Community Spotlight Series: Port of Seattle
October 12th, 2020
International visitors participating in the IVLP Regional Responses to Refugee & Migration Issues, meet with Karin Zaugg Black of the Port of Seattle & leadership from World Relief Seattle & OneAmerica to discuss the New Americans Campaign. Feb. 2020.
Seattle, Washington is the principal trade, distribution, financial, and services center for the Northwest. With customers in 215 countries and territories and billions of dollars in Washington-made goods and services exported annually, international trade remains the backbone of Washington State’s economic stability. Seattle’s multifaceted transportation network of freeways, railroads, ferry systems, the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA) and port facilities make up a robust infrastructure that provides a direct connection to Asia and serves as a major link in trade with markets in Alaska, on the Gulf of Mexico, and on the Atlantic Coast. The Port of Seattle, created by King County voters in 1911, plays a critical role in promoting international trade. The Port owns and manages Sea-Tac International Airport, the region's largest airport; a leading container seaport (jointly operated as The Northwest Seaport Alliance with the Port of Tacoma's maritime-cargo operations); Fishermen's Terminal, home to the North Pacific fishing fleet; four marinas; three cruise terminals; and other facilities. The innovative Northwest Seaport Alliance operates as the fourth largest container gateway in all of North America with especially strong ties to Asia, making the Puget Sound Region as well as the Port of Seattle an international hub for people all over the world to connect, share their cultures and experiences, expand partnerships, build relationships, and create new opportunities to make the world smaller.
The Port has built long-standing partnerships with many regional trade and local organizations devoted to strengthening cultural, educational, and trade ties with other nations, fostering new relationships with growing world economies. In partnership with the World Affairs Council of Seattle for instance, the Port has met and continues to meet with international leaders from around the world, participating in the International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP), currently celebrating its 80th Anniversary. Experts from the Port have participated in meaningful discussions with IVLP visitors, providing insight into their work on a wide array of topics ranging from Maritime Economic Development and Environmental Protection to Transnational Crime to Regional Responses to Refugee and Migrations Issues. In charge of maintaining many of the Port’s long-standing partnerships and arranging opportunities for experts at the Port to meet with their international counterparts, Karin Zaugg Black, the International Business Protocol Liaison at the Port of Seattle, continues to ensure that every international visitor feels welcome and comfortable at the Port and that every experience is informative and beneficial all around.
Karin (pictured right) is passionate about international relations and comes from a very internationally-oriented family. Karin is fluent in Japanese and German languages, also studied Italian and Russian, and has participated in multiple exchange programs, bringing many years of experience to the Port and to discussions with our international visitors. She adamantly believes that everyone should have the opportunity to study abroad, learn a foreign language, and overall be engaged internationally. She says, “When you travel you get the opportunity to not only learn about another culture and language, but you have time to reflect on [the United States].”
This past July I had the wonderful opportunity to connect with Karin for a virtual interview to discuss her experience partnering with the World Affairs Council’s International Visitor Program (IVP). In our interview she provides insight into her participation and experiences meeting with our IVLP visitors throughout the years, as well as the importance of fostering international collaboration and relationship building and why this is important to the Port of Seattle. What follows is an excerpt from our conversation.
Tell me about your experience meeting with visiting global leaders through the International Visitor Program at the World Affairs Council.
I have been in my role at the Port of Seattle for almost four years, and overall I met with six [groups] in 2017, five in 2018, six in 2019, and three in 2020. That’s 20 groups total! The [international visitors] come so excited to engage and learn, and they always have a ton of questions. They are often smart and engaged leaders, as well as experts in their fields at home…And when it’s a group with folks from lots of different countries, they have a real breadth in terms of different job titles around the same sort of topic.
From our presenters, on the Port of Seattle side, the universal attitude coming out of these engagements is that it was ‘really more of a two-way dialogue than I expected. This is a really great opportunity for me to hear from these colleagues and peers [who have] a certain specialty or [work in a certain] field, to learn about what is going on in their home countries.’ The two-way exchange aspect is always really great, and sometimes is a surprise to our presenters. So definitely, when you have folks who are engaged in police or fire or other specialty roles at the Port, they often really connect with their [counterparts] from across these countries.
Have you or past presenters with the Port kept in contact with international visitors you’ve met with or mentored after they left Seattle?
I have seen this particularly among combatting human trafficking, disaster preparedness, or emergency response groups…I think there are a lot of connections that are made, particularly between experts in similar fields. There have been great opportunities to stay connected with one another. One example I can think of is when our Port of Seattle Fire Department Chief met with a group [of global leaders]…He listened to everyone [introduce themselves], and he realized there were several other fire chiefs in the room, and so by the end of the program he offered, ‘I can meet you guys later and drive you around for a little tour…I am available all day!’ They created an entire side-visit, three other fire chiefs were driving around with him, and having a lot more dialogue and conversation. These groups are definitely exchanging and making connections, which is great, that's exactly what we want to see.
Why do you continue to meet with our visitors, and why is it important to you and the Port?
Seattle and the Greater Seattle Region and Washington State as a whole has to be engaged with the rest of the world. One, it is a critical part of how we do business. Washington state is one of the most trade dependent states in the United States. Two, we are such a diverse community and have so many ties to different countries and communities around the world. So I think it is very important to continue to engage with the world to both learn about great examples [of things] that are being implemented in other communities, and also share the innovative things that we are doing. I feel that as a global city, and as a globally engaged city, region, and state, it is really critical for us to have that two-way dialogue, sharing the innovative things we are creating, and also learning the best practices other countries, cities, and regions are implementing and seeing how they fit within our systems here. That is definitely the mindset of our region and our state leaders.
Oftentimes, it’s hard to sell the importance of why we stay engaged and do international relations. The timeline-arc for the results can sometimes be really long because it’s relationship building, but some things that I would point to are Washington State and our region, city, and port have had leaders from way before our current leadership that recognize that relationship building is really important. The Port was a founding member of the Washington State China Relations Council 40 years ago, opening up trade with China and giving and engaging way long ago and that has continued to show huge benefits now, 40 years later. China is our top trading partner. We have had several Chinese sister cities and other partner cities send us donations of PPE to the City of Seattle and we’ve had offers to the Port from our sister port of Shanghai. And if you look at Chinese government leadership, they all come to Seattle first and then they go to D.C. because they recognize that Washington [State] has been a partner and has reached out to them over the years. At the heart, it's the passion around being globally connected and engaged with our world. Trade helps everybody, and so I feel really lucky to work at an organization that values that and allows for meetings and connections with global leaders to be made.
International Visitors on an IVLP for Global Economic Cooperation meet with Karin at the Port of Seattle Headquarters. Feb. 2020.
How else does the Port of Seattle stay connected with the rest of the world?
Number one, the Port has had a really long and strong history of sister port relationships. The Port of Seattle became sister ports with its first port in 1967 with the Port of Kobe in Japan. Kobe was actually the first sister city with Seattle in 1957…Seattle at the time, really embraced that idea and was an early adopter of the sister city concept. They also partnered with Rotterdam in the Netherlands, in the same year in 1967, and Kobe, Rotterdam, and Seattle formed a tri-port relationship, and for many years they alternated hosting port meetings, rotating between [cities]. I think they were really strategic in being three international ports, in three different markets, so they were not competing against each other, but they could still learn from each other and share innovative practices. Supporting those sister port relationships is one way we stay engaged.
The Port of Seattle is also engaged in a number of international port associations or organizations, such as the International Association of Ports and Harbors. Last year we participated in the Port Authorities Roundtable (PAR), which we were invited to by Kobe because of our sister port relationship. This year’s IAPH and PAR conferences were cancelled, but we are hoping in 2021 our leaders will get to go to Antwerp, Belgium and stay connected with these two groups. In the meantime, we are connecting with these groups virtually.
Next is our airport. Two years ago in 2018, Sea-Tac International Airport tied with our first sister airport, Centrair Airport in Nagoya, Japan. Centrair created a whole museum of flight, with an entire Seattle pavilion with themed restaurants and shops…sponsored by many of Seattle’s local businesses. When you create any sort of sister relationship you’re looking for mutual gain, which is, again, the heart of all these international relations. How can we learn from you? How can we also share our best practices that we do? With Centrair Airport, the [airport] is managed and operated by former Toyota executives, so they are all very ensconced in the philosophy of constant process improvement. Our airport director is very interested in continuing to bring those process improvement systems to how we manage Sea-Tac International Airport. We can really learn from them! On the other hand, we are a real leader in sustainability and environmental operations at the airport, and so they are excited to learn from us on innovative things we’ve been piloting.
Furthermore, ports and airports around the world contact us in order to learn about different facets of our business. Particularly as our cruise industry has grown over the last twenty years, a lot of seaports have come to study our cruise industry and how we’ve done it. Seattle has an amazing success story, in over 20 years we went from nothing to a huge industry. Lastly, locally we’re really active with our Foreign Consular Association. There are over 45 different foreign government representatives, either full consulate general offices or honorary consuls…We are also very engaged with local nonprofit organizations, like the World Affairs Council, the Washington State China Relations Council, Japan America Society of the State of Washington, Washington Council on International Trade. We really value all of these connections.
What would you say to someone in the Seattle Community who isn’t sure why they should participate in an opportunity to meet with international visitors through the World Affairs Council?
Meeting with international visitors, I think you will always be pleasantly surprised on how much YOU get out of the meeting and not just that you’re providing information. It becomes an opportunity for you to really engage and learn about different perspectives such as how people in a different culture are approaching a challenge similar to what you are facing, as well as an opportunity to just listen, learn, and engage. We all could really benefit from listening and trying to hear and understand different perspectives and so a sure fire way to do that is to talk with somebody from another country who has a much different background and set of perspectives and experiences to share.
In my conversation with Karin, it was hard not to be in awe of her passion for global engagement and building lasting relationships. Over the years, the world has become increasingly interconnected through globalization, technology, health, and more. By listening to and learning from others with different cultures, languages, and experiences than our own, we have the opportunity to create positive change politically, economically, and socially to better our world. The Port of Seattle has been a leader in this work and we truly value the time and expertise they continue to share with the World Affairs Council and the international leaders we welcome to Seattle. Thank you, Karin, for your dedication and passion for international relations and international exchange. Through you, we have been able to connect our IVLP visitors to experts at the Port of Seattle, creating many memorable experiences and connections not only for our visiting global leaders, but for experts at the Port as well. We look forward to working with you again soon!
For more information on the Port of Seattle and their continued to engagement, globally and locally, please check out the links below:
- International Arrivals Facility at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport
- Global Connections at the Port of Seattle
New to the Community Spotlight Series? Check out our previous Community Spotlights recognizing our amazing community partners and the lasting impact of exchanges!
By Avery Closser, Intern & Julianna Patterson, Program Coordinator, International Visitor Program.