The Port of Tacoma Commission will meet at a special public meeting Thursday to consider two contenders for its executive director position.
Two candidates to fill that position, Todd Coleman of Spokane and Eric Johnson of Olympia, were recommended by a search committee consisting of two port commissioners and port staff.
The position oversees the port’s non-maritime activities. The position is open because the port’s current leader is going from two jobs to one.
Tacoma Port CEO John Wolfe has been leading both Tacoma’s port and the Northwest Seaport Alliance during a transition period after its 2015 formation. That period is ending, and Wolfe will serve full-time as NWSA’s CEO.
The port will consider the search committee’s recommendation of the two finalists 11 a.m. Thursday (April 11) at the port’s Fabulich Center, 3600 Port of Tacoma Road, Tacoma. Final interviews will be conducted in an executive session April 23, with a final decision at the regular monthly commission meeting April 24. Both the April 11 and April 24 meetings include opportunities for public comment.
You also can watch the public commission meetings online (live and also archived) at http://portal.veconnect.us/p/portoftacoma, where the agenda and other background materials on the two contenders will be posted ahead of the meeting.
Both Coleman and Johnson told The News Tribune they were interested in aerospace, manufacturing and distribution jobs as a way to bolster the local economy.
Both said they had yet not delved into the details of the recent supplemental environmental impact statement regarding Puget Sound Energy’s LNG project on the Tideflats.
Coleman noted the importance in the process of such a project to hear from all sides. Johnson noted the need for clear rules to define the scope of an environmental review, such as for greenhouse gas emissions.
The candidates spoke of not only working with the NWSA to support its growth but also taking a look at port real estate and new development, which the new executive director would face as a primary job focus.
Coleman said: “In my mind the question becomes where does the public and the port make smart infrastructure improvements and investment in the region. If we make those investments smartly, then private investments will follow.”
Johnson noted that “there are properties that can be cleaned up, investments made, and we need to work with communities and the commission and apply tools the port has,” as a way to spread opportunity through the county.
Coleman holds a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from the University of Washington and an MBA with stakeholder focus from Washington State University.
Coleman, a licensed professional civil engineer, “has nearly 15 years of experience working in private consulting and assisting communities, port districts and private developers create the infrastructure necessary to support thriving communities,” according to the port’s new release announcing the contenders.
He currently serves as executive director of the West Plains/Airport Area Public Development Authority in Spokane County, a position he’s held since June 2018. Coleman earlier served in executive capacities at the Port of Vancouver USA, including as deputy executive director for seven years and as CEO for four.
He is credited for helping to attract Vancouver Energy to build a massive oil-by-rail terminal along the Columbia River. The proposal met with objections regionwide and later was abandoned, a move he also recommended.
Coleman told The News Tribune he learned valuable lessons from that experience.
“You’ve got to get community involvement early in the process,” he said. “The information on the project was released and talked about, but until things started happening around crude oil, there wasn’t heightened involvement, so you need that early on.”
As for Tacoma’s port future, “that vision needs to include board of commissioners and members of the community and focus on what ports do best, which is create jobs and create a ripple effect to create prosperity,” for residents, Coleman said.
Johnson holds bachelor’s degrees in biology and political science from Pacific Lutheran University and a master’s in public administration with a concentration in environmental policy and natural resources management from the University of Washington.
Johnson, a Pierce County native, has served as executive director of Washington Public Ports Association in Olympia since 2009, representing port district interests to state and federal elected officials, including the Legislature and state agencies.
“It’s a great time for me to come back home and work with the commissioners as they find a new vision and plan,” he said Tuesday.
He joined the state Public Ports Association in 1988 as environmental affairs director, “where he developed many of the fundamental environmental laws and policies that are still in place today for ports across the state,” according to the Port of Tacoma’s release.
Johnson was promoted to deputy director in 2006.
“I’ve worked with Washington ports for 30 years, and I have a deep understanding of what these amazing governments can do for the community,” he said.
Bottom line for Johnson is to create more jobs, “so workers can stay here and not have to go to King County.”