Incoming Ridgefield port CEO no stranger to region

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The new head of operations for the Port of Ridgefield will make a homecoming of sorts when he begins his new gig in January, returning to the organization where he first helped develop projects that are now complete.

On Oct. 13, the Port of Ridgefield Commission approved a contract with Randy Mueller to become the port’s new CEO following the retirement of longtime executive Brent Grening at the start of next year.

Mueller’s contract is set to run through 2025 with automatic annual renewals as long as conditions are met. His base salary is set at $170,000 annually with 3% increases each year.

Mueller currently serves as CEO for the Port of Chehalis. He took the role in Chehalis in 2014 after previously working at the Port of Ridgefield from 2007 to 2014, most recently taking on the title of port director of business development before the Lewis County move.

“Ridgefield was a fantastic community to live in, and I always held out hope that when (Grening) would retire I’d be able to throw my hat in the ring and return back,” Mueller said.

During his prior work in Ridgefield, Mueller focused on real estate and grant work for infrastructure projects, he said. He had a hand in developing many of the projects the port completed after he left, like the environmental cleanup at the Lake River waterfront and the opening of the Pioneer Street Rail Overpass in September. He said the first grant he worked on for the port was for $3 million to fund the first phase of that project.

Mueller said he also had a hand in buying the property for Discovery Ridge, the development that hosts Rosauers and other nearby businesses.

“To see the grocery store which was so desperately needed in the community, that’s fantastic,” Mueller said.

In preparation for the new job, Mueller said he’s taken regular trips to the area to get up to speed with port businesses. He said he has a “fantastic relationship” with the outgoing leader, Grening, who he called “a mentor and a peer.”

“As (Grening) leaves and we reflect on everything he’s been able to do, it’s a question of where the port goes next,” Mueller said.

He pointed to past projects — many of which he was involved in at their onsets — as examples of port districts’ benefits to their respective communities.

“I think something that ports in general across the state concern ourselves with a lot is the question of where do we add value,” Mueller said.

Though it deals with businesses for development, Mueller said he and his bosses, the commissioners, are ultimately working for the benefit of those living in the port district.

“The port commission and I are all on the same page that we work for the public,” Mueller said.

Ridgefield’s commissioners are excited to have Mueller step in when Grening steps down after 24 years at the helm.

“We’re just thrilled to death that he accepted the position down here,” Port of Ridgefield Commission Chair Scott Hughes said.

Hughes said the port commission was able to see Mueller’s work in Lewis County and the benefit it brought to that community.

“(Mueller) took a port I would say quite honestly was a little bit distressed and just did a wonderful job up there, turned that thing around,” Hughes said. “The ability to watch someone take over a job and grow in it and do such a fantastic job, it’s kind of a rare opportunity.”

Mueller holds a bachelor of arts degree from Washington State University, a master of real estate development degree from Portland State University, and an executive master of public administration degree from University of Washington, a release from the port stated.

Hughes said even prior to his move to Chehalis, Mueller showed an ability to make connections beneficial for port projects, including at the state Legislature level. He said prior to heading to Chehalis, Mueller was Grening’s protege, learning the port businesses before heading out on his own for seven years.

“It’s always tough stepping into someone else’s shoes, especially someone with the tenure that Brent has, but (Mueller’s hiring) is going to make it about as seamless as you could ever have a situation,” Hughes said.

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