Oil tax reform was not the main subject of Governor Sean Parnell's speech Thursday to the Chamber of Commerce Business Roundtable lunch crowd.
It wasn’t until 10 minutes into his 15-minute lecture that Parnell brought up the state’s hot political topic, Senate Bill 21 on Oil and Gas Production Tax.
The governor focused instead on an industry a little closer to home — tourism.
“We have definitely turned a corner,” Parnell said, “when it comes to travel and our small and mid-sized businesses.”
Parnell said he credited this success to efforts by the tourism industry and his administration to lower taxes, streamline permitting and increase tourism marketing.
“I think Alaska opportunity is on the rise,” Parnell said.
These measures have shored up existing businesses and spurred new business growth, Parnell said.
“When we look at business license renewals … we are seeing an increase, a dramatic increase,” Parnell said.
Applications for new tourism-related business licenses and license renewals climbed from 19 in 2009 to 126 in 2012 to 144 already in 2013.
“I think that is entrepreneurialism defined,” Parnell said to the Chamber, “That is what is happening in this great state of ours and I am proud of Alaskans for stepping up and starting their own businesses. Many in this room have helped create that opportunity.”
The Alaska Department of Commerce & Economic Development has “put the pedal to the metal” on tourism marketing, Parnell said.
“How many of you saw Top Chef?” Parnell asked. “Many of you and your businesses participated in the making of these … episodes.”
Two episodes of Top Chef: Seattle that aired in February featured Wild Alaska seafood. The show’s Quickfire Challenge was held at Juneau’s Tracy’s Crab Shack, featuring Alaska king and Dungeness crab. The local Gold Creek Salmon Bake hosted an Elimination Challenge with king, coho, sockeye and chum salmon.
The program also televised the Thunder Mountain high school kitchen and Alaska Glacier Seafoods.
“Our capital city received national acclaim,” Parnell said. “This show was a valuable boost for this city’s visibility.”
Parnell talked about another near and dear issue to Southeast: Ferries.
Parnell asked that the audience keep an open mind about the new design his administration proposed for the Alaska Class Ferry day boat.
“Will the stern deck be partially open, or completely covered? How would that work,” Parnell asked, “We are examining every option to ensure that we get what works for Alaskans.” He said he recommended Alaskans make their thoughts and concerns known to the Alaska Marine Highway System before the public comment period ends on March 29.
The governor also answered questions from the chamber audience.
Parnell was asked about federal funding of the Medallion Foundation program on aviation safety for Alaskan pilots, and whether recent budget cuts would kill the program.
“Medallion certification diminishes the number of lost lives and injuries due to aviation accidents,” Parnell said. “So if you are traveling on a Medallion certified air carrier you are traveling with people who have been trained above and beyond the minimum.”
A current budget amendment requests $1 million to fund the Medallion program, Parnell said. “It is very high on my program list, I’ve asked for it from the Legislature.”
“Can you tell us how much more road we are going to get this year?“ Juneau Chamber of Commerce CEO Cathie Roemmich asked.
“I can not. I wish I could tell you,” Parnell said, “but if you want to have a road grader party or something ….”
• Contact reporter Russell Stigall at 523-2276 or at email@example.com.