Although finance as a discussion topic tends to get yawns or groans from most people, my profile on Tacoma's Russell Investments, little-known outside the investment world, drew many readers and comments. Here on Crosscut, Scottacoma says this:I started reading this article with some trepidation. Seattle publications are usually not very fair-minded when it comes to writing about Tacoma. I was relieved to find this article to be pretty fair, especially when it came to describing the +/- of Tacoma living for bright young adults.
Dbreneman concurs: "Excellent gloss on the subject. Unless you're really into the urban hipster life style, as a place to live, King County pretty roundly sucks. Housing prices through the roof, more laws, more hassle."
Tacoma's Exit 133 blog posted a link to the article, which has attracted 63 comments as of this writing. A recent Russell recruit left this response, which may be the best articulation yet of Russell-in-Tacoma's recruitment strengths and challenges:
I start at Russell in a few weeks. I am coming from out of state and I had no preconceived biases against Tacoma other than having heard people say "tacoma aroma" before. When I came on my recruiting trip I was a little freaked out by looking out the window of Hotel Murano on a Friday night and seeing a ghost town. I'm a family man, so I am not looking for an amazing night life really, but Tacoma didn't look like a healthy city. It is a really pretty city and I hope I end up loving it, but I felt a little worried after my trip. I am debating living in Tacoma, but I am pretty sure I am going to end up commuting from olympia.
The recruit received responses from Tacoma boosters who pointed out their city's benefits over Olympia's. Most interesting in terms of Russell's pending decision was this comment, ostensibly from the Tacoma Tribune's own Dan Voelpel:I've heard from other recent hires at Russell that their HR people have told them the company will move its corporate HQ to Seattle and relocate the bulk of its Tacoma workforce to a Lacey location. These folks told me the HR people wanted them to know about it to help them make home selection decisions. Didn't they tell you the same thing?
If this is true, we may be close to a public announcement about the decision, and it's unfortunately not going to come down in Tacoma's favor. However, the fact that the new recruit wasn't told to mind his home selection decision suggests otherwise, unless there's another reason he's considering locating in Olympia, which is closer to Lacey.
On Russell's decision-making process, Franzy shared this:In a recent discussion with a long-time Russell employee, he told me 'Russell will do what's best for the company with little regard for what's best for Tacoma.' Sad, but understandable from a business perspective. It worries me, as a property owner who bought when prices soared, that Tacoma will never really recover if it loses Russell.
Another commenter, Nick, asked why Tacoma put so much emphasis on trying to keep an employer like Russell in Tacoma rather than concentrating on attracting new businesses to the city.
A few commenters beat up on John McLaughlin, the young finance professional interviewed for the article. While his comments about Tacoma's cultural scene may be a bit dismissive, they are honest and echo what I hear frequently from those under 30 living throughout Puget Sound. In the midst of taking offense, some readers missed what he said that made commenters on both Exit 133 and Crosscut argue that the article presented a balanced treatment:Still, McLaughlin surmises that Russell will stay put, citing that it does an excellent job of recruiting talent from the urban areas where such people are concentrated. He also observes that recruits make the conscious decision to relocate to Tacoma knowing what they may lose — as well as gain, in the form of larger homes and more amenities than they could buy in a more cosmopolitan city.
What stirred readers most was McLaughlin's description of working inside Russell and being in touch with global transactions only to walk outside and smell Tacoma's paper mill. A commenter whose father works at the paper mill countered with his father's often repeated line: "It's the smell of money." While some minimized the smell, others acknowledged it as a valid issue. Writing on Crosscut, Rockrabbit says:Tacoma is much better than it was 20 years ago in virtually every respect. But the aroma, diminished as it is, still wafts over downtown when the wind's blowing from the wrong direction, and it still limits the city's growth potential and its quality of life.
On Exit 133, commenter michael g. concurs:I'd like to thank John McLaughlin for telling the truth. Anybody who thinks the smell (and to a lesser extent, the sight) of the pulp mill doesn't significantly limit Tacoma's growth potential and quality of life is delusional. The aroma is diminished, but when the wind's blowing the wrong way or not at all, it's very much still around.
Jenyum directed readers to an investigation she conducted of her own, which turns out to be a great example of 21st century citizen journalism. Writing on another blog, Tacomamama, Jenyum describes how the smell and her accompanying respiratory issues prompted her to contact officials at the paper mill, Simpson Tacoma Kraft, as well as the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency. Both were responsive, and Jenyum found that particulate matter from wood-burning stoves, and probably not paper mill emissions, were responsible for her lung irritation. The smell, however, originates from Simpson. Officials there are concerned about her complaint and looking into it. According to Jenyum, Greg Narum, their environmental specialist, says they like to get complaints like hers "because it helps them understand when something is not quite right with their environmental controls."
The Russell relocation decision cuts across many issues, all falling under quality of life: transportation, aesthetics, environment, culture, affordability, amenities. Crenshaw Sepulveda's comment on Exit 133 (#38 in the thread) under the heading "Saving Private Russell" is noteworthy in this respect. Sepulveda says that Russell lies in Tacoma's poorest zip code, a significant factor.