Some 90 community members gathered last night for a public reception to meet the four finalist candidates for the Port of Olympia’s executive director position. The reception was held at the Hilton Garden Inn in Olympia.
The Port of Olympia Commission approved consultant Cliff Moore’s recommendations for the final candidates last week on January 29. They are Joshua Cummings, Anthony Hemstad, Mike Reid and Alexandra Smith.
Participants got to interact with these candidates who were also given five minutes to introduce themselves and discuss their qualifications.
Today the candidates each were interviewed two more times, either in the morning or the afternoon, by both the entire five-member board of commissioners and by a panel of what the port calls “stakeholders.” The stakeholders included:
Cummings has been the community planning and economic development director of Thurston County for more than six years. Before taking this role, he was the county’s economic development manager for two years and a sustainability specialist for nearly three years.
Cummings started his career as a staff assistant for the Panetta Institute for Public Policy, an academic institution chaired by former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.
He also mentioned that he interned for US Senator Maria Cantwell of Washington before working for former US House Representative Norm Dicks of Washington’s District 6. Cummins was also a political affairs manager for Weyerhaeuser in Washington, DC for close to four years before moving to Olympia when he started working for the county in 2013.
The county director highlighted his work on the county’s habitat conservation plan which has allowed them to provide around 150 development permits to projects that have been previously delayed due to the occurrence of endangered species in these project sites. He explained that money generated from these applications went to a mitigation bank which allowed them to finance the preservation of 300 acres of land.
At the beginning of his speech, Cummings also spoke in length about his leadership style, emphasizing his open-door policy and non-hierarchical approach.
“I just wanted to also share that currently, I lead a team of 70 individuals. And from my perspective, those people are all humans. And if you treat people with humility and empathy and engage in active listening, people will rise to the occasion, ” he said.
“For me, it's all about people first. And if we can consider people first, then we can start to think about the bigger issues. We can think about balancing environmental protection with economic development. We can think about the services that we provide. But leadership and humility and communication are the first place to start,” he added.
Cummings has a bachelor's degree in political science from Western Washington University and a master’s degree in management and leadership from the Western Governors University.
Hemstad is the principal of Hemstad Consulting, a lobbying and economic development consultancy, and is also a member of the POCAC.
He grew up in Olympia but moved away for 30 years to work in various European countries. In 1993 Hemstad founded the Eklektik Communication Group, a public affairs firm based in Central Europe. He said that when he sold the company, it had a headcount of 70, as much as the port has right now. He also highlighted his relationship with Czech Invest, a client that was working to bring foreign direct investment to the Czech Republic.
After his time in Europe, Hemstad worked as the city manager for Maple Valley for five years before working in the non-profit sector as the president of World Trade Center Tacoma for six years. He was also a senior adviser for the state treasurer for nearly two years.
Summarizing his career, he said, “[I] used to work internationally, used to bring it in investment, used to building trade… I very briefly on public policy, working public policy to local state, national, and international levels and with a special emphasis and economic development.”
Hemstad specialized in Asian studies for his education, explaining that this was relevant as the port’s exports go to Asia. He completed a bachelor’s degree in Asian Studies at the University of Puget Sound before taking a master’s degree in East Asian studies at the University of London and a master’s degree in business administration from the University of Chicago.
Reid has been Olympia’s economic development director for six years. He worked the longest at the Port of Olympia for ten years where he was initially a property development manager and then a business development senior manager.
He recalled his first project with the port in 2007 when it sold land to be used for the Hands On Children's Museum to the City of Olympia, saying that this was when he realized what the port could offer to the community.
“In that project, I saw the incredible value that an organization like the port can have on this community. I know without pause or hesitation that the Port of Olympia can bring incredible value to our community because I have worked directly on four projects that have done just that,” he said.
Reid believed that working in the public sector for 16 years has allowed him to gain a professional understanding of the port’s operations, as well as develop relationships with partners in the county.
Speaking about the port’s various lines of business, he said, “I believe that we all want them to provide a return on investment not just in monetary value, but also a community value felt through the growth of living wage jobs, improved access to community amenities, and a cleaner and healthier environment.”
“I believe that there are also RCWs the port could explore to expand his role and support in the agricultural sector, workforce development programs, and tourism facilities,” he added.
Reid mentioned that he also served on various volunteer boards such as Washington Center for Performing Arts, Thurston County United Way, and Experience Olympia and Beyond.
Reid said he grew up in Olympia and graduated through Olmypia’s public school system, before taking his bachelor’s in communication studies at the University of San Diego.
Smith is the deputy supervisor for forest resilience regulation and aquatic resources at the Washington Department of Natural Resources. She chairs the Forest Practices Board and oversees a team that manages the state’s aquatic lands.
She worked at the Port of Olympia from 2012 to 2016 as the former director of environmental programs.
Smith said she has been a licensed attorney since the 1990s and specializes in environmental law. She worked with various ports for sediment cleanup projects such as those in Commencement Bay and other sites in Tacoma and Seattle.
After her stint at the Port of Olympia, she worked as a nuclear waste program manager at the Department of Ecology where she oversaw the cleanup of the Handford site, a former nuclear production facility.
Smith also worked as a counsel at Lane Powell PC, a law firm, for eight years and was an assistant attorney general at the WA Attorney General's Office for eight years.
Smith said that one reason she wanted to return to the Port of Olympia was because she found her time at the port to be a great working experience and that she admired the work that the port does.
“One of the things that I kept thinking when I was at the port was there's so much more this port could do in terms of being an asset for the community. And so that's one of the reasons why I really want to apply for the job was to see what is there that I might be able to do to help this port realize its potential,” Smith said.
“What I really love to do is see the port find a way to be very transparent and what it does to be super inclusive and make sure that we have the community conversations around the work that the port does. And then also that it really be a workforce-forward organization, one that really respects and listens to its workforce and really makes them feel as valued as they should,” she continued.
Smith earned a bachelor's degree in Political Science at Brown University and a Juris Doctorate from the University of Washington School of Law.
Cliff Moore of Prothman Consulting previously said in a commission meeting that they received 34 applications for the position, 16 of which met the minimum qualifications for the role. He told The JOLT that approximately half of the candidates were from outside of Washington.
According to the job description, the position requires at least ten years of management experience in operational activities, public policy, research, economic development, finance, municipal operations or port operations. The published salary for the job ranges from $175,000 to $225,000.
The executive director position has been vacant since September 19 after former executive director Sam Gibboney signed a separation agreement that continued her salary until February 1.
The port commission “hopes to reconvene on Thursday for a special meeting to take a vote on which candidate will be offered the job,” according to Taber Lee, the port’s communications & marketing senior manager.
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