Swope: Big projects could boost economy

City manager says dwindling population signs of 'capital creep'

Posted: Friday, July 27, 2007

Several major projects that are in the works could boost Juneau's flat economy, City Manager Rod Swope told the Juneau Chamber of Commerce on Thursday.

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Home Depot in Lemon Creek, the Ted Stevens Marine Research Institute at Lena Point, phase one of the Bartlett Regional Hospital renovation and the Floyd Dryden Middle School Renovation were among the recently completed projects Swope highlighted in his "state of the economy" presentation.

Projects under construction or on the horizon are Thunder Mountain High School, Sunny Point road project on Egan Drive, the Lake Dorothy hydroelectric project, a loading facility for commercial fishermen near the ferry terminal, airport improvements, a new downtown parking garage, cruise ship dock improvements and sewer extensions.

"I think we're fortunate that we do have a lot of construction going on right now," Swope said.

Juneau's declining population, however, is a concern, he said.

"Obviously, one of the signs of a healthy economy is population," Swope said.

The community is experiencing some signs of "capital creep," which may be part of the reason the local population is dwindling, Swope said.

"It sounds like we may be losing a fair number of state government jobs out of Juneau," he said. "It seems pretty quiet, but apparently it's happening. Maybe that's where our population is going. Maybe that's why it's declining."

Although the population has decreased in recent years, the community is facing increased labor demands, Swope said.

"We hear fairly routinely that people are having a hard time finding people to work," he said.

Construction and capital improvement projects are helping to keep the local economy going, the city manager said.

Swope said the city is in support of the Kensington Mine coming online, which would have widespread economic implications. Nevertheless, he said he is not sure what the city can do to help expedite the process because it is held up due to the project's tailings disposal plan.

Expanding industries also would benefit the local economy, he said.

"You got to take care of the industries you got, and they've got to grow or you've got to bring in new industries - preferably both," Swope said.

One of the problems is finding adequate amounts of land that is zoned properly to accommodate the growth of new businesses, he said. The city is out of industrial-zoned property, and commercially zoned property in the Lemon Creek area have certain limitations, Swope said.

Linda Thomas, chief operating officer for Alaskan Brewing Co., said the company is looking to expand its operations in Lemon Creek but is uncertain if there is adequate space.

"We're really optimistic about our growth in the next 10 years," she said.

Swope said he would like to see the community unite on the big issues facing Juneau. If not, Swope said the economy could suffer.

"My sense is Juneau is gonna have to pull together," he said.

• Contact Eric Morrisonat 523-2269 or eric.morrison@juneauempire.com.

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