New businesses make life better in the capital

Posted: Wednesday, May 04, 2005

BENJAMIN BROWN

The Alaska Observer

With the recent debate about building a new capitol in Juneau, and the re-emergence of questions about the wisdom of maintaining the seat of state government in our relatively remote corner of Southeast Alaska, I have been thinking about the bases upon which our local economy is built. The reason the concept of a capital move is so alarming to Juneau, and by extension to all of Southeast, is the tremendous benefit we all receive from state government.

I must disclaim my employment with the state, making me a direct beneficiary of public expenditures in Juneau. But I submit, and I think most Alaskans would agree, that having a concentration of state employees in any location contributes to the local economy through payroll, local tax payments and other multiplier effects. It is a prize that a community would logically seek, and once in-hand, that a community would strive to retain.

Fortunately, we don't have to put all of our economic eggs in the state employment basket. The history of Juneau is based in the private sector, and we have a lot of encouraging private-sector activity going on all around us. I applaud those for-profit businesses that employ, serve and otherwise benefit the people of Juneau, whose contributions to our economic well-being are often taken for granted. Specific examples of beneficial private-sector successes are plentiful.

I live in Douglas. I moved there while the former Mike's Place was boarded up (having been closed by the former owners) when it in the process of being remodeled by new owners. If you haven't gone to the new incarnation, you are in for a delightful treat. The Island Pub is an outstanding contribution to the variety of restaurant and watering holes available to us here in Juneau. The décor is impressive, but even more notable is the food on the ambitious and well-executed menu. I am lucky enough to live just a stone's thrown from the Island Pub, but I expect those who live much farther away will find it worthwhile to travel to Douglas to enjoy this new example of private-sector investment in our community.

In the heart of downtown we unfortunately just lost a beautiful little shop, Friendly Planet. But at the same time, there is a new restaurant going in across the corner of Seward and Second streets, near to where Heritage Coffee just last year opened a second, smaller café. Ever since the loss of the Dragon Inn on Front Street, downtown has been missing a restaurant, and what I hear will be Mongolian barbeque will be a welcome addition to this part of town. While the other longtime establishments in the area continue to serve their loyal customers, a little variety will entice others into coming out to eat at all locations. Even better, I have heard that the family who formerly ran the Dragon Inn (who didn't love their Singapore noodles?) is re-opening at the old Tides Inn location in Lemon Creek. There is nothing so tasty as a renaissance in the restaurant community, and I hope people will respond favorably to these business initiatives.

Of course, not all new businesses are going to be in the food-service industry. Allen Marine, a longtime player in Juneau's visitor industry, now has a ship's chandlery in Lemon Creek, and is offering shipwright's services to those who take to the sea. JRC-the Alaska Club has plans significantly to expand the Downtown Club and has recently made improvements to the Valley Club.

A lot of the time, when one thinks of private-sector jobs in Juneau, only large-scale projects come to mind. And I am very grateful for the large number of high-paying jobs provided by Greens Creek Mine, and by the similar jobs we can look forward to once the Kensington Mine gets up and running. But not all private-sector jobs come from large-scale industry. Many people you know, your friends and family among them, are employed by smaller private-sector businesses. Don't take this employment for granted, and try to be supportive of these firms. While we are lucky to have so many state (and also federal and local) government jobs pumping dollars into the capital city's economy, there's no way it would work with only these sources of economic activity. The private sector is vitally important to our health and well-being. This is why I recognize new businesses and thank them - and the long-time players - that make life in the capital better for all of us. See you at the Pub!

• Benjamin Brown is a lifelong Alaskan who lives in Juneau.

My turn: Tourism Best Management Practices work

By KIRBY DAY

Many small steps by many dedicated people have over time had the cumulative effect of making tourism work in our community. The process has been lengthy and time-consuming and has involved not one, but many public processes and private efforts.

Now in its ninth year, the Tourism Best Management Practices program was initiated by local residents who have a very large stake in the outcome of tourism issues. Approximately 20 percent of Juneau's work force is employed in some capacity in the visitor industry. In fact, the resumes of many Juneau residents under the age of 30 probably include work experience at one of our businesses.

Because tourism operators and employees are invested in Juneau in so many ways, as property owners, parents of schoolchildren and participants in numerous community activities, it is critical to have a good relationship with our neighbors.

In 1997, in response to growing concerns about the impact of tourism on the community, local tourism operators took the initiative to develop the Voluntary Compliance Program. Over time, Voluntary Compliance evolved into Tourism Best Management Practices. The core idea behind both programs is that when tourism operators become aware of their potential to disrupt the lives of their neighbors, they will conduct their operations in as sensitive a manner as possible.

But our Tourism Best Management Practices program is more than just an awareness program. By asking every employee to sign on to the guidelines, we cultivate a sense of personal responsibility and accountability among our work force. When everyone does his or her part, the impacts of tourism are minimized and the entire community benefits from the effort.

This pro-active approach will include participation by more than 60 employers and more than 1,300 employees this summer.

Tour operators and employees who sign on to the program agree to follow specific guidelines designed to alleviate traffic congestion, reduce noise and generally make our Juneau summer enjoyable for visitors and residents alike. Because we track the comments called in to the tourism hotline (586-6774), we revise the guidelines annually to try to be as responsive as possible to residents' concerns.

When the original voluntary compliance guidelines were adopted, some believed they went too far in regulating business; others thought they did not go far enough. Tourism Best Management does not, and cannot, address every issue. It is a cost-effective, proven strategy that deals with impacts operators can address directly as they occur throughout the season.

What's new for 2005?

• We are pleased to report that the Juneau waterfront will be even quieter this summer than it was in 2004. Wings' Airways third and fourth turbine Otters will enter their fleet this summer. This turbine conversion will allow Wings to continue to reduce noise levels downtown.

• Coastal Helicopters recently purchased a $100,000 flight simulator for training and monitoring of routes. Besides enhancing safety, the simulator shortens the amount of flight time over the Mendenhall Valley during training, thus reducing noise.

• Program participants have instituted a $1,000 Tourism Best Management Practices Scholarship for the graduating senior who develops the most creative, thoughtful and viable suggestion for the Tourism Best Management Practices guidelines. Funding for the scholarship comes directly from our visitor industry businesses.

• The program has caught the attention of other communities in Southeast Alaska, and we have been asked to share details of our program with Sitka this spring.

Those of us who participate in Tourism Best Management remain fully committed to the principles of responsible and sensitive tour operations. That is the only way we can successfully protect the visitor experience, the quality of life of our friends and neighbors and ultimately, our own livelihood.

When the Juneau Empire heralded this cooperative approach to addressing Juneau's tourism issues, they noted that, "There's plenty of room on the playground. We just have to get used to sharing it." (8/24/97) As tour operators who do business in the community, we are grateful for the opportunity to share Juneau with visitors and will continue working hard to make tourism work for everyone.

• Kirby Day is the director of shore operations for Princess Cruises and Tours and the main industry contact for Tourism Best Management Practices.



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