Photo depicting the Seattle skyline and its port with large cranes hovering over the water.

OPINION | Inclusion as a Growth Strategy at the Port of Seattle

by Port Commissioner Ryan Calkins

If you ask leaders of organizations what their most pressing challenges are, they will undoubtedly mention talent — corporate speak for people. And this is not just a temporary problem. With an aging workforce and workplaces that require ever more training, employers like the Port of Seattle will have to continue evolving to attract and retain the best people. 

In recent years, our commission and executive leadership realized we needed to cast a broader net to find the most qualified person for any job. Our recruitment and hiring practices had artificially limited us to a shrinking pool of applicants. 

In April the Port of Seattle Commission will consider a new policy to address that shortcoming. The goal is to increase equity across employment, contracting, and other measures, and we will reward leaders in the organization who succeed on those measures.

Fundamentally we believe that, in order to be an effective public agency, we need to reflect the diversity of our community in our staff, in our partners, and in our pipeline. Diversity means that we are drawing on the entire talent pool in our community. It means that our internal discussions are informed by greater perspective. It means fewer blind spots. All of which ensure we better fulfill our mission to promote economic opportunity.

The new policy builds on the Port’s trailblazing efforts. The Port of Seattle became the nation’s first port to create an office of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion in 2019. The office made our organization nimbler in our response to the pandemic and more responsive to the civil rights reckoning that emerged from George Floyd’s murder. 

For those who would suggest that our emphasis on equity (and environmental justice) impedes our work, consider our recent track record. 

The Port successfully managed the severe economic decline during the pandemic without laying off a single employee and continuing to spend $535 million on our extensive capital projects in 2020, as we originally planned. 

Those capital projects include the International Arrivals Facility at SEA, a beacon to the world announcing that Seattle is ready to welcome you here and welcome you home. The new N Concourse and Central Terminal opened just in time for the return to pre-pandemic levels of travel. Terminal 5 at the seaport opened its first phase and construction began on phase two. 

The Port also had a remarkable run with sustainability advancements during this time. The Port joined advocacy pushes for Washington State to adopt landmark climate legislation to incentivize the local development of clean fuels. We launched a study with King County to examine the feasibility of converting municipal solid waste into sustainable aviation fuel locally, and through the purchase of renewable natural gas, have cut our own Port carbon emissions in half across the organization. 

In 2022 the Port joined two “Green Corridor” efforts to accelerate the decarbonization of maritime. Through the Northwest Seaport Alliance the Port now participates in a Green Corridor effort from Puget Sound to Busan in the People’s Republic of Korea. The Port of Seattle led the establishment of the Pacific Northwest to Alaska Green Corridor focused on decarbonization strategies for cruise. 

This incredible run of innovation and operational success did not happen despite the Port maintaining a focus on equity and inclusion. It happened because the Port asked itself what more we could do to help our region. We asked who else could be included in our success. 

Recent critiques leveled at our equity and environmental justice initiatives assume that we operate in a zero-sum world. In fact, these initiatives allow us to do more with the same resources, they amplify our story into communities that wouldn’t otherwise have heard it. And they engender trust among residents, voters, civic leaders, and others who ultimately determine what the Port can and can’t do. 

For an organization that is so intertwined with the everyday lives of the people of the region — from the package on our doorstep to the food on the table to the flight to visit the grandparents — we should also be an organization that reflects the community in which we operate.

The South Seattle Emerald is committed to holding space for a variety of viewpoints within our community, with the understanding that differing perspectives do not negate mutual respect amongst community members.

The opinions, beliefs, and viewpoints expressed by the contributors on this website do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs, and viewpoints of the Emerald or official policies of the Emerald.

📸 Featured Image: Photo via Clifford Wayne Estes/

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