By Cyrus Storlie
UW News Lab

The Port of Seattle Commissioners heard a 5-year benchmark report from The Diversity in Contracting team at a Port Commission meeting chaired by Hamdi Mohamed earlier this week.

The report highlighted the progress made since the team’s conception in 2018, while making it clear there is still work to do. The Port is failing to make substantial inroads in hiring women and minority-owned business enterprises (WMBEs) for construction contracts in particular.

“Increasing construction WMBE utilization is the key to achieving higher port WMBE utilization goals,” said Main Rice, Director of Diversity in Contracting. “Construction is one of our biggest highest dollars that we put in with our major capital programs.”

Another place where the report showed the need for improvement is in giving contracts to minority-women contractors. That demographic makes up only .9% of The Port contractor spending, the smallest percentage of any demographic group given by the report.

Since 2019 $375 million has been spent on WMBE contracts. The number of individual WMBEs contracted has grown from 296 to 392 in that time, exceeding the goal of 354. WMBE’s share of the total spent on contracts grew from 10% to 12.4% in 2023. There was a large leap in 2020 after the initiative started but much slower growth in the three years following.

While port commissioners voiced support for the progress, Commissioner Ryan Calkins made it clear there is still work to do.

“If that were Iceland, that would be remarkable,” Calkins said. “In King County that’s not good enough.”

The Commission also passed resolutions to implement more sustainable practices around Sea-Tac International Airport, issue $300 million in port bonds and approve funding for renovations to duty-free shopping at Sea-Tac.

Deputy Executive Director Karen Goon highlighted a series of new international services out of Sea-Tac including flights to Manilla, Beijing and Taipei. Goon also announced the beginning of cruise season, projecting 225 ships and 1.7 million passengers visiting Seattle.

“So far, SEA has announced six new international services in 2024,” Goon said.

Representatives from multiple immigrant community organizations from the Sea-Tac area such as Global to Local, The Congolese Integration Network and Partner in Employment came to voice their support for the Seattle Land Stewardship Plan.

The stewardship plan aims to guarantee port projects at Sea-Tac airport minimize harm to greenspaces, while planting new trees to offset any destruction that already has or will occur. It prioritizes efforts in areas with BIPOC communities to promote equity. Hien Kieu is the Executive Director of Partner in Employment and one of the community leaders supporting the plan.

“It [the stewardship plan] illustrates The Port’s commitment to environmental sustainability by protecting the urban forests and the green spaces,” Kieu said. “BIPOC communities typically reside and work in areas that have the greatest inequities.”

The plan passed with Commission member Fred Felleman acknowledging concerns from some members of the public that the plan is not comprehensive enough.

“It has great value in laying some groundwork,” Felleman said.

A resolution to issue around $300 million Port of Seattle general obligation bonds passed. $100 million of the revenue will go to refunding past bonds issued by The Port, including some from 2015 which funded the State Route 99 tunnel project. The other $200 million in revenue will go to capital infrastructure projects, such as the Fisherman Terminal Innovation Center and redeveloping port boat terminals.

The commission also authorized a $10 million reimbursement for design and pre-construction services to a duty-free operator. The money is to renovate the duty-free shopping area at Sea-tac airport. If the project comes to fruition, construction cost would bring the project’s total somewhere between $46-$60 million. The project is expected to be completed in the second half of 2027. It is projected to generate enough revenue to break even within 10 years of completion.

*The writer is a student in the UW Journalism News Lab.