Sea-Tac Airport Seeking Minority, Small, Local Businesses

Port of Seattle Commissioner Tom Albro speaks to potential concessionaires at an outreach event in Tukwila on June 24.

Port of Seattle Commissioner Tom Albro speaks to potential concessionaires at an outreach event in Tukwila on June 24.

Calling all minority-owned restaurants, retail stores, and personal services: Seattle-Tacoma International Airport wants to meet you.

By the end of the year, Sea-Tac will see several openings in its list of current concessionaires, when their leases expire. Sea-Tac seeks minority-owned, small, and locally owned and operated businesses to compete for the open leases.

According to Deanna Zachrisson, the Port of Seattle’s business manager for airport dining and retail, 35 percent of Sea-Tac’s gross sales come from those businesses, and its goal is to get to 40 percent. This is on top of the airport’s goal to involve a certain number of certified Disadvantage Business Enterprises (DBEs); as part of the federal Airport Concessions DBE program, Sea-Tac has stated targets for giving business to DBEs.

“We’re seeking out new, innovative restaurant and retail concepts,” Zachrisson said. “We also have a strong interest in locally identifiable concepts. It helps reinforce a Pacific Northwest sense of place.” And for the businesses that do get leases, “you get exposure to a pretty big audience. We had 37 million passengers last year.”

Pending a Port of Seattle vote, Sea-Tac will have eight leasing opportunities available starting this month and more by the end of 2015. In the fall, the airport will hold several outreach events—some events “more of a general overview of airport opportunities,” others focusing on specific opportunities and offering airport tours.

Sea-Tac uses these outreach events to explain to business owners the differences between running an airport concession and running an operation in the city. “We want people to make educated decisions about whether or not this is right for them,” Zachrisson said. “We want them to be interactive, tell stories about what it’s like to work at the airport.”

The outreach events are part of the airport’s strategy for getting the word out about the opportunities. The strategy includes advertising in local publications as well as to community groups. Zachrisson says the strategy was developed in collaboration with the local minority business community, including the Northwest Mountain MSDC.

“Being part of the focus group assisting the Port of Seattle to develop an outreach approach enabled the Council to invite some of our MBEs to participate in these opportunities,” said Fernando Martinez, Council president and CEO. “Our network of Councils have enabled us to pull MBEs from other regions to participate as well.”

There have been shops and restaurants at Sea-Tac since the 1960s, but “it wasn’t until 2005 that the airport broke up the monopoly that HMSHost had on all the restaurants and shops,” Zachrisson said. “We were early adopters in the overall trend of breaking up large contracts in airports—and this led to improved quality, improved prices, and improved options.”

The 95 concessions at Sea-Tac brought in gross sales of $220 million last year, and leases will go up on a staggered schedule over the next three or four years. Unlike the traditional, public-sector RFP process, which Zachrisson calls “unfriendly to small businesses,” Sea-Tac developed a unique competitive evaluation process. The process simply asks businesses to provide information about their proposals, concepts, funding, and design, with fewer qualifications and documentation required. A group evaluates the proposals, ranks them, and selects an operator for each available space.

“Leadership’s inclusion intent at Sea-Tac is well intended. We need to help Sea-Tac execute its monopoly break up and convert its intent into real MBE engagements,” Martinez said.

For information on the leasing opportunities at Sea-Tac, presenting a proposal, upcoming outreach events, or simply to join the email list, visit