An often heard argument for re-opening the AJ Mine in Juneau is the need for more jobs in our community. That proclaimed need is born of pro-business rhetoric based on an unsustainable perpetual growth model, and does not accurately reflect the reality of Juneau’s economy.
Alaska’s unemployment rate is 16 percent lower than the national average. The City and Borough of Juneau’s unemployment rate is the second lowest in the state only to the North Slope Borough. These statistics do not point to a current need for jobs for Juneau.
But what of diversification, a word often thrown around by pro-development interests? We need more mining jobs, they say, to balance other economic sectors. A quick look at the Coeur and Hecla websites reveals that both Kensington and Greens Creek are currently hiring. And not just one position, over 15 between them. There are already excess jobs available in Juneau’s mining industry.
The argument that we need more jobs is used time and time again, yet such a trend leads to unstable population cycles and the exhaustion of resources. Around the world, the greatest positive geographical job gradients occur in mega-cities of developing nations, the dirtiest, loudest, smelliest, and least safe places on the planet. It is not wise to base our community’s future on a theory with such supporting evidence.
There are many ways to improve Juneau’s long term economic viability. How about loans for commercial energy efficiency to lower local business overhead? How about funding for advanced education programs to strengthen our local workforce? How about tax credits for a high technology sector that can take advantage of Juneau’s political and economic connectedness, drawing the best minds from around the country and world to this clean, beautiful place we call home. Alaska’s low business climate rankings hinge on cost of doing business, education, access to technology, and quality of life. Nowhere do experts at Forbes or CNBC lament a lack of holes in the ground.
Pressing for another mine and plunging further down the boom-bust economic path that has ravaged resource development hubs around Southeast Alaska shows a lack of creativity and irresponsible short-sightedness. Let’s move forward. If pro-development interests in Juneau can display forward thinking, I’d be happy to follow their advice to a bright future. But for an endeavor as risky as the AJ Mine in the heart of Juneau, business as usual doesn’t hold water.