As Alaskans have seen during recent years, keeping Alaska’s military bases competitive with others around the nation is an ongoing challenge. The local bases have some advantages, but they also have some shortcomings and limitations.
With that in mind, Fairbanks North Star Borough Mayor Luke Hopkins has been pushing several policy changes and initiatives that could help secure the future of existing military bases and create new opportunities around them. Whether all these ideas gain support from the public and other officials remains to be seen, but his efforts are worth some consideration.
That’s in part because the military plays such an enormous role in our economy. Some estimates credit it with close to 40 percent of all economic activity in the area. A fifth of the area’s population is tied to the bases.
A person can get a sense of this simply by watching the traffic coming and going from Fort Wainwright’s main gate, near Airport Way and the Steese Highway. It’s one of the busiest crossroads in town, a tangible sign of all that economic activity.
A downturn in that activity would hit hard at many businesses across Fairbanks, so the mayor’s initiative is important. His effort covers a broad range of issues.
For example, the mayor ramped up the efforts this past summer to implement recommendations of an earlier land-use study. The study said the borough should do more to guide development on land surrounding the military bases that could constrain the utility of those bases. The borough held several workshops on the ideas this past summer and fall.
Hopkins also presented a list of other ideas to the Legislature’s Joint Armed Services Committee in late September. The options offered to the Legislature included actions such as subsidizing the military’s coal purchases, financing energy infrastructure at the bases, developing roads in training areas and offering tax-exempt status to businesses associated with the military. Hopkins cited the businesses that support unmanned aircraft system development as one promising example.
These ideas should be considered during the coming legislative session. They aren’t without cost to the state and borough, but the benefits could be great if they helped keep our military bases vibrant and expanded the activities associated with them.
— Fairbanks Daily News-Miner,