Port Docks at UW Tacoma: Maritime organization acts to fund faculty position

As a part of its regional economic development strategy, the Port of Tacoma Commission Friday approved a $1 million investment in the University of Washington, Tacoma to support education and environmental initiatives in the South Puget Sound region.

A leadership investment for UW Tacoma’s capital campaign, the Port’s $1 million will be enhanced with $500,000 from a matching fund established to support the University of Washington’s $2 billion capital campaign. This brings the value of the Port of Tacoma’s investment to $1.5 million.

The Port dollars, combined with the UW match, will establish the Port of Tacoma Endowed Chair, which will be used to attract leading professors to focus on teaching and research on topics related to Port priorities, initially focusing on environmental science and the proposed Urban Waters project.

“The Port of Tacoma’s economic development strategy focuses on transportation and education,” said Timothy J. Farrell, the Port’s acting executive director. “The Port has supported a children’s schoolbook program with Tacoma and Pierce County schools, the Wang Center at Pacific Lutheran University, apprenticeship programs through our local technical and vocational colleges, and the International Trade Program at Tacoma Community College. The Port’s commitment to education also includes the reimbursement of tuition for Port employees who pursue degrees in higher education.”

“With today’s action, the Port of Tacoma is doing much more than supporting education, we are building upon the Port’s role as an economic engine for our region,” said Port of Tacoma Commissioner Connie Bacon, noting that Port of Tacoma activities create more than 28,000 family-wage jobs in Pierce County. “We are all for supporting a well-educated workforce needed to support high-paying employers in our region.”

Port of Tacoma Commissioner R. Ted Bottiger added that environmental stewardship is important to the Port’s stewardship of the Port’s assets in the Tacoma Tideflats.

“Over the past 20 years, the Port of Tacoma has invested more than $150 million in a wide range of environmental projects that reflect our stewardship of the lands and waters in and around Commencement Bay,” he said. “This investment in UWT underscores our environmental mandate and commitment.”

The proposed Urban Waters program is an initiative being spearheaded by local community leaders, with interest from UW and UWT. Such a program would provide leading research on cleaning and maintaining urban waterways like Commencement Bay, offer student learning opportunities and have the potential to attract significant federal funding.

“Through the UWT’s environmental science department and the Urban Waters project, we have a unique opportunity to strengthen our economy and improve our environment through higher education and research,” Bottiger said.

“The Port of Tacoma Chair will be a tremendous asset for the University of Washington, Tacoma and comes at a critical time in the development of the campus and the region when major investments can bring new initiatives to fruition, providing huge benefit to our community,” says Ray Tennison, president of Simpson Investment Company and chair of the UWT capital campaign. “It is also the first leadership investment in the public phase of UW Tacoma’s $30 million capital campaign, part of the $2 billion CAMPAIGN UW.”

Interest income will be generated in perpetuity from the $1.5 million permanent endowment. That income will allow UW Tacoma to supplement the salary of a faculty position to create a more competitive recruitment package than is possible with state dollars alone. That, in turn, will make it possible to attract a nationally recognized scholar in a field of interest to the Port.

UW Tacoma already has a strong, if relatively small team of environmental scientists on the faculty. In the spring of 2004, that group was honored with one of the UW’s coveted and highly competitive Brotman Awards, which recognize excellence in undergraduate teaching and learning and that come with special funding that totals $35,000 distributed to the year’s winning programs. The addition of a distinguished environmental expert would enhance the UW Tacoma scientists’ ability to address South Puget Sound environmental issues.

“As I look at this community, the Port and UWT are two of the major economic drivers. An investment of this magnitude, in support of such a well-conceived partnership, is great news because it steers us toward success in achieving some major economic objectives, particularly our long-term goals for job creation and our ongoing need to focus on maintaining a clean environment, which is one of our region’s most important resources,” said Bruce Kendall, President and CEO of the Tacoma-Pierce County Economic Development Board.

In 2000, the Port of Tacoma supported a highly successful community fund-raising effort with a $500,000 investment that helped attract state funding to establish the Institute of Technology at UW Tacoma. The Institute was established to expand opportunities for South Puget Sound students to enter the lucrative software development field and to serve as an economic development driver to help attract high-tech business to the region.

The Port of Tacoma Chair will initially focus on environmental science. In the future, the Chair’s focus may change to other Port-related subject areas if the UWT and Port deem it appropriate to make a change. Over time, the fund will be used to attract high-level expertise to UWT focusing on the areas where university research and teaching can have the greatest impact on priorities it shares with the Port.

“The greatest beauty of this new endowment is its creativity,” says Steven Olswang, interim chancellor of UW Tacoma. “Today, the Port and UWT agree that pristine urban waters are a major priority, building upon an impressive environmental record the Port has established through projects like the restoration of the Hylebos Waterway.

“Down the road, the endowment may be used to attract faculty with expertise in a fast-growing area of international trade. Maybe a computing innovation will require highly specialized expertise.

The endowment is held in perpetuity, Olswang noted. “As the Port helps UWT attract the world’s best minds, we can help the Port retain its competitive edge, forward its objectives for environmental stewardship, or accomplish a whole range of things not yet imagined,” Olswang said. “We are thrilled to formalize an already strong partnership between two of the region’s leading economic drivers.”

The Port commitment brings the total amount that UW Tacoma has raised to more than $22 million toward its $30 million campaign goal. This total is included in the UW $2 billion capital campaign, which moved into its public phase in October. The UW has raised $1.2 billion with three years remaining in the campaign.