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New Pierce County Executive: We Must Be More Than A 'Bedroom Community To Seattle'

"Tacoma SR509 bridge" by Cheryl Marland is licensed under CC by 2.0

Pierce County is growing, but some say it's not the right kind of growth. 

The population is surging. But much of that growth is driven by King County ex-pats seeking cheaper housing.

Nearly half of Pierce County's workers commute to jobs outside the county, many of them to Seattle.

The new Pierce County executive, Bruce Dammeier, says fighting that trend is his first order of business.

Dammeier, a former state senator who took office in January, is the first Republican to lead Pierce County in 16 years. 

KNKX reporter Will James sat down with Dammeier at his office and asked him to expand on a statement he made in his "State of the County" address in mid-March: that Pierce County must be more than a "bedroom community to Seattle." 

Why A 'Bedroom Community' Is Not A Desirable Future

Dammeier said people who live in Pierce County for affordable housing and work in King County are spending hours in the car each day. And those are hours they're not living their lives.

"They're spending at least three hours a day on the road," he said. "They're arriving home exhausted. They spend a ton of their money on transportation to get to and from work. They're not able to be involved in their kids' schools. They're not able to coach soccer." 

Furthermore, Dammeier said, home construction alone won't generate enough tax revenue to pay for the services a larger population demands. 

"We need businesses to help drive that greater economic activity," he said.

What It Will Take To Change Pierce County's Trajectory 

Dammeier said it will come down to the county's ability to attract "family-wage jobs" to the South Sound.

"That workforce that is commuting to Seattle right now, we want to flip that on its head," he said. "We've got great, trained people doing important work in Seattle. We want to get those businesses to relocate here or create new businesses here that can employ those really skilled Pierce County residents." 

How A County Government Can Spur Job Growth

Dammeier said he hopes to make it easier to start and build businesses in Pierce County, in part by streamlining the permitting process. 

"One of the things that we are exploring right now with some of our cities is to take Pierce County's permitting system and and make it available to some of our cities, so they would have the same system running kind of in multiple jurisdictions." 

Business Sectors He Hopes To Attract To Pierce County 

Dammeier pointed to cyber security as one field with the potential to grow in Pierce County and provide jobs for tech workers trained at the University of Washington Tacoma.

"We are producing Pierce County residents who are well-trained to go into the information-technology world and really deliver," he said. "Too many of them today are commuting north to go to work." 

Will James is a former KNKX reporter and was part of the special projects team, reporting and producing podcasts such as Outsiders and The Walk Home.