With over $153 million invested in Southeast Alaska in the last three years, it would be hard to find a local industry not touched by the United States Department of Agriculture.
The funds go to both strengthen existing industries and to help build up new ones — whether investing in schools for oyster farmers, or helping build out wood pellet energy infrastructure. Small loans even go to help start up new small businesses, say, by helping obtain a business license.
In an attempt to make these and future investments as effective as possible, the USDA announced an award of $100,000 to continue to fund the Juneau Economic Development Council’s Southeast Cluster Initiative.
Early this year JEDC was asked to bring together interested and motivated Southeast Alaskans to create working groups based around four important Southeast industries. Three are established industries: ocean products, forest products and visitor products, while the last is the emerging renewable energy industry. More than 130 individuals have participated in the effort to date, according to the JEDC website.
While JEDC started its Cluster Initiative with these four industries, JEDC Executive Director Brian Holst said additional industries, such as health care or mining, will be added in the future.
Over the last several months, these working groups created dozens of ideas to clear hurdles and create opportunities for economic growth in Southeast. These ideas include working with the University of Alaska system to develop tourism industry training as part of its business school or using young growth wood to build facilities in the region, Holst said.
These groups will present these ideas to each other, agency heads and the public at the Southeast Alaska Economic Cluster Summit in Juneau at Centennial Hall Tuesday through Thursday.
This marks in important step in the Cluster process as it is the first time all four working groups have come together to “advance the work of the clusters, the initiatives, and by extension, the Southeast Alaska economy,” according to the JEDC website. This summit will include working sessions and progress reports by the individual Cluster work groups, sessions on common issues impacting regional economic foundations and an industry and government policy panel discussion.
Department heads from all of USDA’s agencies are in Juneau for the summit — the Forest Service, Rural Development, Economic Development and even the Farm Service Agency.
“It turns out that mariculture, shellfish farmers, qualify for a lot of those programs. These are some of our people,” said Danny Consenstein, executive director of the Alaska Farm Service Agency.
Other experts on hand will come from private industry, the University of Alaska system, state agencies, legislators, Sealaska Corp., Southeast’s Native Village corporations and municipal governments.
For more information or to stream the summit, visit www.jedc.org/summit.
• Contact reporter Russell Stigall at 523-2276 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.