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Port of Seattle Business Accelerator Centers Women- and Minority-Owned Businesses

by Elizabeth Turnbull

As of last week, the Port of Seattle is encouraging business owners, particularly women and entrepreneurs of color and business owners in South King County, to apply to the PortGen Accelerator, a business development program aimed at helping small businesses work toward future contracting opportunities.

As part of an effort to work toward more equitable hiring practices, Dave McFadden, the Port’s Managing Director of Economic Development said that the accelerator comes from an awareness that the Port has more work to do.

“Women and minority businesses aren’t represented to the extent that they’re in the population, in our own supply chain,” McFadden told the Emerald in an interview. “We do put a little more emphasis on women and minority business enterprises because our analysis shows that we can do better there.”

The PortGen Accelerator consists of mentorship and programming open to businesses that have been (ideally) operating for over five years and are appropriate for a potential contract, although the Port does not guarantee future partnership upon completion of the program.

Applications for the accelerator close on May 15 and are open to business owners of any demographic involved in construction, electrical work, specialty services and general goods and services industries, among other industries. However, due to women and minority-owned businesses being under-represented on Port contracts, these applicants will be prioritized.

Overall, the Port of Seattle consists of the city’s Seaport in addition to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. The Port has a substantial impact on the city as one of the largest employers in the Pacific Northwest, making any inequities in contracting practices significant.

The Port’s, and particularly the airport’s presence can be felt outside of hiring practices as well, however, as South Seattle communities belonging to one of the most diverse portions of Seattle, must deal with sound pollution due to overhead flight paths.  A UW research study from last year found that communities surrounding the airport such as SeaTac, Des Moines, Highline, Angle Lake, Beacon Hill and Rainier Valley, are exposed to concerning “ultrafine” particles amid other pollutants. 

In January of 2018, the Port passed a policy on hiring and contracting, with the goal of increasing the contracts it holds with women and minority businesses by three times. More recently, after the murder of George Floyd, the Port also passed a motion to increase support for the Port’s Office of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion and required racial equity and unconscious bias training for Port employees at all levels of seniority. Additionally, greater emphasis has been placed on hiring from areas in South Seattle.

Officials with the Port, such as Commissioner Ryan Calkins, are also hoping that the accelerator and other efforts focused on women and minorities will help offset some of the disproportionate effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on people in these demographics as well. 

“[The coronavirus] impacted women-owned businesses; it impacted minority-owned businesses,” Calkins said in an interview with the Emerald. “The most effective means of supporting economic recovery is to target those businesses that were hardest hit.”

Elizabeth Turnbull is a journalist with reporting experience in the U.S. and the Middle East. She has a passion for covering human-centric issues and doing so consistently.

📸 Featured image by Rawpixel Ltd under a Creative Commons license.

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