My Turn: Let's look at Juneau's economy

Posted: Friday, November 14, 2008

It was good to hear that the city of Juneau is in good financial shape.

I hope the next city manager and newly installed Juneau Assembly will consider using some of these funds to authorize a study of Juneau's economy and what is really happening here. We all know that tourism has been both a blessing and a curse to Juneau, but what are the impacts of tourism, say, over the last 10 years? How many jobs have been created? Who is taking these jobs?

How many stores on South Franklin are still owned locally? Are these stores making money? What are the rents being paid and what happens if tour companies are able to pay a higher rate than a local store?

What are procedures and practices the city of Juneau can use to encourage local stores, local businesses to compete successfully with outside firms in the tourism industry? What efforts thwart local business success? How can the city and local businesses work together to promote a thriving downtown economy? To what extent is the art economy of Juneau a model of vitality and growth which other local businesses could emulate? How could this emulation or experience-sharing be facilitated?

On another front, how many jobs in Alaska state government have been lost in Juneau since Gov. Sarah Palin took office? We all know now that many of her top appointments have been given to her high school friends in Wasilla. Who is filling other top Cabinet posts? Where are they recruited? How long are notices for these jobs advertised in Juneau and elsewhere? What procedures are now being followed to assure fairness and merit selection of politically sensitive jobs? What can we do as a community to push back against unfair procedures that take jobs away from Juneau, even though it is still the capital of Alaska? How likely is a road out of Juneau when funds for the road have been taken back by the governor and will likely be spent up north?

What is the role of the Alaska Committee in advocating for the capital in Juneau? Does this committee need to be re-energized with support from other Juneau residents, organizations and supporters to review strategy and tactics in light of recent decisions by this governor? I would argue that the more attention given to publicizing job losses here, the more likely our economy will start turning around.

These suggestions do not deny the impact of Kensington Mine's slowdown, fishing industry successes and problems, or economic impacts in other areas of Juneau's economy. They do not take into account the ebb and flow of business between communities facilitated by the ferry system and its newly stabilized schedule. They ignore for the moment the jobs created by municipal, state and federal programs, such as school construction or the recently completed Sunny Point project. All of these separate economic sectors would be part of a comprehensive study of Juneau's economy. Hopefully this study would get beyond the "indicator" studies that compile only available statistics, and instead look at each sector of the economy and how to realistically invigorate it.

It is time to get beyond denial and look honestly at where real problems lie and how to address these problems in a realistic and transparent way. Yes we can!

• Marsha E. Bennett is a Juneau resident, former sociologist with the Bureau of Land Management in Anchorage and owner of the Airport Shopping Center. She was born and raised in Juneau.

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