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Quality of Life Attracts Businesses to Gig Harbor

Gig Harbor is on a roll. At a time when many US cities are battling with large budget shortfalls, with some even filing for bankruptcy protection, the town is attracting new business and expanding.

City Administrator Denny Richards outlines the growth that is taking place:

* Retailers are coming to town. Kohls, with 120 employees, and Marshalls, likely to employ a similar number, are opening in the fall, with a Michaels craft store to follow in a few months.

* Permits for single-family homes reached 90 by July this year, half as much again as the 61 recorded for all of last year. Additional large real-estate developments are in the works.

* A new pier and viewing area are being built adjacent to The Tides, a popular tavern on the city's waterfront.

* Farther north along the harbor, a city project being undertaken at Donkey Creek will improve traffic flows and include the creation of a new pocket park, viewing platforms, a kayak landing and pedestrian trails. The estuary will be restored.

Gig Harbor's success story is being noticed.

Smithsonian magazine placed it at number 5 among America's 20 best small towns, while The Los Angeles Times recently sang its praises as a tourist destination.

"It's a great place to have a business," Richards, the city's former police chief who became city administrator in April, says.

"Gig Harbor offers an excellent quality of life. It's uncrowded, there is little crime, and you can move around easily. The streets are in great condition. It's beautiful here, with a beautiful waterfront and beautiful mountain views. Plus, people smile a lot. Life is good in Gig Harbor."

Financial services cluster taking hold

FOR THOSE knowledge-based businesses that can be situated almost anywhere using today's technology, setting up office in Gig Harbor offers an escape from long commute times, traffic congestion and big-city noise and chaos.

It should come as no surprise, therefore, that Gig Harbor is home to a cluster of financial services companies that flourish in the area's small-town atmosphere and community spirit.

Among them are:

* The Russell Family Foundation, established when pension fund consulting pioneer George Russell sold Russell Investments - then called Frank Russell Company - to Northwestern Mutual Life in 1999. The foundation was established to provide a way for the extended family to make a positive impact on the community.

* Threshold Group, founded in 1999 as a family wealth management office, provides financial and advisory services to 50 families around the country with an average net worth of $25-50 million each. About 22 of the group's 40 employees work in its Gig Harbor waterfront building, the rest in Seattle, Portland and Philadelphia.

"Gig Harbor is a great place to live and work," says Threshold Marketing Director Chris Phillips. "Our waterfront building doubles as a meeting center where we can host clients. When people visit here they enjoy the calm scenic atmosphere of Gig Harbor's downtown waterfront district."

* Global Index Group was established two years ago by Kelly Haughton, who created the well-known Russell Indexes while working for Russell Investments. He and his staff are creating a new set of financial indexes unlike any of the existing indexes and plan to launch products based on them. "When we set up the business a long commute and traffic congestion did not look attractive," Haughton says. "Because we do most of our business on the telephone and the Internet, we could set up our business anywhere and it made sense to establish it here."

* Evergreen Asset Management, established by Managing Principal John Voigt in1988 to provide personal financial services, prides itself on its Gig Harbor location. Don Gartlan, a principal and

former director of Russell Managed Portfolios and Consulting Services, praises the city administration for the steps it took recently to meet with financial services companies and to seek to attract similar companies to the area. He adds, "I love this town and in many ways I am living and working a dream."

* Thomas Capital assists leading private equity and alternative asset managers to raise capital for their funds.

Teamwork is a service of the EDB, a non-profit corporation focused on recruitment and retention of primary businesses in Tacoma and Pierce County.

Telephone: 253-383-4726. Website: