Press "Enter" to skip to content

Posts published in “Day: December 23, 2007”

Tacoma’s Boeing?

Russell Investment

Russell Investment

While cities generally would rather keep than lose businesses, especially large highly profitable businesses that generate pretty much no civic negatives and hardly any costs, the top of today's lead Tacoma News Tribune story sounded a bit excessive: "The City of Destiny has reached a tipping point. Whether it tips forward into greater prosperity or back into disappointment hangs on a fateful decision by Russell Investment Group."

It's an investment company, one that sounds not terribly different from lots of other investment firms around the country. What's so special that Russell ought to generate that kind of lead (and equally strong-worded quotes from community people)?

Several things, as it turns out; this was a piece of the Northwest whose significance had passed us by. Russell, it seems, is not just any investment company. Founded in Tacoma 71 years ago as essentially a one-man operation (remember that this was an investment startup in the teeth of the Great Depression), it has grown. Quite a bit. It employs 2,100 people (in offices linked to Tacoma from Amsterdam, Auckland, Hong Kong, Johannesburg, London, Melbourne, New York, Paris, San Francisco, Singapore, Sydney, Tokyo and Toronto) and manages more than $230 billion. It is a big international player, but more than half of its people (employees have increased almost 10-fold in the last 30 years or so) and the largest chunk of its operations remain in unlikely Tacoma.

Now those central offices, spread around town inconveniently, are giving cause for Russell to reconsider its physical situation. Simply finding new quarters in Tacoma might be a simple enough answer if the company were still locally owned, but it isn't: The most recent Russell sold it in 1998 to the Milwaukee insurance company Northwestern Mutual. And, the News Tribune reports, the company's major leases on space in Tacoma expire in 2013.

Tacoma clearly would like to keep Russell. And maybe it will. But the immediate question to ask and issue to watch is, what will it do, how far will it go, to try to make that happen?

Logical sequence

Let's pause a moment to review the sequence of events, as they have emerged, following the legal repositioning of cold medicine from last year.

Components of many cold medicines are often used in creating methamphetamine, so Oregon lawmakers decided to slap controls on them, taking them off shelves and keeping track of who buys them. To that was soon added a similar, but somewhat less sweeping, federal law. We were skeptical about how much good this would do.

On the plus side, there have been consistent reports that the number of local small-scale meth producers - the kind of places operating in houses and other small buildings - have declined considerably. Those places have been hazards, so this much is good news.

The rest of the story: Meth use has remained roughly constant, evidently not declining at all. And where they are getting the stuff? From the Oregonian (a major crusader on meth) today: "Those small-time dealers largely have been replaced, law enforcement officials say, by gangs who buy the drugs in large quantities and sell them in bulk to lower-level dealers."

In other words, more larger-scale trafficking, more concentrated money involved, even more guns and even more violence. The state's solution (understandable under the immediate narrow circumstances) - at least that of initiative developer Kevin Mannix and a growing number of state legislators - is to increase the allowable prison sentences for drug dealers. Hello more prisons and ever-ballooning ex-cons to come. And very little more done to actually reduce the number of meth users (although a number of efforts, from drug courts to other kinds of rehab, do show signs of promise).

Meth is a very real problem; there's no making light of that. But we just keep doing such a wonderful job of dealing with it, you have to wonder when some new approaches will take root.