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Talent, innovation the future of Alaska's economy

Summit keynote: Talent, not location best investment for business

Posted: February 12, 2013 - 1:03am

On the first night of the Juneau Economic Development Council’s 2013 Innovation Summit the keynote speaker asked business owners in the crowd not to move. They should instead invest in the talent of current and future innovators.

“To … be the innovator,” former Washington State Senator James Kastama said “is to fully actualize a person’s potential.”

There is tremendous potential for innovation in each person, Kastama said, “With the right investment we can make it happen.”

A visit to China in 2006 shook the Senator’s faith in the U.S. as number one in the world in all categories. In trend lines we were dead last behind 39 other countries on the economic development trend over the next decade, Kastama said. In China, he said, he felt he’d seen the future.

“I felt I’d just seen the future,” Kastama said. “Where the world is going.”

In response, Kastama put together a panel of private organizations to hash out Washington State’s future economic needs. He said the panel found that innovation accounts for two thirds of Washington state’s per capita growth.

High technology and food turned out to be the state’s strongest industries.

“We are now the second largest wine processor,” Kastama said, “Advanced materials and viticulture … who’d have thought?”

Kastama said he would like to see a change in the way businesses and organizations spend their time and money — “Investment in talent and ideas instead of investment in company relocation,” as well as collaboration instead of competition and development of a bottom-up structure where the talent holds sway.

Kastama said Alaska should embrace four areas of investment to strengthen future Gross Domestic Product. Invest in talent and workforce development, invest in research, development and education.

“Universities that create technologies and companies” are a key investment. He also suggested anticipating the future and investing in infrastructure — Alaska should invest in broadband connection to the rest of the world.

Kastama took pride in his description of the Pacific Northwest economic region.

“We are the fourteenth largest economy in the world,” Kastama said. The GDP is $1.14 billion, “It is a power-house.”

However, Kastama said, the area’s success is not the sum of the parts “It is the connection between your innovation assets. Areas that have… esprit de corps succeed. Teamwork wins the race.”

JEDC’s Innovation Summit is a gathering of Southeast Alaska businesses and industry leaders, government agencies, the University of Alaska, non-profits and other economic development stakeholders. Part of the Southeast Alaska Cluster Initiative, the summit is a chance for the region’s clusters of industry to meet and share ideas.

The three-day summit continues Tuesday at 8 a.m. at Centennial Hall. For more information visit www.jedc.org

• Contact reporter Russell Stigall at 523-2276 or at russell.stigall@juneauempire.com.

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