Most Influential, Politics: Sam Cho

Port official is already making his mark. He's just getting started

By Chris S. Nishiwaki March 6, 2023

Photo courtesy of the Port of Seattle

This article originally appeared in the January/February 2023 issue of Seattle Magazine.

Photography by Alex Cayley

Sam Cho is one of Seattle’s 25 most influential people reshaping our region. #mostinfluential  

When King County voters elected Sam Cho to the Seattle Port Commission at age 29, he became the youngest commissioner in the Port’s 111-year history. Now 32, he is poised to become the youngest and first ever commissioner of color selected president in the history of the institution. 

The bright and modest Cho credits a work ethic instilled in him by his Korean immigrant parents for his mercurial rise. His father moved to the United States in 1985. His mother followed in 1989. Cho was born in Chicago in 1990 and eventually settled with his family in Kirkland. 

Armed with a bachelor’s degree in International Studies from American University in Washington, D.C., and a master’s from the London School of Economics, he held several staff positions in public office, including as a legislative aide to Washington state Sen. Bob Hasegawa, special assistant in the United States General Services Administration during the Obama Administration, and as a legislative aide to U.S. Congressman Ami Bera representing the Sacramento area. 

By 2019, it was time for Cho to hold his own public office, successfully winning election to the Seattle Port Commission, replacing the retiring Courtney Gregoire. He has been rising in leadership and taking on more duties in the part-time, $50,000 a year job while also leading corporate strategy and business development for Volta, the electric vehicle charging station manufacturer based in San Francisco. 

Cho, who speaks fluent Korean, led the effort last year to create a green trade corridor with the Port of Busan in South Korea, the fourth-largest trading partner with Washington state behind China, Japan and Vietnam. The Port of Seattle is the closest U.S. port to South Korea.

The young entrepreneur has also integrated technology at Sea-Tac International Airport to make traffic and travel more seamless. Cho successfully pushed to add traffic lanes to the freeway entry into Sea-Tac, install technology for travelers to reserve a parking spot and have food delivered to airport gates, among other improvements.

During Cho’s tenure on the Port commission, Sea-Tac has become one of only four major U.S. hub airports to receive a rating of four stars or higher from Skytrax, the prestigious arbiter of airport standards. 

“Making the experience as easy and seamless as possible helps mitigate the stress,” Cho says. “That is why we try to leverage that technology.”

Cho also negotiated an agreement with Korean carmakers Hyundai and KIA to import cars to the U.S. exclusively through the Port of Seattle. 

I take advantage of my Korean background and language skills to relate to vendors,” Cho says. 

Stay tuned. Cho is just getting started.


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