My name is Renata Kowalczyk, and I am living proof that the American dream is possible.
I come from a long line of farmers, but living in communist Poland we could not move beyond subsistence farming. Our family moved to town to find better work, but food scarcity drove us back to the country each year to grow our own food. Rather than depend on government handouts as the communist regime wanted, we worked together to build a better life.
I came to the USA penniless, but with a dream of America. I worked several jobs while going to college, and became the first in my family to earn a degree, and then went on to earn a masters in business administration from Columbia University. My proudest moment was receiving my American citizenship on April 4, 1997. I found work in the financial sector in New York, working my way up to vice president in several major corporations, including JP Morgan Chase and Merrill Lynch. It was an amazing time in my life, and I eventually fulfilled another dream: home ownership.
After working for years in New York, I yearned for life in a real place, with real people, who make and build and do things. A community where independence and hard work is respected and valued. A community where you know your neighbors, and where anyone can make a difference, start a business and find success. A community like ours, where the American dream is still possible.
I chose this community several years ago, and now I would like to give back. I thought long and hard about where my skills in financial management and process improvement, as well as my Six Sigma and project management professional training, might be put to best use. While speaking with respected leaders in the business community, it became clear that my experience and background made me well-suited for the Port of Bellingham commission.
One major port role in Whatcom County is to serve as an economic development authority and to meet essential transportation needs. Many critical issues face the port: waterfront redevelopment, airport expansion, and transparency in government. My focus will always be three-fold: the broadest community benefit, the best environmental stewardship and the best financial return for the least cost to taxpayers.
I am a strong supporter of a working waterfront. We must have a working waterfront - fresh seafood that can ship direct to restaurants and grocery stores from our waterfront processors is something most places no longer have. New jobs in manufacturing and industry are possible; we can add manufacturing capabilities to other port properties throughout the county and thereby support job creation by supporting those businesses. We have a great opportunity to connect our farming industry to food processing and shipping directly from the port rather than trucking products - and jobs - elsewhere.
Another critical issue is airport growth. From 160,000 passengers in 2004 to a forecasted 1.2 million passengers in 2013, our airport is no longer a small transportation hub. This growth is necessary for our business community and facilitates economic development. At the same time, there are residents of Whatcom County whose property values and quality of life are affected by increased flights and the attendant noise. I believe that the port has a responsibility to listen and seek solutions to balance growth with impacts to property owners.
Third, is the transparency and accountability of the port to all Whatcom County taxpayers. The port acts as a steward of our publicly owned assets and its dealings should reflect that. The port can increase transparency by making its public meetings available to all working people by moving them to the evening times, so more people can attend them, and by televising them for those who cannot attend.
This election, like any other, is about choice and you, as taxpayers and voters, get to choose between business as usual and status quo at the port, and thoughtful stewardship combined with fresh perspective.
I hope you choose the latter. I hope you will vote for me in November so together we can put the port to work for you! For more information about my positions, business experience and campaign, please visit RenataForPort.com.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Renata Kowalczyk is one of two challengers for Port of Bellingham, District 1, which is open with Scott Walker not seeking re-election. Vote-by-mail ballots will be mailed Oct. 19 and the general election is Nov. 5.