By Chairman Rafae Castellanos | Port of San Diego
Diversity is a strength in any enterprise, and the benefits of inclusion are no secret. It takes a variety of people from different backgrounds to deliver the range of perspectives, experiences and ideas that every modern organization needs. Diversity is also a competitive advantage in an economy where ideas are currency.
So it’s no surprise that diversity and inclusion are sought-after strengths at the Port of San Diego, where analytical thinking, innovative ideas and a can-do attitude are daily requirements. The port manages 34 miles of waterfront including cargo and cruise ship terminals, 22 public parks, infrastructure maintenance, new development, and a host of year-round activities. Our Board of Port Commissioners values diversity, starting from the top — we hired the organization’s first-ever woman CEO. In partnership with our board, CEO Randa Coniglio has implemented a renewed commitment to inclusion.
The port’s vision is to be a 21st-century port, which is defined as “an innovative, global seaport courageously supporting commerce, community and the environment.” Diversity and inclusion principles are embedded in multiple policies that our board has codified related to equal opportunity, nondiscrimination and the Americans with Disabilities Act; and are applied to programs including the port’s Accessibility Advisory Committee, Summer Student Worker Program, Tidelands Activation Program sponsorships, and a newly formed Diversity and Inclusion Committee.
The port’s Equal Opportunity Program is just one piece of our diversity and inclusion efforts, but it is an important one. Our team has steadily widened the circle of recruiting, hiring and vendor outreach. Efforts to reach small businesses and diverse populations include job fairs, community meetings and social media postings. Recently, the port has organized special events in Barrio Logan to facilitate a diverse contractor pool and publicize local job opportunities for our biggest public works project in port history, the $24 million modernization of our 10th Avenue Marine Terminal for cargo.
Approximately $15.6 million, or 29 percent of last year’s port contracts, went to businesses owned by minorities, women, disabled veteran and veterans — exceeding statewide goals of 23 percent. Outreach, networking and partnering are important to us in developing and maintaining good community relationships. Recently, the port was named Public Agency of the Year as a Community Partner for Inclusion and Participation in Equal Opportunity from the Black Contractors Association of San Diego.
Small businesses will continue to be a rich resource for port contracting. According to the San Diego Regional Economic Development Corporation, 98 percent of companies in San Diego have fewer than 100 employees. Results are encouraging. Of 72 contracts worth slightly more than $54 million awarded by our Board of Port Commissioners in 2017-2018, $21 million (39 percent) went to small businesses. That far exceeds the state of California’s stated goal of 25 percent.
In addition to contracting, the port’s focus on equal opportunity continues to enrich its permanent workforce. About 44 percent of the port’s employees self-report as minorities, an indicator of rich diversity in our workplace. In 2017-2018, women comprised about 38 percent of our workforce, and we are seeking to increase their ranks in non-traditional fields such as engineering and maritime industries. And the port was recently recognized by the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce for hiring veterans, who comprise 13 percent of our workforce.
Port contracting and hiring has a ripple effect across the entire San Diego economy. Today, approximately 44,000 San Diegans are employed in waterfront jobs that contribute some $8.3 billion to overall economic development. Industries that benefit directly or indirectly from port employment range from cargo handling and shipbuilding to hotel and restaurant operations. The large number of small businesses working with the port generate local spending and tax dollars. And the port’s permanent employees, numbering nearly 560, are steady contributors to the local and state economy.
The more meaningful existence of equal opportunity and inclusive hiring can be measured in organizational strength and resilience. Diversity is one of the best tools any organization has for remaining forward-thinking, innovative, and capable of tackling unforeseen challenges. And that’s exactly what the Port of San Diego intends to do.