Photo by Rahn Clayton

This spring, the award-winning business-development specialist took over the role as the lead voice for the area’s manufacturing, maritime, and industrial communities.

Before he was director of the Manufacturing Industrial Council for the South Sound, Frank Boykin Jr. spent 25 years with United Parcel Service (UPS). Originally from Missouri, Boykin first landed in Lakewood after graduating with a business administration degree from Lincoln University in 1992, and was no stranger to the UPS when he took a job there the following fall. His father worked for UPS for 25 years as a human resource manager, pioneering the company’s Employee Assistance Program.

Boykin’s first role at UPS was as a driver helper.

“I started as a runner, waiting for opportunities to assist drivers with package delivery,” Boykin said. Boykin soon was hired as an information services technician and was promoted into management in December 1996. In his quarter-century with UPS, Boykin oversaw technology solutions as a customer automation supervisor and traveled the country serving clients in the high technology sector. He finished out his time at the company working with Amazon as an enterprise account executive.

While business has long been his focus, Boykin said he has always had a heart for public service. He worked closely with Congressman Adam Smith’s office as part of UPS’s congressional awareness team and currently serves as vice co-chair of the City of University Place Planning Commission. In 2019, Boykin also launched a campaign for Port of Tacoma commissioner.

While he didn’t capture the seat, the vision he articulated informs his current work as director at the Manufacturing Industrial Council for the South Sound (MIC). The organization supports local manufacturers by advocating for jobs that support families and industrial areas across the region. The organization was founded in 2018, and Boykin is its second director, a role he stepped into in the midst of pandemic lockdowns.

“The day I was supposed to start was the day Gov. (Jay) Inslee issued his Stay Home, Stay Healthy order,” Boykin said. Boykin assumed the role in April. Below, he reflects on how the pandemic has shaped the region’s manufacturing landscape.

How did 25 years at the United Parcel Service shape your understanding of the region’s industry?

In my career, I had a front-row seat when it came to business development, transportation, logistics, supply-chain solutions, and international engagement in ways that could not help but touch every part of this particular region. First, as a person that actually ran packages up to households, that was a technical resource, that was a customer automation supervisor, (and) having (had) the privilege of working within the Amazon footprint, I can’t think of a better way that you can learn this region than through the eyes of a UPSer — whether it’s through our ambassadors that deliver to households every day, or whether it’s the logistics we put in place to ensure they can move products and services domestically and internationally, making them aware of those advantages and helping encourage commerce as a result.

What motivated you to run for port commissioner, and how does the vision you articulated translate into your work as director of MIC?

Probably in three ways. The first is that when I ran for the Port, I made it absolutely clear that the most important thing for someone that wanted to help move the Port of Tacoma’s commission and the Northwest Seaport Alliance forward would be laser-focused on jobs. That is inextricably linked to (the MIC’s) mission. Also, I was very much interested in not just growing the Port, but growing the Port responsibly. That meant looking at sustainability that perhaps needed to have a different perspective when it came to its engagement. And then thirdly, my commitment to serve included an inclusivity that at that time was not part of the Port’s history.

All of those translate very well to my engagement with the MIC. We have a vision of a fairer and cleaner future where people can support their families as a result of economic support. When I talk about commitment to inclusivity, we have to (change) how we ready people for the opportunities within the manufacturing industry, (as well as) be more mindful about communities of color, in particular when we talk about the best way to rebuild manufacturing in the region and around the country.

You began your role as director in the midst of this pandemic. What has it been like to step into leadership during this time of crisis, and how has the MIC’s work needed to adapt?

Well, it has been as daunting as anything could be, as impactful and unpredictable as COVID-19 has been. The challenge has been further (emphasized) because of protests that have proceeded the pandemic and the political unrest and uncertainty that have followed. It has meant some very different avenues of engagement, very different tools of engagement, simply based upon that reality.

Not having the ability to have public-facing events from first being ordered to shelter in place, preventing businesses from even having employees engaged, to still having the social distancing has been a disruption to everything from supply chains to connecting and leveraging relationships. So how I’ve had to combat that is with an insistence of recognizing what we have and still focusing on the prize — that is, the coalition that believes how we engage impacts lives that we want to economically safeguard and helps us ready our sails for what’s ahead.

How have the relationships that the MIC has built aided the industry in weathering the crisis?

Well, unprecedented events certainly are very difficult to weather, but the coalition has been in a good position to provide the programming, the expertise as needed, and the space that’s been held to have people share what they are able to overcome in a real time — best-case scenario, or worst-case scenario — that people can continuously draw from. And that is a good way we can model how to show up in the future, anticipating that these relationships could have a number of people just holding space for sharing the creativity, the innovation, and the sheer need to pivot based upon all of the things that could not be controlled. As well as, when we do have solutions, possible paths to ensure that information is pushed out to the areas where the need is greatest.

What role are manufacturers playing in the current COVID-19 economic landscape?

This pandemic has impacted a number of different manufacturers in different ways. A couple of them, for example, changed their manufacturing to be responsive to a need that had emerged when it came to hand sanitizer. A manufacturing distributor of alcohol pivoted, taking those raw materials and creating hand sanitizer that made us be able to meet a need that was glaring at the time. Because of that innovation and creativity that only had to be deployed because of this difficult circumstance, that is one way in which manufacturers have played an unanticipated role and helped make a local impact.

What’s next for the MIC — how are you making decisions about the future when everything is in flux?

When it comes to the Manufacturing Industrial Council for the South Sound, we’ve always been invested in bringing a balanced approach to our community’s shared values of economic prosperity, social equity, and environmental stewardship. That doesn’t change whether we have a pandemic, protests, or political activity that’s swirling in an unprecedented fashion. We’ve got a real job to do. One of those jobs is to make sure there is an awareness that really shortsighted land-use restrictions would do permanent damage in a number of ways. The number one way is to our economy, far beyond this current crisis. And that short-sightedness could also create permanent damage when it comes to social justice (due to the) disproportionate impact on communities of color. Being shortsighted when it comes to land use restrictions could be a step in the wrong direction for the financial well-being of families for decades to come. Because when it comes to removing opportunities for industrial lands, that’s a permanent thing. So regardless of the conditions, that vision doesn’t change.