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Originally published June 23, 2009 at 4:29 PM | Page modified June 23, 2009 at 4:30 PM

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Seattle's bid to lure Russell Investments from Tacoma is a losing strategy no matter who wins

Seattle should not be poaching its southern neighbor, Tacoma, for economic-development opportunities, write Washington state Sens. Jim Kastama and Lisa Brown. Seattle should be focusing on creating new jobs and opportunities for Washington, not trying to lure Russell Investments.

Special to The Times

RECENTLY, Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels offered Russell Investments a tax break if the global financial company will agree to leave Tacoma for Seattle.

Although we are confident Tacoma can hold its own in this contest, Nickels' overture demonstrates an economic-development strategy whose time is past — the poaching of businesses from one region to another. Moving a company 35 miles up the freeway is not economic growth.

Any city or state that believes it can grow only by luring companies with tax breaks will be left behind in today's increasingly competitive global economy. Businesses favor communities that are rich in intellectual capital, produce workers who are adaptable to quickly changing needs, and most of all, offer an environment with innovative people who can develop products or services that are a step ahead of the rest of the world.

This is where Seattle and Tacoma should focus their efforts — not in a tug of war that will do little, if anything, to improve the overall economy of our state.

To this end, the Washington Legislature — and in particular the Senate — has taken its lead from the state Economic Development Commission, whose stated goal is to make our state the most attractive, fertile and creative environment for innovation in the world by 2020.

We target three areas essential to this goal:

• Talent and work force — Instead of educating people for jobs they will hold for the rest of their lives, we need to instill the concept of lifelong learning so workers can adapt and excel as companies evolve. The days of one career are over; we need to prepare workers for tomorrow's changing businesses.

• Infrastructure — We need a lean, green and clean infrastructure. This means independence from the ever-rising cost of petroleum, and taking advantage of the global green economy as the Tri Cities has with its push to be the global leader in alternative energy. We must also expand broadband Internet, which will prove as important as the interstate highway system was to our country's economic expansion in the 1950s and 1960s.

• Investment in entrepreneurship — We need to attract the best talent from around the world. Our innovative STARS program already has recruited the world's best scientists at converting wood and municipal wastes into biofuels; this is the true future of biofuels, unlike soybeans, which we are discovering actually harms the environment. The economic recovery will not come from huge corporations like Boeing, Microsoft and Amazon, as important as they are, but from startup companies that will lead the world in innovative technologies and services in everything from computers to agriculture, such as our rapidly evolving wine industry.

This is the new path of economic development.

The sooner Seattle, Tacoma and the state of Washington understand this, the sooner we will stop engaging in the self-destructive strategies of competing for existing companies and get on with the kind of economic development that will position our cities and our state for global competition.

If Seattle persists in its pursuit of Russell, Tacoma is prepared. It has identified tax breaks of its own, it has recruited a nationally renowned professor in the field of business, and it has designated a downtown international financial-services area. But this is a battle that would squander both cities' resources unnecessarily.

In the best interest of all concerned, we urge Seattle to look to the future instead of its neighbors' backyards. Poaching businesses is no substitute for true economic strategy.

Sen. Jim Kastama, D-Puyallup, left, chairs the Senate Economic Development and Innovation Committee. Sen. Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, is the Senate majority leader.

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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