Negative perception of South Sound ‘talent’ unwarranted

When Weyerhaeuser announced in August that it will be leaving the South Sound for Seattle, one of the reasons given was the desire to “attract and retain top talent.”

Of all the misconceptions about our area, among the most surprising is the belief that it is hard to recruit top talent to work and live here.

As CEOs of a major company and a large healthcare network based here, we can emphatically say that this is not true. In fact, major local employers are having more success than ever in recruiting highly skilled employees, thanks to key investments in our community that have paid off over time.

We speak from experience. Columbia Bank is the second-largest bank based in the state, and the 104th state, and the 104th largest in the country. In the past several years, Columbia has embarked on a program of regional expansion, filling a need for responsible, local banking in the Northwest.

MultiCare Health System is a comprehensive network of five hospitals, more than 130 sites of care and more than 10,000 employees serving four counties in the South Sound. MultiCare is expanding services as community need and our geography continue to grow.

Both Columbia and MultiCare rely on the availability of a large pool of talent to achieve our objectives, fulfill our missions and fuel our growth. We have had great success finding employees in this region and elsewhere who welcome the chance to live in Tacoma and Pierce County.

Along with other major employers – such as True Blue and State Farm – we are finding exceptional team members who want to set down roots and thrive in the South Sound. Why wouldn’t they? A recent New York Times article pointed out that a new generation of young people is moving to cities like Oklahoma City and Austin because of the availability of affordable housing. The same is true of the South Sound.

Tacoma, Gig Harbor, Puyallup, Lakewood and University Place all offer a range of affordable housing options to suit every taste, along with a beautiful natural landscape. Tacoma alone has more than 40 miles of coastline and stunning views of Mount Rainier and the Olympics. Our region is a great place for young people to build their careers and establish their families.

The rise of a talented and ambitious workforce here has been partly by design. Local leaders’ decision to bring a branch of the University of Washington to downtown Tacoma has been, by any standards, a tremendous success. It has fostered a young, talented group of people, many of whom are staying in Tacoma after college and building a life here. New and affordable housing, new restaurants and pubs, and new cultural assets have brought a fresh, energetic workforce to our very livable city.

Great cities come in many shapes and sizes, and Tacoma is the perfect fit for talented people and the companies that attract them. This is why we have been successful in recruiting talent and why companies like State Farm have moved offices here.

However, we cannot pat ourselves on the back and rest on our laurels. Our city leaders, regional government and economic development offices must continue to attract a diverse range of companies and seed startups. This is being done, and these efforts must continue.

The South Sound region has a population of about one million people. As the national economy shifts west, the attributes that we love about our city, the natural beauty, easy access to transportation, and unique neighborhoods, will draw more people.

We must continue to invest in public safety, infrastructure and education. Continued support of the University of Washington Tacoma and other higher education institutions, is vital.

We need more big ideas. Chambers Bay was a big idea, so was the LeMay-America’s Car Museum. Both have succeeded in putting our county in the national spotlight.

Most importantly, we must focus on what we truly are: an innovative city and region with unique attributes, great people and countless opportunities. Together, we must counter negative perceptions by the uninformed with a staunch focus on our strengths and our bright future.

Melanie J. Dressel is the CEO of Columbia Bank. William G. Robertson is the CEO of MultiCare Health System.