How to diversify Juneau's economy?

Task force to look at land, infrastructure, taxes and permitting

Posted: Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Enough talk about diversifying Juneau's economy. A task force appointed by Mayor Bruce Botelho is identifying ways to make it happen.

"The mission of the task force is to identify action steps, things the Assembly can do to help diversify Juneau's economic base so we won't be over-reliant on government employment," said Assembly member Randy Wanamaker, chairman of the task force.

Because Juneau is the capital, its economy has depended on government employment.

According to 2003 statistics from the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development, about 44 percent of Juneau's jobs are in government. The state provided 4,547 of Juneau's 17,464 jobs. The federal government employed 954 people, while the city had 2,191 workers, counting hospital and school employees.

"Over the years, various positions have been transferred to other parts of the state more often than Juneau likes," Wanamaker said. "If the state has a significant downturn and lays people off, the city will have a significant downturn, too. If we have a diverse economy, a downturn in one area won't translate into a shock to the community."

The nine task force members come from diverse backgrounds. There are representatives from the University of Alaska Southeast, Alaskan Brewing Co., the Central Council of Tlingit & Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska and Capital Chevrolet.

The task force started in meeting in late March and identified four areas where members believe the city should concentrate: lands, infrastructure, taxation and permitting. According to their interests and specialties, the nine members organized four subcommittees examining city policies within the four areas.

Each subcommittee will submit its report to the whole task force for review in late September. The task force will present a plan to the Assembly in March.

"It won't be a generic wish list," Wanamaker said. "With the economic reality of Juneau, the Assembly will be obligated to look at the recommendations seriously."

The infrastructure subcommittee met Tuesday to take inventory.

"Water, sewer, utilities, airport, trails, parks, all of these are infrastructure," said committee member Brad Fluetsch, a financial consultant for Wells Fargo. "The more infrastructure you have, the better quality of life you have. But you need to strike a balance between cost and quality of life."

But with Juneau's population decline, Fluetsch said he is worried that fewer people will be able to replace and maintain the city's infrastructure. In 2004, Juneau lost 280 residents, according to a report by the Juneau Economic Development Council.

Peter Naoroz, an investment manager, said the city should identify the minimum basic infrastructure the city needs for growth instead of the recreational infrastructure people want.

Jason Ohler, president's professor of education technology at UAS, said listing Juneau's infrastructure is important but he believes leadership is even more important than these details.

"All we need is leadership," Ohler said. "If the leaders say that is where we are going, there will be smart people figuring out how to get there."

• I-Chun Che can be reached at ichun.che@juneauempire.com.



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