An Interview with Bruce Kendall
President & CEO of the Economic Development Board for Tacoma-Pierce County (EDB)
There is a reason why the Pierce County region has been called the Region of Boom. Not only has the county welcomed more jobs and investors than almost any other county in Washington in the past year, they did it as a result of a diverse number of partners and leaders playing a role in their economic development strategy. The lead architect of much of this successful strategy is Bruce Kendall, the President & CEO of the Economic Development Board for Tacoma-Pierce County (EDB), a position he has held since 1999. The EDB is a private, non-profit corporation focused on the retention and recruitment of primary businesses in Tacoma and Pierce County, Washington. Over the past 10 years the EDB has worked with companies that have invested more than one billion dollars in Pierce County and created more than 14,000 jobs. In addition to its retention and recruitment work, the EDB manages four cluster acceleration teams in the areas of aerospace, cyber security, health services, and international trade/logistics. The Pierce county region is fortunate to have a person with such integrity and leadership be a part of the economic development ecosystem.
What’s so special about Pierce County?
Pierce County is one of the most dynamic and diverse markets in the Pacific Northwest. Three great examples: First, we are the most trade oriented county, in the most trade dependent state, in the USA. Our international orientation makes us a magnet for FDI and the Port of Tacoma is one of the leading maritime complexes on the Pacific Rim. The recently establish Northwest Seaport Alliance (which manages both Tacoma’s and Seattle’s container services) is our latest innovation. Second, we are home to two of the top 12 integrated hospital systems in the nation – MultiCare and Franciscan – as well as Madigan Hospital, the Defense Department’s largest research hospital on the west coast. Doctors, nurses and researchers from all over the world want to be here. Third, our workforce is second to none, thanks to cradle to career educational opportunities and a strong work ethic. We have five community and technical colleges (Bates Tech, Clover Park Tech, Tacoma Community College, Pierce College Puyallup and Pierce College Fort Steilacoom), a major public research university (University of Washington Tacoma), two world class liberal arts universities (Pacific Lutheran University and University of Puget Sound), and many private schools giving residents and transplants superb education opportunities.
What would surprise people most about Pierce county?
Pierce County is home to two of the great parks in America. On the federal side, Mt. Rainier National Park, falls within our boarders and is the most visited place in state. In the City of Tacoma, we have Point Defiance Park, the largest urban park in the country at 702 acres. Miles of trails, a world class zoo and aquarium , old growth forest, and eagles preying on salmon make Point Defiance a destination unto itself.
What do you see as the next big thing in economic development?
The next big things is spelled b-a-s-i-c-s. The recent trend toward social media and overflowing electronic communication is important, but the key to successful economic development is direct relationship building. Yes, the way to win retention and recruitment battles is to get back to the basics of getting to know your current companies and recruitment targets personally – with in person face-to-face interactions.
What is your best piece of advice you would give to new people entering into this profession?
Economic development is 80% liberal arts and 20% technology. Creative, curious, flexible, lifelong learners make great economic developers – the kind of people who are comfortable reading the Economist in the morning and Hillary Mantel in the evening. People who put an over reliance on formulas and electronic interfaces will not do as well.