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Federal Way needs strategic vision | Letter
Virtually every city in America professes the objective of attracting companies with high-paying jobs.
Most will fail and, on its present course, that includes Federal Way. The fundamental problem is the disconnect between stating an objective and achieving it. Most often the reason is that there is no winning strategic marketing plan that defines what must be done, how it must be done, when it must be done, how much will it cost, what constitutes satisfactory performance, how much progress is being achieved and when and how to take corrective actions.
In the rough-and-tumble world of stealing companies from other cities and states, Federal Way’s strategically-void tactics, such as periodically sending out chest pounding letters, building a performing arts center or establishing a community college, are like trying to catch a fish with no bait.
What is happening is that the technology industry is reshaping the American city the way steel and automobiles did in previous centuries. What differentiates technology is that it affects not only the economy but the very fabric of urban life.
The digital enterprises of Seattle and Bellevue are populated by young professionals with disposable income who demand condominiums, microbreweries, locally roasted coffee, bike lanes and a variety of artisanal enterprises. Meanwhile, Federal Way allows developers to build thousands of apartment units warehousing the poor and sees chains with low-paying jobs come and go. When you’re in a hole, stop digging.
So what’s the solution? Sitting here at my computer connected to the Internet by a $26-a-month 20 megabits-per-second modem, I am reminded of a city that did succeed, one that was in a much deeper hole than Federal Way. That city is Chattanooga, Tenn. (population 170,000), a once-blighted railroad town described
in 1969 as “the dirtiest city in America.” In 1997, the mayor and the head of the city-owned electricity distribution and telecommunications company had the strategic insight that high-speed Internet access would be to the 21st century what electric power was to the 20th century.
The company built a fiber-optic network that came online in 2010 and became the first company in America to offer one gigabit per second high-speed Internet, more than 200 times faster than the national average. And it offers it to every Chattanooga business and residence. The tangible results?
In 2012, Chattanooga added more jobs than the rest of Tennessee combined. Volkswagen built a billion-dollar factory and Amazon built a 1-million-square-foot distribution center.
A downtown revival has included turning 19th century railroad warehouses into retail, restaurant and office space, the reclamation of the industrial waterfront and small-scale urban changes that benefit everyone, not just the privileged, such as sidewalks and residential design guidelines.
The lesson to be learned is that there is a link between economic development and the quality of life, particularly those elements of it that appeal to young professionals. There are other examples of cities that “get it.” They are the exception rather than the rule. What’s missing among those cities who don’t get it? Strategic vision.
Gary Heil, Federal Way