MorphoTrak leaves Tacoma for Federal Way's cheaper rent

Tacoma's MorphoTrak engineering office will be relocating to Federal Way's Evergreen Corporate Center, 33405 8th Ave. S. The move could be complete by summer.
— image credit: Jacinda Howard/The Mirror

Federal Way will be the new home to a Tacoma technology firm that may be expanding.

Tacoma's MorphoTrak, a leader in biometric identification systems, is moving to Federal Way, possibly by June. Cheaper lease rates and increased parking availability are thought to be factors in the move.

MorphoTrak's Tacoma engineering office currently occupies between 30,000 and 32,000 square feet in the Tacoma Financial Center, 1145 Broadway Plaza. Roughly 130 employees work there.

Representatives with the company first visited Federal Way last summer to view available commercial and office space measuring around 70,000 square feet, said Patrick Doherty, economic and community development director. The company's lease at 33405 8th Ave. S. is for roughly 50,000 of the total 114,627-square-foot building, which was formerly occupied by Weyerhaeuser, Doherty said.

"We're very happy to have them," he said.

It is unclear why MorphoTrak is moving its operations, said Bob Levin, City of Tacoma private capital division manager in the economic development department. The company took root in Tacoma in the mid-1980s. Doherty said he has had little contact with MorphoTrak executives and is also unaware about the company's reasons for relocating. MorphoTrak representatives were unavailable for comment.

More parking

Parking availability may play a role in the move. As a measure to convince MorphoTrak to remain in Tacoma, parking in the nearby Pacific Plaza parking garage was offered to the company, Levin said. Downtown Tacoma's public parking is limited, and much of it is metered. Federal Way's Evergreen Corporate Center campus will offer MorphoTrak employees plenty of free parking. The campus also includes some large trees and grassy areas.

Affordable rates

The leasing rate was likely a deciding factor in relocating to Federal Way. The Evergreen Corporate Center space is listed at $14 per square foot, according to LBA Realty. Levin said he did not know how much the company was leasing its Tacoma location for, but his department was led to believe the Federal Way property was considerably less expensive.

Federal Way offers other business perks. The city's central location is considered a draw to many organizations doing business in the South Sound and Seattle, Doherty said. And, unlike Tacoma, Federal Way does not charge a local business and occupation (B&O) tax or an admissions tax, he said.

Tacoma would like to retain MorphoTrak, Levin said, but the move will offer more opportunity for current employees to remain in their positions. And some of those employees could choose to relocate to Federal Way along with their employer, Doherty said.

"It's better for it to move next door than out of state," Levin said.

MorphoTrak expansion

MorphoTrak is a subsidiary of French conglomerate Safran, which specializes in defense, aerospace propulsion and equipment and security. In September, Safran announced plans to purchase L-1 Identity Solutions, a leading identity management provider in the United States, and operate it as part of its existing security business, according to a Sept. 20, 2010, Safran press release. The release signifies a merger between MorphoTrak and L-1 Identity Solutions.

"We are all highly impressed with the quality and expertise of L-1’s teams throughout the United States and we are looking forward to working with them to bring L-1 and Morpho together," Safran CEO Jean-Paul Herteman said in the press release. "This will allow us to grow L-1’s business, while expanding the reach of L-1’s services to other key territories around the world."

MorphoTrak is not alone in its decision to look to Federal Way for business opportunities. Several more tenants are considering the city for their home base, Doherty said. As the economy slowly recovers, interest in Federal Way's commercial and office space is picking up, he said.

"There's definitely been more leases," Doherty said.

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