By Aaron Allen
The Seattle Medium
The Port of Seattle is not just another branch of bureaucracy, it is a part of our community and if Mian Rice the new Director of Diversity in Contracting has anything to say about it, they are vital to the community.
“One thing about the Port of Seattle is we are a part of this community and we are here to do all that we can to support minority business and women owned business to be successful, particularly in these times,” says Rice.
The Port’s new diversity and contracting initiative, which aims to increase the Port’s spending with women and minority business enterprises (WMBE) and triple the utilization of women and minority business suppliers over the next five years, is the Diversity office’s foundational endeavor.
The Office of Diversity in Contracting is designed to support minority and women owned businesses so they can successfully compete for contracting and business opportunities with the Port. Its mission is outreach, reaching out to businesses and letting them know that there are resources available at the Port to help them, especially now.
“When I started the [Port] commissioners were looking at a minimum of a 5 percent increase in WMBE firms that contract with the Port and increase the percentage of dollars spent on WMBE contracts. But I wanted to project a more optimistic goal in relation to giving businesses an opportunity to thrive in this environment,” says Rice, who used the recommendation more as a point of reference than an optimal goal.
In 2016, the Port utilized WMBE’s in about 5.3 percent of its contracts. Today, that number has grown to 15.3 percent as the Port has aggressively worked to inform and educate prospective businesses about the various opportunities that are available to small and minority owned businesses.
Given the financial strain placed on many local businesses due to the current COVID-19 pandemic, the Port is using every resource in its power to help the business community, particularly small and minority business, stay afloat as society tries to wait out this pandemic.
In an effort to help businesses and retail tenants at the Port cope with the financial hardships caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Port Commission recently approved an immediate, short-term emergency financial relief package for airport-based businesses, and authorized the Port’s executive director to provide additional immediate relief to Port tenants such as maritime and real estate tenants in its efforts to help find relief for those businesses who may be struggling at this time.
In order to lessen the financial impact on working families, the Port is also urging their tenants and business partners to continue paying their employees and providing them with health care benefits. According to Rice, the Port Commission strongly believes that this is the best way for businesses to support their employees during this crisis.
“[We] are grateful to the large majority of airport concessionaires who are already doing so, and urge these efforts to continue; the provision of economic relief is a key way for the Port to facilitate the provision of that support,” read a statement from the Port of Seattle Commission on their website.
In addition, the Port has implemented a temporary non-eviction policy, that bars evictions of tenants at any Port of Seattle facilities due to their inability to pay rent. This policy will be in effect until to June 30, 2020.
“Our business partners and their employees urgently need financial help now while they wait for federal relief,” said Port of Seattle Commission President Peter SteinbrueckPeter Steinbrueck. “We stand together [with our partners] through this unprecedented global health crisis.”
The Port has also been working intently with the Small Business Development Centers (SBDC) to measure and get a pulse of the needs of the area’s small businesses. However, given the sheer number of business seeking assistance, it is clear that businesses are going to need support from any and everywhere that they can.
“We have been inundated with requests for help and for information on these new loan programs,” says Rich Shockley, Director of Highline College’s SBDC. “It’s been sobering to see the wide and swift impact of the economic fallout on small businesses in our region. These federal aid packages, along with the Port’s recent assistance, are two solid steps towards building a sound financial foundation for small businesses in the region.”
Rice believes that it is important for the community to know that the Port values its role in the community and is, at every level, using its influence to ensure that local businesses have access to the support that they need to survive. He also believes that the relationship between the Port and the community is vital to the economic stability of our region, and that now is the time to work together in order to strengthen the foundation of that relationship.
“I would just like the business community, particularly minority and women owned businesses, to know that we as an organization are here to help advance your business and support your business because we are a part of the community as well,” say Rice.