This year, the Port of Seattle turns 100 — and a lot has happened in 100 years.
In 1911, King County voters approved creation of the port, which helped to unify a mix of privately owned and competing waterfront companies into one that was publicly owned. By the end of that decade, the port was ranked as one of the most successful in the country, a legacy that it carries on to this day.
Due to its geographic position, Washington state has been a prominent trading partner of China, Japan, and other countries in the Asia-Pacific region since as far back as 1919, with imports of raw silk from Asia. By 1927, trade with Asia would account for 50 percent of the Port’s foreign commerce.
Currently, ports in Washington state and Vancouver are seeing an increase in demand from Japan for U.S. lumber exports, according to Bloomberg.com. Six months ago, on March 11, the 9.0-magnitude earthquake ravaged cities and displaced tens of thousands of people in Japan. As a result, Sea-Tac Airport had to cancel 22 flights to Tokyo, according to Sea-Tac Airport’s Airport Media and Public Affairs Manager Perry Cooper. However, Cooper noted that Asia is a diverse market and the canceled flights didn’t make a significant impact on the airport. Flights to Asia are currently up 14 percent to date from last year, said Cooper. Bloomberg.com also reports that wood exports to Japan from the Port of Seattle are up 16 percent, according to Fitch Ratings in New York.
In 2005, Lloyd Hara broke the glass ceiling by becoming the first Asian American elected to the Port Commission. Two years ago, Rob Holland was elected to the Port as its first Black commissioner.
Today, we have an Asian American CEO in Tay Yoshitani, which is a rarity in the country. Yoshitani joined the Port in 2007. He leads the Port’s operating divisions. During his tenure, the Port implemented energy-saving and recycling programs.
Importantly, he established the Office of Social Responsibility, which ensures that small, minority- and women-owned businesses will have equal opportunity to work with the Port.
In 1998, the Port of Seattle Strategic Diversity Plan was implemented, in response to employee surveys, forums, and interest groups that revealed that employees perceived a need for change in hiring and promotion practices. Employees wanted to work in an organization that valued diversity, starting from the entry level.
That plan set the stage for work that continues to this day.
Not all entities that are the size of the Port care in the same way. Other organizations might say that diversity will happen naturally and leave it at that.
So it’s especially commendable that the Port’s approach to diversity is so systematic. It has clear goals and objectives and continuously strives to foster talent that comes in all sorts of different forms. ♦