PORT ANGELES — The Port of Port Angeles, facing a growing challenge finding new tenants, went looking for an executive director and found NATO officer Geoff James.
The Poulsbo resident, who starts work June 14, signed his $160,000 annual contract Wednesday to oversee the countywide tax district, which has $8.4 million in 2021 general fund operations and 50 employees.
Just three days earlier, on Sunday, Caleb McMahon became one of those workers.
The Bentonville, Ark., resident signed his $120,000 agreement to fill the port’s newly created position of director of economic development.
Outgoing Executive Director Karen Goschen, who is leaving her position for family reasons, expects to become a 3½-days-a-week upper-echelon port employee by June 30, just as soon as her new job description if finalized, she said Wednesday.
McMahon, a former Port of Columbia County real estate and business development manager in Oregon, was one of three finalists for the position James filled.
McMahon put a deposit down on a rental Wednesday and starts work June 21.
In part, he will take over the duties of 24-year port employee Mike Nimmo, the maritime business development director, who will help McMahon ease into the new job before he possibly switches to part-time before eventually retiring, Nimmo said Wednesday.
The personnel moves were part of a swirl of activity at the top rungs of the countywide tax district.
“There’s a lot happening,” Goschen said.
She looked for a business development director to take that role off her plate but without success.
“I feel really fortunate that a lot of pieces are falling into place,” she said Wednesday.
“I think we have a great complement between the leadership skills of Geoff and bringing on Caleb, who has broad business and economic development experience.”
James, 52, who lacks experience working for a port, will have his performance evaluated by the commissioners annually and, at his suggestion, Burke said, will undergo a mid-year review for the first two years of employment.
Commissioners approved James’ contract at their regular meeting Tuesday.
“He’s going to have a learning curve that he’s going to have to deal with, but also, what you especially want is, with someone who has challenges that are facing them, you want to see someone with strong leadership skills, and that’s what he brings to the table,” Burke said Wednesday.
James did not return calls for comment Wednesday on signing the contract.
Commissioners had enough confidence in him to set his salary near the upper end of the $144,000 to $170,000 range.
James is on leave from the Navy after serving 34 years, most recently as branch chief for current operations to the military staff at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Belgium.
James and his wife are building a house east of Sequim in the Palo Alto Road area west of the port’s John Wayne Marina.
James Thompson, executive director of the Washington Public Ports Association, said ports at Moses Lake and Kingston have successfully hired executive directors without port experience.
He said Port of Port Angeles commissioners, in hiring James, hired someone with strong managerial skills.
“He’s going to have to rely on the experience of those around him to guide the port forward,” he added.
“He’s going to have to learn how to run a port.”
Port officials are facing the recent loss of Portland, Ore.-based Vigor Alaska, a topside-repair-company tenant that specialized in tanker maintenance. They’ve also been seeking tenants for the port’s Marine Trades Center parcel on Marine Drive.
And they need a more permanent occupant for the port’s 93,550-square-foot 1010 Building, part of which is being rented to Clallam County for a COVID-19 social distancing center for homeless individuals.
For the third time, port commissioners Tuesday extended the lease, from June 1 through Aug. 31.
McMahon, 38, is the former economic development director for the Economic Development Alliance of Jefferson County, Ark.
His new job with the Port of Port Angeles is “an excellent fit,” he said.
“I’m getting to spend a lot of the time on the stuff I love doing. I’m extremely happy.”
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at [email protected].