Holding Down the Port

Jackie Q. Carter is the first woman and the first person of color to oversee busy Port Milwaukee

A cruise ship enters Milwaukee's busy port

A cruise ship enters Milwaukee's busy port

Jackie Q. Carter grew up in a hustling, bustling household.

She lived in Milwaukee's Washington Park neighborhood and was raised by her maternal grandmother, a benevolent presence who oversaw a constant flow of relatives, neighbors and friends through the house and kept it all from descending into disorder.

A quiet child, Carter watched her grandmother, studied her and learned from her.

"She had raised eight children herself, and she was a true matriarch," Carter recalled. "There was always family around, and she took care of every one of them. She showed me what it was like to be responsible for people."

Decades later, thanks to her grandmother's example and an education that started at MATC, Carter is responsible for the operation that safely moves millions of tons of cargo and thousands of passengers through Port Milwaukee.

Carter, who earned an associate degree in Accounting from MATC in 2008, was named port director in early 2023. She is the first woman and first person of color to hold the position.

"My goal is to lay the foundation to make sure that I'm not the last one," she said.

'Simply the best choice'

Carter began working at the port in 2017 as finance and administration officer, directing all business, financial, human resources and administrative operations. In October 2022, she was named acting port director after former director Adam Tindall-Schlicht left to become administrator of the Great Lakes St. Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation.

Tindall-Schlicht routinely praised Carter's work to the Harbor Commission, which oversees port operations, and to Milwaukee Mayor Cavalier Johnson.

"After listening to applicants with expertise from around the world, Jackie is simply the best choice to carry out the port's mission of promoting commerce and supporting the local economy," Johnson said when appointing Carter in January 2023.

The port's two-story, beige stone administration building on Lincoln Memorial Drive sits a few hundred feet away from the lapping waters of Lake Michigan. From her second-floor office window, Carter can survey much of the port's 467 acres, and watch the bustling ship, ferry and cruise liner traffic, rail transports, and storage operations.


Port Milwaukee has a rich history, and I want to help build on our momentum.

Jackie Q. Carter director Port Milwaukee

In 2022, more than 13,000 recreational cruise ship passengers passed through the port, along with nearly 2.3 million tons of cargo that included curved steel plates, brewery tanks, superyacht pieces and limestone blocks.

"Port Milwaukee has a rich history, and I want to help build on our momentum," Carter said. "We want to connect with more customers and make sure they know that we specialize in moving cargo, and that includes people in cruise ships."


Jackie Q. Carter honed her organizational skills at MATC

Jackie Q. Carter honed her organizational skills at MATC

Her path to the port

Carter hardly ever thought about ships while growing up. She graduated from Milwaukee Public Schools' John Marshall High School in 1995. She tried a four-year college briefly, but she found the large school hard to navigate and dropped out. She worked at several non-profit organizations, including Rosalie Manor Inc. and Our Next Generation.

In 2007, she took a job in the City of Milwaukee Treasurer's office and worked in various roles. As her responsibilities grew, she reconsidered college. This time she chose MATC.

"I saw MATC as a safe space," Carter said. "It's easy to get lost at a big school. You need to learn how to navigate.

"My classes at MATC gave me a broader understanding of the world. The college and my instructors exposed me to different perspectives and how people see things."

Her accounting instructor, Natasha Librizzi, had a professional confidence and personal assurance that Carter admired. "Those were things I didn't have and that I wanted," she said.

"Jackie was a very hardworking and determined student," said Librizzi, who still teaches accounting and business at MATC. "She was very organized. She was very engaged in her classes, she truly cared and was a fast learner. I am so thrilled with her accomplishments and very proud that she is in the community helping our city."

After earning her MATC degree, Carter attained a bachelor's degree in business and management and professional communication from Alverno College, and a master's degree in public administration from Concordia University Wisconsin.

Carter said she uses the lessons she learned at MATC every day: the importance of internal controls, how to improve processes, how to share information and how to stay organized.

"When I became port director, I had to broaden my perspective from just a financial one to everything. I had to learn a lot and meet lots of people. I interacted more with our customers, our business owners and our community partners," she said. "There's a bigger picture. What I was taught at MATC helped me immensely with that."

The next generation of Carter's family is following her lead and studying at MATC. One of Carter's daughters took several courses at MATC online during the COVID-19 pandemic, and her son is planning to attend classes at the college as well.

"I would absolutely recommend MATC," she said. "It provides a safe space, a solid education, an affordable alternative to a four-year college. If you're in the trades, you can find a job pretty quick, so there's an immediate payoff. It has served me very well."