toward a collaborative solution since.  But such complex and expensive  problems are never quickly and easily solved.  One step along that process was set back when a necessary implementation step did not receive funding of  an emergency plan.  Yes, 100-year floods happen only one a century. But with the number of rivers draining to Puget Sound, one of them floods every 4 ½ years.

Although local governments have already put up $500,000, the national prioritization of such projects left the local problem behind. Still, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers did fund it this year.

The Chamber, along with others of the Puyallup River Executive Task Force will necessarily keep working to resolve the complexity of the economic and environmental knot of flood control for the Puyallup River. 

Healthcare B&O Tax Review

The Chamber was one of over 40 people testifying to Council regarding the potential impacts of the new B&O tax on non-profit healthcare providers.  While the vast majority of those testifying were opposed to the motion, the change did move forward.  As many councilmembers expressed their regret over the tax and the anticipated impacts they acknowledged that there are no easy solutions to the current budget crisis. 

However, before passing the tax, the Council did exempt those non-profit healthcare providers with revenues less than $30M.  Further, they decided against moving forward on a $3.8M tax, instead holding the line from the prior week at about $900k.  While this is higher than the $600k initially proposed in November and higher than having no tax at all, it saves these organizations $2.7M that can instead be reinvested in the community - with the other non-profit healthcare operating margins.

As we see local tradespeople being employeed in the contstruction of the new facilities at St. Joseph's Hospital or local women being served with preventive screening at the Carol Milgard Breast Center, we must remember that these opportunities are funded with the non-profit healthcare industry's operating margins.

Thank you to those Chamber members helping out on this issue with letters, testimony, and phone calls.  As the business community speaks together, their voice can be heard.  For more on this issue, please see The Chamber's letter to the City.

Get $ For Workplace Health Program

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Viridian Health Management have selected Pierce County as one of seven communities in the United States to participate in a new workplace health program called the National Healthy Worksite Program (NHWP).

CDC and Viridian are working to identify about 15 employers in Pierce County who could benefit from a comprehensive workplace health program.

Employers who are selected to participate will receive a complimentary menu of benefits from the program, including:

  • A complete health and safety assessment of their organization to define existing needs, interests and the capacity of their workplace for a health and safety program

  • A two-year workplace health improvement plan tailored to their organization’s needs and interests

  • On-site program support provided by experienced health professionals who have a track-record of getting results

  • Training to build their knowledge, skill and capacity to maintain and enhance their program

  • Availability of health education materials

  • Access to national workplace Health experts for consultation

  • Hardcopy reports on the progress of their health and safety programs and program staff readiness to discuss progress with senior employer leadership

  • Aggregate reports on the health of their participating employees and regular progress updates

Pierce County was selected to participate in the NHWP because of several prevalent health factors in the county, including a high rate of chronic disease, among them heart disease, strokes, diabetes, obesity, cancer and other smoking-related diseases; the availability of community resources to support a sustainable program, such as proximity to a hospital and existing community health initiatives or programs; and high rates of health disparities among various racial, ethnic, urban/rural and industry sectors groups.

Pierce County employers can apply to be one of the 15 employers selected as National Healthy
Worksite Program participants by going to the NHWP website, http://www.cdc.gov/NationalHealthyWorksite/, and certifying that they meet all of the program’s eligibility requirements.

The deadline to apply and complete the online certification is April 2, 2012.

In addition, the program will include a robust training program and other benefits and resources to a much larger group of Pierce employers who are not eligible or selected to formally participate in the program. As a selected community, this larger group of Pierce employers will be provided with training, technical assistance, and resources from health promotion experts during the next two years, as well as networking and mentoring opportunities.

Employers interested in this option can sign up to participate in this worksite health promotion training and receive ongoing NHWP program communications by registering at http://www.cdc.gov/NationalHealthyWorksite.

Please contact Sheila Pudists, NHWP Director for the Pierce County community, or call (253) 686-8527 if you have any questions or would like additional information.

Chamber Speaks for Business in Education Forum

On February 23, KBTC, Bates Technical College, Business Examiner and Northwest Public Radio presented “Building a Grad Nation: The American Graduate Project Forum.”

Tom Pierson, Chamber President & CEO, was invited as a business leader to participate in a panel discussion on exploring the impact low graduation rates have on our community.

Fueled by the detrimental national rate of more than a million students dropping out of high
school each year and the effect this has for our nation to compete in a global world, KBTC joined public media stations across the country to address the issue in their own communities. Pierson
represented business interests within the panel and touched upon the close ties entrepreneurship and education to jobs and therefore businesses and the community.

“There is an undeniable connection between K-12 education and business. The stronger our schools are, the stronger our workforce and the stronger our businesses and community,” Pierson said.

Pierson’s message was that businesses definitely care about the health of K-12 education and are willing to be engaged in the future of our community’s workforce.

Along with Pierson, the participating panelists also included Miguel Blanco (President - Pierce County Hispanic Chamber of Commerce), J.W. Harrington (Vice Chancellor - University of Washington-Tacoma), Kurt Miller (Director - Reach Center/Tacoma School Board), Salvador Mungia (Partner – Gordon Thomas Honeywell/Member – Tacoma Mayor’s Education Task Force) with Jeff Rounce, Business Examiner CEO moderating.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Sea-Tac Gets Closer to Tacoma

The Sound Transit Board on Thursday unanimously approved a resolution that gets light rail to Federal Way shovel-ready. The Chamber encouraged the Sound Transit Board to expand south so the Link gets closer to Tacoma.

The Board's action includes a budget amendment of $24.3 million that will be used for environmental work and conceptual engineering on the future light rail alignment and stations from South 200th all the way to the Federal Way Transit Center.  Although there is currently no funding to build the segment from Kent/Des Moines to Federal Way, this planning work makes the project shovel-ready and competitive for potential local, state and federal funding.

It also helps provide some certainty to our partners on the alignment and stations. Planning for the extension is scheduled to begin with an alternatives analysis this summer, followed by public workshops in the fall.  While this package is focused on moving rail to Federal Way, it also sets the stage by evaluating expansion options to the Tacoma Dome.

Click on image for larger view.

UPDATED 2/27/12: Additional details. (DS)

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

State-wide Advocacy for Exporting Advantage

Recently, the Washington State Department of Revenue apprized the lease preference use ports extended to their users.  The apprisal threatens the cost competitiveness of Washington's ports (in competition with California ports and British Columbia ports) as well as raising costs for industrial and agricultural products exported.

The Chamber joined many others in seeking legislative relief from this administrative initiative to increase state revenues at the cost of the state's fragile economy and strategic marketing advantages.

Click on the images for a larger view of the joint advocacy letter.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Chamber Letter to Tacoma Re: B&O Tax Increase

On Thursday, Chamber President & CEO, Tom Pierson sent a letter to Mayor Strickland and Tacoma City Councilmembers expressing his concerns around the tax increase.  Below is a copy of that letter.  For more on this issue, please see the recent Live Wire post here.

Friday, February 17, 2012

"The Coming Jobs War" by Jim Clifton - Book Review by Chamber President & CEO

As I was reading ‘The Coming Jobs War’ by Jim Clifton, the CEO and Chairman of Gallup, I kept thinking to myself, how this ties in with the work we are doing here at the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber, and how powerful it will be when we get leaders to filter decisions through the question of ‘is this going to help support entrepreneurship and creating good paying jobs’?

The premise of Clifton’s book is that there is now an all-out world war for good jobs, and if the United States doesn’t get its act together and have an economic miracle, we are going to be losing our economic position in the world. Start-up and sprout-up business will be key. These small and
medium-sized companies with fewer than 500 employees fund the American way of life, our schools, social programs, and government. Without an environment that nurtures their success, the resulting downward ripple effect will have devastating impacts, and we will lose the jobs war.
According to Clifton, we are in deep trouble unless there is an unpredicted transformational event that will cause sudden extraordinary surge in entrepreneurship and innovation.

I hope this book inspires you and helps you start to prioritize resources, programs, and projects to transform our region to a place that supports entrepreneurship.

Best wishes,

Tom Pierson, President & CEO
Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber

Call for a National Freight Policy

Congress has been considering a new comprehensive transportation bill this week (HR 7).  The Chamber joined with other local and national organizations calling that a national freight policy for a strategic approach be included among its provisions. 

Here's the appeal (click on images for larger views):

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Tacoma: $3.8M Tax Increase Will Not Impact Your Business

When posed the question, "What will the impact to services be [of a $3.8M B&O tax increase on non-profit healthcare providers]?" the City Council answered, "Absolutely nothing." 

The City is asking these five organizations to pay an additional $3.8M in taxes without cutting services.  This disconnect between the reality of running an organization with thousands of employees, and taking additional taxes to balance the City's own books was never more apparent than in the the above quotes from Tuesday night's City Council meeting.  (Yes, the Council actually said this.  Video of the meeting is here.)  (We also previewed the meeting here.)

As the Chamber highlighted in its testimony on Tuesday, the non-profit healthcare organizations are required to reinvest any surplus revenues back into the community in the form of clinics, community events, and development.  While Tacoma's hospitals may not be moving anytime soon, they have plenty of choices on where to locate their non-provider services. 

In fact, time and again, Multicare and Franciscan have chosen to locate those facilities in Tacoma while others were leaving.  As a July, 2011 article in The News Tribune noted, when a call center on State Street was abandoned by another business laying off 200 people, Franciscan stepped in and opened up a training center with 220 employees.  When Expedia moved out of its location at 21st and Pacific, Multicare stepped in and leased the space.  When another company vacated its corporate headquarters at 13th and Market, Franciscan moved 315 employees in.  What was once the USWest building at the corner of 13th and Commerce is now Franciscan's administrative offices.

There are numerous other spaces throughout the City that these organizations lease, partner, or own - all of which provide direct and spillover jobs, revenue, and taxes to Tacoma. In fact, the same News Tribune article noted that these community organziations occupy 3.27 million square feet in Tacoma - the equivalent of nearly 15 Russell Buildings.  Yet rather than discussing the potential benefits growth in the healthcare industry can bring to Tacoma, the Council is focused on things like executive pay.

On Tuesday, February 21st, the Council will have a final reading on the ordinance to increase the taxes on Multicare, Franciscan, Community Health Care, SeaMar, and any other non-profit providers thinking about Tacoma.  When the issue first came up last November, the City proposed a $600,000 tax.  A couple of weeks ago Council increased that to $940,000.  Now an amendment to the ordinance is proposed for Tuesday to increase the tax to $3.8M.  In contrast the communities surrounding Tacoma have no B&O taxes on healthcare.  How much is enough for Tacoma's Council?

If you are concerned about the escalating business taxation and the impact this may have on the growth of the healthcare industry in Tacoma, including the spillover effects in restaurants, housing prices, and the like, you're encouraged to contact your City Council.

UPDATE (2/21/12): Chamber President & CEO Tom Pierson's letter to the City Council can be viewed here.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Will Tacoma Open its Doors to Business?

Tonight, the City Council will have three chances to consider the impacts of their decisions on businesses: development regulations, jobs, and the use of our downtown.  We hope the Council will embrace this opportunity to recognize the value businesses provide to the community.

The City will take up the issue of new regulations on large retail developments.  The Chamber has weighed in on this issue each time it has come up.  A recent post on the issue is here.  The proposed regulations create less certainty by requiring developments to go through a subjective process; stretch the development regulations within the City to new ends with extensive requirements not required for other permits; expand the applicability to include businesses from 45,000 to 65,000 square feet without considering what businesses are impacted, like grocery stores; and create a cloud of uncertainty around the reuse of existing buildings, leading to more vacant storefronts.  The Chamber encourages the City to tone down the rhetoric and focus on desired outcomes and impacts to investors.

With the current budget crisis, the City is again turning to business for more tax revenues.  As outlined here, the City is considering a new tax on some of our most sucessful local businesses, our hospitals.  Despite providing hundreds of millions of dollars in charity care and direct funding of community programs, the City is looking to them to provide another $1M in taxes each year a recent jump from the initially proposed $600k.  This will come at great cost to the community as this eats into community programs funded through the hospitals' revenues.  The Chamber will continue to advocate for the preservation of these important services.

Finally, the City's Environment and Public Works Committee has proposed an amendment to the downtown parking regulations that would make the regulations truly market based, requiring developers to only build the parking they need for their development.  For more on this issue, please visit the BIA blog here.

On each of these issues it is a chance for the City Council to stand up and encourage investment and growth in our community.  The Chamber encourages them to do just that.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Chamber Legislative Day Registrations Accepted

Join us as we conference with the Pierce County Legislative delegation.

Also on our agenda are Legislative leaders of the economic development committees plus a representative of the State Department of Commerce.
10:30 am - 11:30 am 

 - Senator Jim Kastama (D-Puyallup) - Chair, Senate Economic Development, Trade and Innovation Committee  - Senator Michael Baumgartner (R-Spokane) – Ranking Member, Senate Economic Development, Trade and Innovation Committee
Representative Phyllis Kenney (D-Seattle) - Chair, House Economic Development and Housing Committee
Representative Norma Smith (R-Clinton) – Ranking Member, House Economic Development and Housing Committee
Daniel Malarkey - Deputy Director, Washington State Department of Commerce

Cherberg Building, Olympia
Register with Cathy Thompson, with this link.

Chamber members are encouraged to arrange appointments with Pierce County legislators.  If you need help with this, email Michael Transue with this link.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Public Invited for Port's Strategic Plan

The Port of Tacoma is developing a strategic planning process with input from community members, customers, business leaders and employees.  The strategic plan will guide the Port’s actions over the next five years.

Read the draft strategic plan (PDF, updated version).

They want your thoughts on the draft plan. Submit comments online by Feb. 22, or at open houses. 

Open houses:
Attend the open house to provide your feedback on the draft plan (introductory comments at 5 p.m.):

Monday, Feb. 13
4:30 - 6:30 p.m.
The Fabulich Center
Room 104
3600 Port of Tacoma Rd., Tacoma

Wednesday, Feb. 15
4:30 - 6:30 p.m.
McGavick Student & Conference Center
Clover Park Technical College
4500 Steilacoom Blvd. SW, Lakewood

The Port of Tacoma is a key contributor to the South Puget Sound economy and has experienced significant growth over the past 20 years.

The Port is currently developing a 2012 Strategic Plan to guide the organization in achieving its next chapter of economic growth and business success. The plan will set the course for the next 10 to 15 years, with a focus on near-term actions.

Hand in hand with strategic planning, the Port will also examine its brand and identity. BrandStrata was hired to support efforts to create a Port of Tacoma brand that reflects our strategic advantages and unique identity now and into the future.

Process Timeline: June 2011 to March 2012

Under the direction of the Commission, CEO John Wolfe is leading an internal task force charged with developing the Port's strategic plan. Berk & Associates was hired to facilitate and support the process, as well as Mercator International LLC to support business strategy development. Port management, staff, stakeholders and the public will be involved in the planning process.

The strategic planning process includes several phases:  
  • Research and assessment: Gather feedback from stakeholders, and conduct business and financial assessments to create the Situation Assessment, which will help develop the strategic business options.
  • Plan development: The task force and commission will craft the Draft Strategic Plan, to include the Port's mission/vision statement, goals, implementation plan and timeline, roles and responsibilities, key metrics and expected outcomes. This phase includes two public open houses Feb. 13 and 15.
  • Adoption: The commission is expected to adopt the final plan in March 2012.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Renewing the Federal Sales Tax Deduction

Today, during a Senate Finance Committee hearing, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell called for legislation to Congress to extend the state and local sales tax deduction, which provides tax fairness to Washingtonians and residents of seven other states without an income tax.

The itemized deduction allows taxpayers in states without a state income tax to deduct the state sales taxes they pay in 2011 on their upcoming federal income tax returns.

For nearly two decades, Washington taxpayers were penalized because the federal tax code did not allow deduction of state and local sales taxes. That disparity ended in 2004 when Sen. Cantwell successfully restored the deduction. But the extension was never made permanent.

Click here to watch a video of Sen. Cantwell speaking at today’s hearing.

The federal income tax deduction for state and local sales taxes is available for 2011 tax returns but its extension remains unclear for future tax years. This means that as of January 1, 2012, residents in states without a state income tax don’t know if they’ll be able to claim the state sales tax deduction for 2012 qualifying spending.

Sen. Cantwell called for an extension of the deduction in order to provide certainty for Washington state residents who are planning their 2012 annual budgets. Taxpayers in Alaska, Florida, Nevada, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, and Wyoming also benefit from this deduction.

During the hearing, Caroline L. Harris, Chief Tax Counsel and Director of Tax Policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, testified in support of extending the state and local sales tax deduction. “It is absolutely essential that we extend this provision because it does bring parity between states . . . that rely on a sales tax for their revenue base as opposed to those who rely on an income tax.”.