Chamber of Commerce members wary but optimistic about economic future

Factors in Juneau ‘offset’ recession effects, business leaders say

For just a moment, members of the Juneau Chamber of Commerce looked like the crowd at a 3D movie.

 

Employees from the Juneau Economic Development Council (JEDC) handed out plastic glasses to the few dozen people on hand before JEDC Executive Director Brian Holst moved on to one of the final slides of his presentation to the Chamber.

Audience members snickered as they wore the glasses — labeled “rose-colored glasses” — and looked at the slide. Eight phrases were listed, each stating facts about Juneau and Alaska’s economy. Through the glasses, three phrases were blurred out: “Alaska is in a recession,” Juneau’s state jobs are down” and “Juneau’s population is down.” Phrases such as “business sales continue to rise” stood out.

Holst’s point was that despite glaring problems, there isstill plenty to be positive about in Juneau.

“When we’re looking at our economy, it’s easy to grab onto those negatives,” Holst said. “They’re real. State job loss is a big deal and it hurts individuals, it hurts the overall economy, it isn’t good for us. But there’s also really important dimensions of our economy that are positive, and we can’t lose sight of the positive dimensions of our economy.”

Holst was giving his annual update to the Chamber after the JEDC released its yearly “Economic Indicators and Outlook” report, and decided Thursday to poke fun at how the Chamber responded last year.

During a poll at the close of Holst’s talk last year, almost half of the attendees said in a poll that they were pessimistic about Juneau’s economic future despite a fairly positive presentation from Holst. This year, despite the drop in population and state jobs, Holst wanted to show attendees that there are positive aspects of Juneau’s economy.

[JEDC finds economic silver lining in Juneau’s private sector]

For the most part, Holst’s approach seemed to work. There were questions from those in attendance, including Chamber Executive Director Craig Dahl’s question about why Juneau’s population decreased by 400 last year, the first decline in a decade. Holst said he “doesn’t view it as the doom of Juneau,” only that there are just more opportunities outside of Juneau than there were when the country was in a recession a few years ago.

Others asked about what industries might lead to more growth in Juneau. Holst said “anything around the ocean products industry is a good investment,” as is tourism.

After the meeting, many attendees remained to discuss the presentation. Sander Schijvens and Tom Sullivan were near the front of the room and took Holst’s advice to look at Juneau’s economy in a positive light. Schijvens, the CEO of technology company Wostmann &Associates, said the effects of the statewide recession are “not as drastic” in Juneau.

Sullivan, the Southeast Regional Manager for First National Bank Alaska, said the resources of Southeast Alaska — namely mining, fishing and tourism — have helped protect the region from the worst effects of Alaska’s economic downturn.

“We’re not immune to the recession by any means,” Sullivan said, “but I think we have some things that offset that in Southeast that maybe some other areas in the state don’t. I wake up every day thankful that I’m living in Juneau.”


• Contact reporter Alex McCarthy at 523-2271 or alex.mccarthy@juneauempire.com.


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