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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?

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