By Ruth Bayang
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
She’s new on the job, but she’s no rookie.
“Even though I haven’t lived in Seattle recently, it’s not as though this is a completely unfamiliar city to me.”
Marilyn Strickland is the new president and CEO of the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce. You likely know her best as the former mayor of Tacoma.
At the time of her interview with the Northwest Asian Weekly, Strickland was still commuting from Tacoma to Seattle.
“My husband and I are looking for an apartment in Seattle because I know that I’ll be working some late nights, followed by very early mornings. If we’re talking about [the Chamber] being a truly regional organization, it’s important for me to have a base outside of Seattle.”
Strickland, the only child of a Korean mother and Black father, loves travel, film, and photography.
She dove head first into her new role on the week of Feb. 19, doing what she called a listening tour — getting to know the board, members of the community, and elected officials. Already, she discovered that “we all share a lot of values and goals,” and that she’s excited to advance the needs of the community and enhance our entire region.
“We want as many people as possible to share in economic empowerment,” Strickland said. “We believe in housing affordability and livability. We want people, regardless of their country of origin or background, to be successful.”
When it comes to the business community, Strickland said it’s important to recognize just how diverse it is.
“One of the things I really want to do is help people understand that when we talk about communities of color — that people look at us as entrepreneurs, business owners, successful business people, as much as they have very typically looked at us as communities that need something from the government,” she said.
“We’re not a monolith and we have a lot of roles to play. I hope to see more boards and commissions that have people of color, I hope to see more people of color in leadership positions and organizations, and I also hope to see more of the ethnic chambers participating with the metro Seattle Chamber because their voices matter.”
Strickland said she brings to her new role “a fresh set of eyes and no baggage.” She has reached out to members of the Seattle City Council and was scheduling meetings to talk with each one of them.
The Chamber and the City Council have not always seen eye to eye. Strickland said, “Sometimes it gets portrayed [in the media] as us being on the opposite end, but we share a lot and for the most part, we all want the same thing.”
She said that when she meets with councilmembers, she intends to focus on common ground. “How we can walk away with really big wins to benefit all of us.”
Foreign direct investment
Citing a Global Cities Initiative report, Strickland said, “The Seattle area is underperforming when it comes to foreign direct investments, so there’s an opportunity to do more.”
The Boston Consulting Group, in partnership with the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, studied the global competitiveness of the greater Seattle region compared with eight peer regions. It found that our region — being home to companies like Amazon, Costco, Starbucks, and Microsoft — has all the prerequisites to effectively compete on the global stage.
And although Seattle’s position as a global business center has grown over the past decade, that progress has been driven more by favorable circumstance than by design.
In her previous job, Strickland rose the profile of the City of Tacoma — after she made several trips to Asia to boost foreign investment.
“People around the world are very interested in this amazing region we call home,” Strickland said.
“Our location is an asset. We have great institutions of higher education, natural beauty, clean air — considering all the assets we have, we should have more foreign direct investments.”
Lots of manufacturing jobs are starting to come back on America’s shore, according to Strickland, because wages are going up in certain parts of the world. “When you look at the cost of shipping and moving things here, it may actually be cheaper just to manufacture here on site, in the United States.”
Breaking the mold
“I may not fit the description of who people might typically imagine in this role,” Strickland said, when asked about being a woman of color in such a high profile position.
A graduate of the University of Washington and an MBA degree holder from Clark Atlanta University, Strickland said there are always challenges, even just based on gender alone. But she sees it as an advantage.
“We’re seeing a stage in America right now where women’s voices are being more valued and respected. People are expecting to see more women at the table,” said Strickland.
Born in Seoul, South Korea, Strickland said, “My identity as being African American and Korean American — growing up in two cultures that weren’t considered mainstream for a long time, the values that my parents instilled in me — I’m able to see the world from a lot of different perspectives.”
That will come in handy as she reaches out to the various ethnic chambers. Historically, the partnership with different chambers has been a good one. And Strickland hopes that is something she can build on and strengthen.
Ruth can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.