By Assunta Ng
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
The White House just announced that Mike Fong, former senior deputy mayor of Seattle, will be the new U.S. Small Business Administration director for Region 10.
Region 10 includes district offices in Alaska, Idaho, Washington, and Oregon, which are home to more than 1.3 million small businesses, representing over 2.7 million jobs.
Fong, 44, told the Northwest Asian Weekly that he is excited about the opportunities to help small businesses not only “to recover, but thrive.” Born in Spokane, Fong said he grew up with small businesses.
“I have a front-row seat to pride and work ethic, and I saw how hard my dad and mom worked in the restaurant business.”
Fong’s father owned and worked in Chinese restaurants for decades in Idaho and Spokane.
“I learned first hand how hard it was to run a small business.” Growing up in his dad’s restaurant, Fong was always helping out in the kitchen chopping onions, doing prep work and waiting tables. His parents worked in the kitchen for long hours, and his dad had to close down his restaurant in Idaho after being affected by a construction project next door.
“I have tried to ensure the voice of the community is at the table for dialogue and decision-making,” said Fong, who was in charge of the Mayor Jenny Durkan‘s cabinet and executive team.
Serving as a bridge between the mayor’s office and the Asian community, Fong is in frequent contact with Asian community members to see how the City can be of service.
A Fong’s supporter, Tony Au said, “Michael has done a lot for the community. He inspires us to get involved in Seattle politics. He educates us about policy and its implications on the community. That’s why we organized the community to support pay raises for Seattle police officers and lobbied the City Council on other issues. Before I didn’t know much about politics, and I have learned a lot from him.”
Fong’s words meant action. He had the mayor’s ear. He was by the mayor’s side meeting with community leaders after Chinatown-International District (CID) was looted and destroyed by Black Lives Matter splinter groups in May 2020, and at other times during the pandemic. He supported funding for CID community groups so that they could survive.
When CID businesses were first impacted by COVID in February 2020, Fong urged Durkan and her team to dine in CID restaurants as an example to support the community. Durkan paid for the bill. Several city departments and their staff members followed. They dined together in CID restaurants and ordered take-out food regularly.
CID community members have been distressed by the growing garbage piles and filth in alleys, streets and near the homeless camps under the freeway. Illegal dumping is a concern in the neighborhood. Au videotaped CID conditions to show Fong. Immediately, the city sent down cleaning trucks and doubled their cleaning schedule in the CID. Loads and loads of garbage were cleaned up. Fong also worked with city departments to increase funding for cleaning in CID.
However, Fong said he is most proud of the work “we did around creating the Seattle Preschool Program and Seattle Promise. It will have lasting impacts for young people in this City for years to come.” He managed the policy work through the mayor’s side and the legislation on the council’s side. Then he helped get them both passed in the public vote.
Being a role model in the Chinese community, Fong is one of the few American-born Chinese officials who can speak fluent Cantonese. It is impressive to see that he can give a speech in Cantonese to his Chinese audience during Lunar New Year and other occasions. He hopes that his work would inspire more young people to go into public service.
It takes a village
Fong’s journey to receive an appointment from President Joe Biden took a village. Former Gov. Gary Locke and former Seattle deputy mayor Hyeok Kim led an AAPI community letter campaign supporting his appointment, and close to 100 Asian community and business leaders signed the letter last June.
“I’ve known Mike for many years and worked closely with him for nearly four years during my time in the mayor’s office,” said Kim, a consultant. “His analytical and political skills are strong, but it’s balanced by his deep commitment to community. He will be a tireless champion for small businesses in our region.”
Fong was also grateful for support from the Washington state congressional delegation, including Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell; and Congress members Pramila Jayapal, Marilyn Strickland, and others.
Fong credited Durkan for suggesting that he seek an appointment with the SBA while brainstorming his next career move. He worked for eight years under two mayors, Durkan and Ed Murray, and also for King County Executive Dow Constantine.
Currently, Fong has been working on a short assignment for Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers as a senior adviser and Chief Recovery and Resilience Officer since September.
“This is good news for Snohomish County, Washington state, and the entire region,“ said Somers. ”Michael’s deep experience and range of talents will be assets for the many small businesses and workers who have been negatively impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. We are grateful that Michael has helped us organize and launch our Office of Recovery and Resilience.”
A graduate of the University of Washington with a bachelor’s degree in political science, Fong will begin working on Jan. 5, 2022 under SBA administrator Isabella Casillas Guzman. About 100 people will report to Fong from district offices in four states.
Assunta can be reached at email@example.com.