Published August 2006

Discussing growth
with open mind, full stomach

At a career fair held at Everett Community College this spring, several hundred seniors in high school from around Snohomish County had the opportunity to attend workshops hosted by adults volunteering their time to share experiences in their respective fields. Everything from engineering to hairdressing was offered. I remember benefiting from something similar when I was in high school, so felt obligated to return the favor when asked to speak.

The workshop I was assigned to was called “Starting a Business of Your Own,” which I shared with a former state patrolman turned private practice attorney and a lovely woman who started and now runs a chain of espresso stands. A nice variety for these eager and attentive young men and women.

After the last session right before lunch, a young man caught me as I was walking to my car and engaged me in a rather confrontational way. In my part of the workshop, I mentioned turning a profit as the measure of returns relative to invested capital and the risk of any startup venture. Since I am in the commercial real estate business, he seemed to get pretty worked up about profit and real estate in the same sentence and wanted to talk about it.

He was convinced that those of us in real estate are, more or less, ruining his future as we bulldoze the world around him and that our profits feed that lust and give us power that he felt only threatened by.

The conversation carried through a couple of slices of pizza as I changed my plans and visited with this bright young man. He allowed me to talk about the causes and effects of growth, the role of real estate professionals, supply and demand, the role of government, where developers fit in, the role of the precious land and the consumer.

I carried on from there with a napkin scratching of what most companies do with their profits. I showed how some was reinvested in the company and how that stabilized or created more jobs within it. I showed how some went to worthy nonprofit causes. I showed how some of it bought equipment, paper, paid rent and more. I showed how 40 percent went to taxes. None of it, he learned, sat under a pillow. At his age, I didn’t know how any of this worked, either.

The pizza box in between us ultimately helped me with my explanation of the way that real estate, business profits, growth and this fine young man will interact in the future. The purveyor of the pizza, it turns out, is someone I know. The profits from the pizza chain are reinvested in expansion, employee benefits, wages, many social causes and some separate real estate investments. Most of it is done without fanfare or public acknowledgment.

One of these real estate investments is a retail center this young man drove by every day between school and home. He knew it well. Tracing the dollar he paid for pizza to the benefits he received from the property taxes that support his school to the establishments he frequented at the retail center helped finally connect the dots.

As we parted company after what was an engaging 20 minutes, I was moved to thank him for his time.

“Thank me?” he asked with a confused expression. We smiled. But not before we shook hands and realized that we just summed up the whole growth debate in 20 minutes through an exchange that only came about because of his innocence and youth and my willingness to engage and understand him better.

Perhaps, I suspect we both concluded in our own minds, that is what’s missing in the growth debate today with the adults who are really trying to manage it.

Tom Hoban is CEO of Coast Real Estate Services, a commercial sales, leasing, investment and property management company with offices in Everett, Tacoma, Spokane, and Boise, Idaho. He can be reached at 425-339-3638 or send e-mail to

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© 2006 The Daily Herald Co., Everett, WA