Tacoma Mayor Marilyn Strickland gave her final State of the City address to a capacity crowd of about 250 people at the Hotel Murano last week with a message of improvements in the city since she became mayor in 2010 and a forecast of things to come this year under the theme of “Educate. Connect. Prosper.”
The mayor is leaving office at the end of the year with a city much different than the one she started with two terms ago. The unemployment rate was 12 percent, the high school graduation rate was 55 percent and the city's financial picture was described by bond-raters as "stable,” Strickland said of Tacoma when she took office in 2010. In contrast to now, the jobless rate is 6 percent and the graduation rate from public schools is 85 percent, above the state average and it continues to climb. In addition, credit bureaus now give the city's budget a rating of "positive."
"We are going in the right direction," she said. "There are opportunities now that were not available just a few years ago."
The mayor hopes to build on those opportunities during a summit this spring that will include educators, businesses and community partners to develop ways the better match workers with the local workforce as a way to improve wages and slow the leaching of talent to Seattle by boosting the local job market, particularly at a time when housing prices and rents are outpacing wage increases.
“We need to get everyone together," she said.
Strickland is term limited for running for reelection in November, a fact she noted as a key decision facing Tacoma this year along with the selection of a new city manager after T.C. Broadnax assumed his top-executive spot in Dallas. Other key projects on the horizon this year include: the Tacoma Police department's pilot program on body cameras, which was a product of last year's Project Peace effort; the formation of the Eastside Community Center; the Pantages renovations; and the potential expansion of Internet access as the municipally owned Click Network moves toward going “all in” as a provider of phone, television and Internet services. Road improvements will continue to dot Tacoma for years to go now, after voters in 2015 approved $325 million in street repairs, the first time in 40 years that Tacomans voted to increase taxes for streets. Those streets will become more trafficked as new residents continue to come to the city, with 2,000 new housing units under construction, including apartments and condominiums in the works at the historic Washington Building, the landmark Point Ruston development and in the city's Stadium district, which already has the highest residential density in the county. Other marquee activities this year include the selection of Cheney Stadium to host the Minor League All Star Game and the return of Tall Ships at the Festival of Sails this summer.
Those events will bring thousands of visitors to the city and feed an already growing sector of the economy. Travel Tacoma President Bennish Brown, for example, pointed out that tourism is a $1 billion a year industry, making Pierce County the second most tourism dependent county in the state, a title that has jumped between Pierce and Spokane counties in recent years.