MLK – Even well-seasoned Seattleites can have trouble pinpointing exactly where the Martin Luther King (MLK) corridor starts and stops. Julie Pham hopes to change that. “When people think of MLK, they think of Columbia City, but that’s only four blocks long,” says Pham, chairwoman of the board of the MLK Business Association. The Rainier Valley native is spearheading an approach to economic development that centers on cultivating a distinct identity for the four-mile-long business corridor.
Since 2009, Pham has overseen a marketing and branding overhaul that’s included everything from a new logo and overhauled website (mlkba.org) to an e-mail writing campaign requesting that Yelp acknowledge MLK as its own neighborhood. This past spring, she helped launch Plate of Nations, a restaurant promotion inspired by Dine Around Seattle, which brought an estimated 500 new customers to the neighborhood.
It helps that Pham, who grew up in South Seattle, learned early the value of building relationships with business owners. A trained historian with a Ph.D. from Cambridge University, Pham left academia in 2008 to work for her family’s semiweekly Vietnamese newspaper, Nguoi Viet Tay Bac (Northwest Vietnamese News), where she now serves as managing editor. In that role, she’s honed her ability to connect with both business leaders and the broader political community—and that’s been key to the MLK Business Association’s success, says board member Asari Mohamath. “She really helped us get the word out [about the neighborhood] to the rest of the city.”
With one eye on the big picture, Pham also keeps it hyperlocal. Whether it’s picking a personal dry cleaner or hiring a local designer for association projects, Pham believes supporting local business is crucial—it’s good for commerce and good for building personal relationships. “That’s the way you connect with businesses here,” says Pham, “not through e-mail or social media.” More.