Mike Fong’s interest in public service may have started with a fruitcake.
Every year during the holidays, Fong’s great-grandfather, Jack Eng, who lived in Spokane, would hand-deliver a fruitcake to his congressman, Tom Foley.
Foley – who spent 30 years representing Eastern Washington in the House of Representatives, including as speaker – had helped Eng navigate the immigration system to bring relatives to the United States.
“I think (the fruitcake) was kind of his, great-grandpa Jack’s way of kind of showing his continued appreciation for this help,” said Fong, a Spokane native.
Fong, who was named head of the Small Business Administration’s Pacific Northwest office in November, said he thinks his great-grandfather’s interest in politics may have influenced him subtly.
“I always found it really interesting that he felt so much friendship with the congressman over those years,” Fong said. “And maybe subliminally some of that seeped into my subconscious in terms of…my interest in politics and government and the ability of government to make a difference in people’s lives.”
Prior to joining the SBA, Fong spent over 20 years working for the City of Seattle. He worked as a city council staffer for more than 10 years before joining the mayor’s office in 2014.
Fong served as the mayor’s chief of staff and eventually became deputy mayor of Seattle in 2017. He held that position until last year, when he helped coordinate the city’s response to the COVID pandemic. -19. Fong also relocated to Snohomish County in September to coordinate that county’s COVID-19 recovery efforts as recovery and resilience manager.
Fong’s interest in politics and government has been evident since he was a student at North Central High School in Spokane, his friends and former teachers said.
Paula Korus, who taught social studies at North Central, said she remembered Fong’s participation in an essay contest organized by the United Nations Association.
“It’s that righteous memory of this kid who worked so hard to learn government, learn politics, learn bureaucracy, learn politics, and be able to express an opinion about it in sophomore year in high school and to do it well enough to win the award locally,” Korus said.
Fong’s high school friend, Josh Belzman, also said that Fong was always serious about politics, even at North Central.
“You could tell early on that he was really passionate about this stuff,” Belzman said.
Fong received North Central’s Distinguished Alumni Award in 2020.
“Sometimes you have students and you just know they’re really good kids and they’re going to go on and do things. … They’re going to come out and they’re going to be good people in the community,” said Kim Rieken, who taught Fong in her Advanced Placement American History course at North Central. “And I think that was something that was really apparent and obvious about Mike.”
Fong got her start in government as a legislative aide to former Seattle City Councilman Heidi Wills.
“(Wills) asked me to come work for her, and I accepted the offer, and then spent the next 21 years pretty much continuously at Seattle City Hall,” Fong said. . “Two decades go by pretty quickly.”
In early 2020, Seattle faced the nation’s first widespread outbreak of COVID-19. As deputy mayor, Fong said he and other city officials were forced to shift gears quickly when the virus emerged.
“The whole experience of basically the mayor having an agenda that we were pushing towards, (and) really in the middle of his term suddenly stopping to pivot to basically crisis response… and just 24/7 The nature of the focus on pandemic response was really quite extraordinary,” Fong said.
After leaving Seattle city government to lead Snohomish County’s pandemic recovery efforts last year, Fong was forced to consider what recovery and a “new normal” might look like after the pandemic.
“I think our goals are not just to get back to pre-pandemic business as usual,” Fong said. “And I think that’s because, in part, the pandemic has highlighted for everyone how the disparities that existed before the pandemic only exacerbated during the pandemic.”
He said he believes pandemic stimulus efforts should be aimed at increasing fairness.
This interest in addressing historical inequities is part of what attracted Fong to his new position at the SBA. Fong said he was also encouraged by the commitment he’s seen from the Biden administration and SBA Administrator Isabella Guzman to center equity in the agency’s work. .
“I really have a strong belief in entrepreneurship as a pathway to creating opportunity and community and generational wealth, especially for immigrants and communities of color,” he said.
Spokane City Council President Breean Beggs said Spokane is working to increase accessibility to resources for all groups, especially historically marginalized communities and businesses. He added that he believed Fong could help in those efforts.
“Looking at the work he’s done reaching out to historically marginalized communities, I think he’s in a good position to understand that and make it happen,” Beggs said.
In addition to his aspirations to increase equity, Fong’s family history also drew him to the SBA. His father ran three different restaurants from the 1970s through the 1990s – House of Fong in downtown Spokane; Al Morse’s, also in downtown Spokane; and the Pagoda restaurant in Post Falls – and his great-uncle owned the Gung Ho restaurant in Spokane.
Spokane Mayor Nadine Woodward said she is thrilled that Fong is now regional director of the SBA.
“He, I’m sure, understands the challenges and certainly the struggles of small business,” Woodward said. “Our hospitality industry and the restaurants and bars in Spokane have really struggled during the pandemic, so hopefully he’ll be able to find resources and help for them.”
As he takes over the SBA in Alaska, Idaho, Oregon and Washington, Fong said his first step is to simply listen.
“For me to be effective and useful in terms of needs and challenges, I think it’s really important to be able to meet as many people as possible and listen to what the current challenges are,” he said.
Rieken, of North Central, said she doesn’t think this should be a problem for Fong.
“It needs to connect with (small businesses),” Rieken said. “He has to listen to them. And if anyone wanted to connect and listen, I think it would be Mike.