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Networking and Port Resources Help Fuel Contracting Connections

March 4, 2020

The Port of Seattle is celebrating Women’s History Month by recognizing and honoring women who are redefining women’s roles in traditionally male-dominated industries. 

Tamara Harris owns Yes We Can Flaggers, LLC, a minority-owned flagging business focused on providing flagger certification courses in an uplifting, inspiring atmosphere. Since starting her business seven years ago, in addition to teaching, Harris has worked as a flagger on a number of contracts including the Liberty Bank Building and the SR 99 tunnel project. She has attended a variety of Port of Seattle events and accessed Port resources as she pursues a contract with the Port. The Port has long been a supporter of small business growth and workforce development, and has made contracting with these firms a priority, offering a variety of resources and workshops to help business owners learn about how to do business with the Port.

Tamara Harris

We sat down with Harris to chat about her business and how it got off the ground, her goals for contracting with the Port, and what resources have been helpful to her so far.

How long have you been a flagger and how did you get started?

I first started flagging in 1991. I was a single parent with three kids and the youngest one was six months old. He’s 28 now. I wanted to make more money for my family, so I went to a one-day flagger training course, got my certification card, and made it my career. I started out making $13 an hour which was a lot of money back then. Since then, I became a trainer and started my own business: Yes We Can Flaggers, LLC. Right now it’s just me; I’m not big enough to have employees but my granddaughter helps me out 15 hours a week.

How long have you owned Yes We Can Flaggers, and how did that come about?

I started Yes We Can Flaggers seven years ago, and I train and certify flaggers who are required to complete an eight-hour training. I’ve certified over 500 flaggers to date. Prior to that, I had been a flagger for a variety of companies, including the City of Seattle and Seattle City Light. I decided I was tired and had enough so went to work in an office for a while. I discovered that an office job was not for me, so I decided I wanted to become a flagger instructor. I signed up for training at the Evergreen Safety Council but when I showed up for the training, I scared myself to death. I told myself I couldn’t do it, so I left. But I came back and took the test again. Everyone learns differently. Some are more book smart, some are more hands on. I had a vision and I started my business all by myself, with no grants and no help. I had a mentor who lives in the Rainier Valley who let me use her facility to teach my first class. I had seven people in the first class who came from a temporary agency and my business has continued to grow from there. I get calls back from students who have completed my training thanking me and telling me how excited they are. You have to renew your card every three years and I’ve had a lot of students come back and renew with me. I don’t do any advertising — everything is through word of mouth. Today I teach around three classes a month through private organizations and the YWCA, and I have a relationship with South Seattle Community College.

How did you get connected with the Port of Seattle? What role does networking play in owning a small business?

I have attended a variety of Port networking events and have used many of the Port’s (Diversity in Contracting) resources as I work on getting a contract with the Port. I attended PortGen Workshops, a small business dinner recognition event, and an open meeting for bidding (on contracts) a couple months ago. I also regularly attend National Association of Minority Contractors (NAMC) meetings and recently attended the Tabor 100 Economic Development Hub Grand Opening. I just went to a Terminal 46 construction outreach event at Tabor 100. I’m hoping that getting involved and networking gets you closer to the contract. Looking for my time to be the right time. When I was working on the SR 99 Tunnel Project I developed relationships with those who worked around me, like longshoreman, cyclists traveling through the area, and others who are part of that community. Wherever I work, I build relationships with people around the field.  

Why would you encourage others to consider a career as a flagger?

It can be life changing. I have had clients sign up for the flagger certification class and the next week they found a union job and it changed their lives. It is a step in the door to the union hall. Whatever trade you want to be in, anything you want to do can be done.  It can be a foot in the door to apprenticeship programs and trades. I’m trying to change lives and bridge the gap in the city. 

Tell us the story behind the name “Yes We Can Flaggers”? 

I came up with the name, Yes We Can Flaggers, because we are our own biggest enemies and I want people who take my class to say, “Yes we can do anything we put our mind to.”  I was so scared when I was going to take that class that would certify me to teach. There’s always something like that comes out when I’m teaching the class, but I want students to know you can do anything you put your mind to, and I want to empower them throughout the whole process. The inspiration behind my business name is to show my clients that they can do anything. I use a hands-on approach when teaching and include stories about safety like the last accident I might have heard about. At the end of the day you need to be safe and come home to your family.

Check out other resources for doing business with the Port:

  1. Register your business in VendorConnect for visibility to Port buyers and procurement professionals and to receive emails about events and opportunities that will help you prepare to do business with the Port.
  2. See what products and services the Port is planning to purchase in the future.
  3. Watch the videos explaining how the Port buys goods and services, major construction contracts, small works construction contracts, and consulting services.
  4. Email the Port of Seattle's Diversity in Contracting team with any questions about the Diversity in Contracting Program
  5. Check our events page to learn about upcoming workshops and events or visit our PortGen Workshops page.
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