By Kai Curry
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
Karen Goon has hit the ground running in her role as deputy executive director at the Port of Seattle. She started in July 2023 on the basis of the “breadth and depth of her experience in the Puget Sound region,” according to Executive Director Steve Metruck in a press release at the time of Goon’s hiring. Goon is the first person of color in the position, and comes with a background in administration and the public sector in Pierce and Kitsap counties. A native Washingtonian, she has a deep connection to King County as well, having grown up in Beacon Hill.
As Goon explained to the Asian Weekly, being on the “forefront of so many issues that are first and foremost on the world stage has been pretty exciting” so far. Goon commented on the “energy,” “enthusiasm,” and professionalism of those working alongside her at the Port, all of whom have a strong affinity with and knowledge of the maritime and aviation worlds. She added that there are “extremely talented and intelligent people” working at the Port, in many cases “behind the scenes…to make sure that people’s experience…is a seamless one. And so, the moving parts, the intricacies, the inner interconnectivity between agencies is pretty impressive and it is one of the things that has been most awe inspiring for me.”
A third generation Japanese American and fourth generation Chinese American, Goon’s mother owned a small business as a seamstress and her father was a pharmacist. Her father’s family came to the Northwest before Washington was a state, and so are already “several generations removed” from China. Her mother, with her mother’s siblings and parents—Goon’s grandparents—was sent to internment during World War II, first at the Puyallup Fairgrounds at the ironically named “Camp Harmony,” and then at Camp Minidoka. After the war, Goon’s mother settled in Seattle, where she met Goon’s father. Goon is one of four siblings, the only girl, the youngest, and attended Cleveland High School. “We have firm Seattle roots,” she said.
While Goon was raised by parents who were “firmly rooted in traditional American culture,” she does acknowledge some Asian cultural influence, such as seeking out “comfort foods” like dim sum, a favorite activity of a daughter who attends the University of British Columbia in Canada. Goon and her husband, a retired municipal court judge, have four children together. Goon holds a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from Seattle University, a Juris Doctorate from Seattle University School of Law, and a Master’s Public Administration from Seattle University.
“I initially…thought I’ll go into law. I tried that for a number of years and decided I’d rather be in the policymaking arena.” Goon then returned to university for her Public Administration degree, which “opened a lot of doors for me and set me on a career path.”
Before joining the Port, Goon served as the Kitsap County Administrator, which reports to a Board of Commissioners, similar to the way the executive director and deputy executive director of the Port are hired by and work in conjunction with the elected Port of Seattle Commissioners. “My focus was mainly internal services,” Goon told us, about her time in Kitsap County, “so HR, information services, facility, budget, finance.” Goon has also worked in Pierce County government, “mainly in public works…so roads, stormwater, solid waste, transportation, planning.” She has experience collaborating with regional organizations such as Sound Transit.
Goon’s background dovetails nicely into her current role at the Port, where she is responsible for overseeing process improvement and strategic initiatives, and working with engineering and construction services, Port Police, and the Central Procurement Office Departments.
“We’re going through a number of strategic process improvement initiatives with purchasing to see how we can evaluate our processes to streamline them,” Goon told us. “We have a major capital project, that’s $5.6 billion over the next five years, between airport and maritime,” as well as initiatives with the Port Police, such as implementing body cameras; and efforts amongst the Port workforce to encourage lateral hires. “I’m keeping busy at the moment.”
One of the things that interested Goon about working at the Port of Seattle was its dedication to diversity and inclusion, an area she feels was still in its “infancy” in Kitsap County.
“One of the appealing aspects of coming to the Port of Seattle was the diversity, equity, and inclusion program that currently exists,” Goon shared, and went on to talk about the Port’s current senior director of the Port’s Office of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion, Bookda Gheisar. “Her team…are implementing…with all divisions to ensure diversity,” i.e., “hiring diversity in the recruitment process” and “making sure that our policies and practices are equitable…That was the impressive aspect of the Port that was so attractive—how robust and mature their program is.”
While Goon might be new to working in King County, she is not new to life here, and she believes that county administration in general shares many similarities across the board.
“County government is pretty similar throughout the region,” she said. At King County and the Port, “we get the same issues that other jurisdictions experience in terms of housing shortages and [the challenge of] recruiting qualified staff.” In all counties, there is what is being called a “silver tsunami,” in which older employees are leaving or retiring, so that finding people that are qualified to do the work or trying to figure out how we can create pathways for people to get the experience to replace the employees that we’re seeing retire in droves” has become important everywhere.
“I think the demands are pretty universal,” Goon concluded. “I can honestly say I haven’t run into an issue that I found was unique.”
Goon currently resides in west Tacoma. As to her job at the Port, “there were very few organizations that I would have even looked at in terms of making a change,” she said. “I was happy in the position I was in before this, but the opportunity to work for a special purpose government, and one that was so prominent in my personal history” was irresistible for her. She is “very familiar with Sea-Tac Airport” and remembers “watching the planes come and go over my house.” As a child of Seattle, Goon is “very familiar with the role that maritime played in the economy of the area,” so for her to become involved in an organization that is integral to the “health, vitality, and economic prosperity of the region was very compelling.”
Kai can be reached at email@example.com.