Posted by: sweeneyblog | August 27, 2013

An Interview with Renata Kowalczyk

As I sat down to interview Port of Bellingham candidate Renata Kowalczyk, it immediately became clear: Renata is by far one of the most enthusiastic and articulate candidates I have interviewed. Over the next hour, she effortlessly wove together commentary on the limitations of the port as a government entity, her own personal history growing up in Poland, the historical role of ports in terms of promoting peace and how 3D printing is going to revolutionize industrial manufacturing, all of this punctuated by her blunt and distinctive sense of humor.

Renata Kowalczyk

Renata Kowalczyk

Renata, the single name candidate as she likes to refer to herself, is running for the port commissioner seat vacated by Scott Walker’s retirement this year. My first question, as always, is why is she running. “Recently, I’ve been giving the answers that come from the head; I moved downtown and kept looking at the waterfront and wondering what is happening there and how it could really be a thriving part of our county’s economic development. I wanted to serve my community, this is my home. I looked at my set of skills and unique perspectives, here’s someone who spent time in financial services as a change agent, I have my MBA and all that.” Renata draws a deep breath before sipping her coffee as we sit in the Woods downtown.

“But those are all head answers. They are all true, but there’s also a heart answer, a heart answer about what I believe ports are all about. Ports exist to connect. We don’t have to go to 1911 and the Port Act that Washington state in its infinite wisdom had put together, you can go back even farther.” See, I told you history would be involved.

“If you go back to the history of mankind, ports served as a connection point between buyers and sellers, they served as a connection point between cultures. For instance, fruits and herbs and vegetables spread because people put them on boats and look, now we have potatoes!” She cracks a big smile.

“Ports mean things to people. It is your port of call, coming home to safety. If I look at the answer from my heart, ports are all about connections and thriving as a result of that connections, either economically, socially, culturally. My life’s work is about connection.”

Renata’s work experience is pretty broad. In the past she has been in financial services. She spoke about working on a project with JP Morgan where the bank was deciding what to do with a large company with five locations and 2,000 employees. “I would lay everything out on the table and do a cost benefit analysis, looking for the benefit for the employees, look for the benefit for the bottom line, looking for the benefit of the bank, looking at all the options.”

Renata Kowalczyk

Renata at the Blaine 4th of July parade

Currently, she works as a business consultant, helping local small businesses access resources they didn’t know they had. “I help them work out where they want to be in the one year, then three years or five years. I help them look at where they are now and the gap in between, we look at all the resources that they already have and resources they need.”

She shared an example from a recent client who needed some extra cash to grow their business. “I would never take things at face value. Let’s go on a treasure hunt! Let’s look into your business and see if there is something in your business that you are not using. They may have assets they are not using, so I am connecting two needs that need to be met.”

Beyond her experience, Renata was eager to discuss her plans for the waterfront. “My dream is to use the waterfront to connect our glorious past with a wonderful future. We have incredible resources and industries that sustain us; fishing, marine trades, agriculture – that’s our past, we need to preserve them and make it stronger.” Renata gave a boisterous grin, thumping her fist onto the table.

“As for our wonderful future, how can this waterfront be a source of good jobs, not just basic level jobs but high paying jobs? There are new types of manufacturing, think about 3D printing. That’s where its going. We are going to need skilled labor, and we are going to need developers and programmers who do 3D C.A.D. drawing.” C.A.D. stands for computer aided drawing and is the technical skill needed to develop programs for 3D printing. Western Washington University is already training students in this technology and 3D printers can be found in Bellingham High School. Renata points out that manufacturing will need to be a component of any working waterfront and the port is the key vehicle to help make that happen.

Do you feel the port and the city are on the right track or the wrong track with the Waterfront plan? “It’s okay but it can be made smarter. I want to make sure that in this plan that we are definitely protecting marine trades. I know (the plans) are conceptual, and I’ve seen some responses that incorporate the whole marine trade area. I just want to make sure that we support what is already there. There are seventy some companies at the wharf, and they do a tremendous job for us for clean economic development.

The other part I am concerned about is the people versus habitat. Looking at the plan, pretty much every area that has designation for habitat, also includes walking trails and I don’t know how that’s possible to have seals, and birds and fish where we have people, dogs, bicycles and babies.”
Renata at her campaign kickoff

Renata at her campaign kickoff

Where is the Port really missing the ball? Renata thought for a moment and told me about a meet-and-greet in Lynden. “A woman there asked me a question that I loved, it was straight to the point. ‘What has the port done for the Lynden community lately?’ Some day I hope to be able to answer that question with a long list, right now . . .” She made a zero with her fingers and gave a hefty sigh.

On an unrelated note, I asked Renata her opinion of Rob Fix, the port’s executive director. “I’ve been asking businesses and they seem to be appreciating his work, he understands the business.” She smiled graciously. “He made himself very much available to the candidates to answer questions. From the outside, looking in, he seems to be doing a good job.”

On the political side, Renata recently made waves when she received almost identical scores as her conservative opponent from the local Tea Party. How does she credit this cross-partisan appeal? “I think there are a few reasons. I am really committed to connecting to people, and listening to understand what their points of view are. I also believe they connect with my life story, my commitment to freedom and opportunities, coming to America and leaving the oppressive economic and political system behind so I can create a life here.”

As we wrap up the interview, she closes with a simple pledge. “I made a commitment when I moved to Bellingham – I decided to spent my next forty years of my life helping people get connected and creating thriving communities. What vehicles or offices are the best way to contribute to that place, it’s the port.”

I couldn’t agree more. You can read more about Renata at her website or on her facebook page here.



  1. Great interview! You really capture Renata’s personality, as well as her values, skills, and experience.

  2. I agree! You really captured her spirit, passion, and smarty-smarts! She’s awesome. Thank you for showing everyone just how awesome she is, Riley!

  3. Just for clarity, is her name pronounced Ko-wal-chick?

    • I always pronounced it “Re-naaaahh-tah” 🙂

      But I think you have it right.

      • LOL Thanks Riley.

  4. Good interview! She always sounds really good but then I hear little things in what she says. For instance, the comment about how we can possibly have seals and baby strollers in the same habitat. When I hear comments like that I immediately think she is really an ubber environmentalist that will ultimately vote for no jobs on the waterfront. Maybe she can provide more detail in what she meant by that comment but what I would advise folks is that she may very well be a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

    • Considering she comes from financial services and works with local businesses on how they can become stronger businesses . . . I would not peg her as a “no jobs on the waterfront” person. Renata can speak for herself, but considering that she is quite loudly supported a working waterfront with good manufacturing and marine trade jobs, I don’t think your suspicions are accurate.

    • Interesting interpretation of her comment. When I read that, I understood that Renata meant that if we want seals at the log pond, having a stroller/bike/running/walking/dog path right at the water’s edge where they are might not work. I’m not sure when you were last at the waterfront, Delaine, but the Marine Trades Center is very near the old log pond and the seals and folks working on the waterfront seem to get on just fine. And I know that Renata knows this because she took advantage of the Port’s waterfront tour (as documented on her Facebook page). Also, I love my dog, and my 8-month old, but I’m pretty sure seals would not.

      Renata’s commitment to a working waterfront is pretty well-documented, and it seems to me that no one is more serious about having a working waterfront than the commercial fishermen. And in this race, the Commercial Fisherman’s Association endorsed Renata. That endorsement tells me a lot more about her than an implication that Renata might be “an ubber [sic] environmentalist” because she’s bright enough to note that dogs and strollers might not be compatible with seals.

      • Allison, Your comments are a bit confusing. I have no worries whether seals and people can get along. It was Renata who made that comment not me……

  5. Delaine, my comments shouldn’t confuse you. People working day in and day out at the marine trades center are part of the seals’ landscape. My dog and my screaming 8-month old showing up at irregular intervals are not part of the ordinary landscape. All activities are not created equal. So a regularly working waterfront with people going about their business at jobs is different from recreation.

    You were the one who chose to read her comment as meaning no jobs. I simply pointed out that what she said 1)had nothing to do with jobs, and 2)had everything to do with the potential impacts of recreational activities. I don’t think it could be much clearer than that.

  6. […] candidates facing off in a race that will determine the balance of power for that organization. Business consultant Renata Kowalczyk is running against former mayoral candidate Dan Robbins for the open seat being vacated by Scott […]

  7. […] Kowalczyk. Business expert, Lean and Kaizen trainer, American immigrant and success story. Renata’s life story is one of incredible determination and success. She brings an outsider’s perspective which is […]

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