Taking stock of economic development opportunitiesBy: Gretchen Fauske Associate Director, University of Alaska Center for Economic Development
Jeff Stepp thinks Alaska is at an inflection point: “It’s a pivotal time in Alaska’s history and economy because of the confluence of the loss of federal earmarks and the decline of the price of oil, which contributed greatly to our economy during the last 40 or 50 years.”
Stepp, the Economic Development Coordinator for the Fairbanks North Star Borough, doesn’t like seeing empty buildings in his community. He’s not alone; with “pivotal times” comes a hefty dose of discomfort… and opportunity.
Amidst Alaska’s recession, economic developers across the state are working to course correct from a reliance on the aforementioned federal earmarks and oil revenues to a more balanced, resilient economy. Taking advantage of our unique geography, human capital, and the transformation of our existing industries just might propel us into an economically vibrant future.
A transformation of this depth and breadth won’t be easy; along with a stubborn hope that climbing oil prices will solve our state budget woes, many are quick to bemoan challenges of doing business in Alaska. Economic developers often site the high costs of energy, real estate, and labor; limited infrastructure; a small population; and distance from markets as barriers. But after acknowledging our limitations, the conversation turns from challenges to opportunities, and that’s when it gets interesting.
Brigadier General Billy Mitchell once remarked that “Alaska is the most strategic place on earth.” Britteny Cioni-Haywood, director of the State of Alaska Division of Economic Development, notes that “our geographical location is becoming more and more of an advantage as we move into a global economy.”
Boasting the fifth largest cargo airport in the world and already an important stop for intercontinental shipping, the emerging Northern Sea Route and the Northwest Passage will make Alaska an even more valuable player in the transportation of goods.