Pierce County is tech central
A recent report ranks Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue as the No. 1 region in the U.S. for highly valued tech skills. The accolade is a testament to the area’s thriving tech ecosystem.
Here are a few reasons why Pierce County is a big part of the pipeline:
- Outstanding higher education institutions. Programs and degrees offered through the University of Washington Tacoma, University of Puget Sound, Pacific Lutheran University, and community and technical colleges help ensure graduates are workforce ready for in-demand technology careers. Programs continue to grow to meet industry demand, including a PhD in computer science and systems recently launched by the UW Tacoma School of Engineering and Technology.
- Robust K-12 offerings. The Pierce County Skills Center and additional K-12 programs give young students an in-depth look into technical careers and help bridge a gap among typically underrepresented students.
- A thriving startup culture. Tacoma-Pierce County boasts loads of working spaces, incubators and accelerators dedicated to supporting innovative ideas, including the Tacoma Maritime Innovation Incubator/Washington Maritime Blue, RAIN Incubator, SURGETacoma, Startup253, TractionSpace, Jolt Biotech and more.
- World leaders in machine learning, artificial learning and cryptography. A team of UW Tacoma faculty and students claimed second prize in a prestigious international AI competition last spring. The $70,000 cash prize went right back into machine learning research at the university.
- Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM), which offers the largest pool of tech talent in the South Sound. JBLM serves as a direct pipeline to Pierce County companies like Infoblox, Namatad, Inc., Amazon and others in the region looking to fill cybersecurity and high-tech jobs.
- A tech-centered cluster accelerator. The EDB Technology Accelerator Cluster Team is comprised of tech leaders that have worked to advance the industry in Pierce County and create dynamic solutions that ensure businesses here continue to grow and thrive.
- Free skills training for job seekers. Just one example is the basic digital skills program offered by Goodwill of the Olympics & Rainier Region.
- Companies doing awesome things. Innovation is happening here; Tacoma-based MultiCare Health System and Aquagga are prime examples.
MultiCare: Wired for care
MultiCare is the largest community-based health system in the state and Pierce County’s largest private employer. The organization is also at the forefront of technology-enhanced patient care. The COVID pandemic accelerated the need for innovation even more.
“The pandemic brought to light that technology could be far more than IT solutions; it can also be a thought partner and an enabler,” MultiCare Senior Vice President and Chief Information Officer Bradd Busick said. “During that time, the question we started to ask ourselves was, ‘Why can’t MultiCare use the same capabilities we rely on in retail and other service industries?’” he said.
Embracing that approach, the organization invested in talent that was a blend of long-term tenured health care professionals and industry experts from outside of health care.
“Harnessing that talent manifested itself in some powerful ways,” Busick said, “from payroll, supply chain and HR solutions, to patient-facing tools used to make appointments and pay medical bills.”
It’s also prompted some exceptionally cool tech that benefits patients.
Nearly a year ago, MultiCare introduced Moxi robot assistants in several hospitals to relieve nurses and pharmacy techs of extra tasks. Since the rollout, the robots have travelled nearly 65,000 miles, made 31,000 thousand deliveries and saved more than 21,000 staff hours. Most important, they allow nurses more time where they’re needed – with their patients.
More solutions are on the horizon that will not only meet patient-care goals, but also create more jobs to maintain and manage the new technology. In the fourth quarter of 2024, MultiCare will be the first health system on the West Coast to offer drone delivery for lab and pharmacy services.
“We’re going to be there before Amazon, UPS and FedEx,” Busick said.
Not surprising, MultiCare was recently named a “Most Wired” U.S. health care organization for the 15th consecutive year.
Aquagga: Rooted in a rich academic landscape
Aquagga is one of only a handful of companies trying to cut the lifespan of so-called “forever chemicals” or PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances). The synthetic chemicals are found in a wide range of applications and products, from nonstick pans and food packaging to firefighting foam. The substances don’t break down organically and can linger in nature for generations.
The public benefit corporation spun out of the University of Washington and University of Alaska, Fairbanks, and was one of the first three companies selected for the Tacoma Maritime Innovation Incubator. Since its launch in 2019, Aquagga has developed a solution that has shown 99.99 percent destruction in industrial water and wastewater. After receiving numerous awards and funding, they recently deployed their first Steed PFAS Destruction Unit to a project in Fairbanks, Alaska.
Growing the tech company in Pierce County just made sense. Co-Founder and Chief Technology Officer Dr. Brian Pinkard is a product of Puyallup High School with strong ties to the area. The South Sound is also a prime location for sourcing top-tier talent.
“That reality is deeply rooted in Pierce County’s rich academic landscape,” Aquagga Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer Nigel Sharp said. “These centers of learning are not just educational institutions; they are hubs of innovation and technical proficiency that churn out graduates who are adept in technology and environmental sciences. That’s a perfect match for our needs.”
Beyond attracting local talent, Pierce County’s strategic location and numerous amenities are a big draw for professionals beyond the county’s borders.
“Tacoma’s smaller city ambiance offers unique opportunities for individuals to make a significant impact in the community, something we at Aquagga find invaluable,” Sharp said. “And coupled with Pierce County’s affordability and quality of life, it’s also an ideal location for us to tap into a diverse pool of skilled professionals who are as passionate about addressing pressing environmental challenges as we are.”
“Growing up in Pierce County enriched my understanding of various perspectives and cultures,” Aquagga Operations Manager Quinn Huelsbeck said. “That’s enhanced my adaptability, empathy and communications skills – all essential qualities for collaborating within tech teams and engaging with diverse stakeholders.”
Huelsbeck also credits his local alma mater for preparing him for a career journey that’s taken him from the field of agricultural technology to environmental technology at Aquagga. “PLU’s emphasis on holistic learning and continuous self-improvement aligns with the ethos of the tech industry, where continuous learning and adaptability are key,” he said.
Check out the recent Geekwire story about Aquagga’s success.
Learn more about the South Sound tech world
If you’d like to know more about the tech community and the resources available, make plans to attend two awesome events on the UW Tacoma campus:
- Research Showcase, 3-6 pm, March 1, 2024. The SET Research Showcase will feature projects presented by faculty that tackle a wide variety of techniques across engineering and technology. The 2022 Research Showcase featured examples of machine learning, data science and cloud computing, with applications in environmental sciences, health, parking, mobile sensors and more.
- South Sound Tech Conference, March 8, 2024. The 23rd annual conference will bring together professionals, industry experts, and UW Tacoma STEM faculty and students to discuss current issues in technology. This year’s conference, co-chaired by Fry and EDB Vice President of Business Development Tamsin Bell, will focus on AI and machine learning. Read more about past South Sound Tech Conferences here.
Watch for more details about these events in a future issue of Onward.