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JEDC and Forest Service release cluster plan for economic development

Posted: June 12, 2011 - 8:12pm

The Juneau Economic Development Council has released a report contracted by the U.S. Forest Service outlining initiatives to enhance the economy and jobs in Southeast Alaska. The project, known as the Southeast Alaska Cluster Initiative, consists of just that, with an emphasis on four such industry clusters for ocean products, forest products, visitor products and renewable energy.

The report, developed by Southeast Alaska leaders in business, academia and nongovernmental organizations, plus local and Tribal governments, is to identify initiatives for different industry development. This project is part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Transition Framework to diversify timber-dependent economies.

“With this report, we produced outlines for industry-indentified initiatives that, if implemented, we believe will strengthen each of these industries,” said JEDC Executive Director Brian Holst.

Forest Service Spokesman Ray Massey said it’s is all about improving Southeast economics and quality of life.

“The reason for all this is the health of small communities has been declining,” Massey said, adding, “We want to grow jobs and develop.”

He added the population in the Southeast is declining even though the rest of the state is growing, creating hardships for job development.

“In order to reverse that, it will take good paying, year-round jobs and diversifying the economy.”

The report, available at http://jedc.org/seclusterinitiative.php, is divided into two phases. The first is an asset map that offers a detailed description of Southeast Alaska economics. It also includes discussions of attitudes from business leaders plus networks and elements of the economy beyond jobs and income, such as elements related to education or demographics.

“It’s a tool for business leaders and citizens in general to better understand what our region looks like,” said Holst.

The asset map led to identifying industry clusters, which Holst explained that the clusters are comprised of firms in the same field and geographic area. These firms are linked by service and supplier relationships, common customers and supporting institutions, sharing reliance on same labor market.

Holst said cluster development is a new economic tool for Alaska but is used successfully both elsewhere in the United States and internationally.

The map identified several clusters with the four key ones that make up the second phase. The renewable energy seed cluster refers to the renewable energy industry outside of large hydro projects. Holst said this particular one makes for a small industry but one that has a lot of potential.

The clusters also help the firms, which are competitive, work together to develop initiatives to aid the industries as a whole.

During a teleconference, Regional Forester Beth Pendleton said that while the clusters are led by business and private sector, governmental agencies play critical roles in their success in everything from short-term loans to staffing.

Meetings were conducted in each cluster to outline industry opportunities and obstacles which were used to produce possible action initiatives that respond to how to strengthen the individual industries. The final part involves deciding which draft action initiatives are most viable and ready to launch then prioritizing them.

The next step for the map and clusters is to develop a strategic economic investment plan for Southeast Alaska. Massey said funding will be recommended for initiatives that fit in Forest Service plans, are likely for success and are readily achievable.

He said the hope is to have recommendations ready to take to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack by the late summer.

“I’m very pleased with the report,” Pendleton says in a release. “Through a dynamic partnership, over 100 leaders from very diverse groups of people from private industry, academia, Tribes, and federal, state and local agencies joined to work in these clusters. Their report reflects that diversity and collaborative effort.”

While its genesis began in 2009, work started in the spring of 2010 with work from federal agencies including the Forest Service, Rural Development and Farm Services Agency, plus the Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration.

• Contact reporter Jonathan Grass at 523-2276 or jonathan.grass@juneauempire.com.

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