Federal Way-based TOTE Maritime Alaska recently announced plans to move its headquarters and 150 employees to downtown Tacoma to improve operations and escape the city’s seemingly transient environment.
“TOTE Maritime Alaska helped build the Port of Tacoma and we are excited to be 100% located in the city that has supported our business and growth over the years. We look forward to bringing the TOTE office to Tacoma and are grateful for such a warm welcome,” stated TOTE Maritime Alaska President, Grace Greene, in a press release on Aug. 14.
Although the company is headquartered in Federal Way at 32001 32nd Ave. S., their operations take place at TOTE’s terminal in the Port of Tacoma, said Taylor Janney, senior marketing manager for TOTE Maritime Alaska. The company has been operating out of the Port of Tacoma since 1976 and has been headquartered in Federal Way since February 2002.
“So much of our business activity occurs at the Port, it just made a lot more sense to move to Tacoma and be literally in a location where we can actually see our ship coming in and out of the Port of Tacoma,” Janney told the Mirror.
As a collective sentiment, Janney said, TOTE’s headquarters “feels disconnected” from their shipping operation community and the company hopes the move aids in their concerns at the Port.
There’s also a strong desire for the company to have the ability to see their operations and be reminded of what they do on a regular basis, Janney said.
“Federal Way, quite simply, just doesn’t give us that ability,” he said.
Increasing transient activity in Federal Way
The move will also allow TOTE to flee from what the company sees as the increasing transient activity in Federal Way.
“Federal Way has changed a good bit in terms of the number of transient people that are on the streets on a pretty regular basis,” Janney said.
As of four years ago, this wasn’t the case, longtime employees told Janney.
Janney said employees at the current TOTE Maritime headquarters have reported numerous car break-ins in the parking lot, panhandlers holding signs on the side of the streets, and transient individuals wander into the building to use the restrooms or ask for handouts. TOTE employees have reported seeing many people walking on streets that don’t have sidewalks with backpacks or shopping carts.
As a result, the building’s management implemented additional security features such as access codes for the bathrooms and a security guard for the grounds to address the “potential threat.”
“Some of those frustrations definitely made it easier to switch as well,” Janney said, and confirmed these incidents did play a role in the company’s decision to move locations.
For many at headquarters, there has been a recent decreasing feeling of safety, Janney said.
“Historically, I don’t think when TOTE first moved into the building that this area was experiencing that kind of flood of transient folks,” he said.
City of Federal Way communications coordinator Tyler Hemstreet confirmed there have been incidents in the area where TOTE’s headquarters is located, and that the city has cleaned up homeless encampments in the area near South 320th Street and Military Road South.
TOTE did not reach out to the city directly regarding these issues, both Hemstreet and Janney noted. Although had the incidents reached that level, the city would have called for an “all-hands-on-deck response” by increasing police patrols in the area and prioritizing the issues, Hemstreet said.
The area surrounding TOTE’s headquarters is a combination of privately and publicly owned land, Hemstreet said.
Federal Way Police Department’s Special Operations Unit will periodically assist with encampment clean-ups located on land owned by private organizations, Hemstreet said. He noted the last time the city cleaned up an encampment on city-owned land in the area near TOTE was in February 2019.
FWPD’s SOU teams are in constant contact with security at nearby companies, including IRG and DaVita, as well as South King Fire and Rescue, he said.
“We know it’s a problem,” Hemstreet said of the transient activity, adding that it has been “off and on over the years.”
In 2018, Federal Way police responded to 22 calls for service at the building’s location and six calls for service in 2019, Hemstreet said. While there have been “no serious incidents,” the calls mainly pertain to car prowlers and suspicious persons or vehicles in the area, he added.
TOTE Maritime Alaska is one of several tenants in the building and not all of the calls have been made strictly by TOTE employees, Hemstreet said.
A 2018 Greater Federal Way Chamber of Commerce business retention survey noted 65% of the survey respondents reported seeing an increase in the amount of homeless persons in and/or around their business in the last 12 months.
More amenities in Tacoma for employees
Many employees are also looking forward to the easily accessible options for lunchtime or after-work enjoyment in downtown Tacoma.
With 150 employees, many people want to go out for lunch or grab a drink after work, Janney said.
“There really aren’t any options around this building where we are currently.”
While Federal Way has plenty of great international food options, Janney said, the locations require you to hop in the car and drive to them.
TOTE’s new headquarters location on A Street in Tacoma is two blocks from the light rail, sits among dozens of restaurants within immediate walking distance, and is close to Commencement Bay.
“As a shipping company, it’s so nice to be able to see shipping activity,” Janney said, adding the move to Tacoma will help the company to understand terminal concerns.
Mayor of Tacoma Victoria Woodards noted in the press release the move will bring family wage jobs to downtown Tacoma.
Many of the TOTE employees are the “breadwinners” of their families, Janney said, and are “adequately compensated.”
“It would certainly be relatively higher paying by comparison to what … the other businesses in Federal Way are paying their employees,” he said.
Many TOTE employees live in Tacoma, Puyallup, Seattle and Gig Harbor, and only 10 to 15% of the company’s headquarter employees live in Federal Way.
Throughout more than 40 years of business, TOTE has focused on networking and growing business in the Tacoma area through employment opportunities, actively engaging with the local community, developing relationships with business leaders and politicians, and donating to charities.
“From a Federal Way perspective, it’s not that we haven’t felt supported, it’s just that we haven’t reached out as much … It’s really more of a building where we do things internally. There isn’t as much of a need to connect with the external community.”
He continued: “We’ve certainly enjoyed our time here in Federal Way … It’s more so that Tacoma at this point in time is a better fit for us based on what our current operations are with our ships.”