What one could term "preaching to the converted," the president of Alaska's chamber of commerce told Kenai business leaders on Wednesday they must band together to find ways to encourage investment in the state.
"We can't continue to raise taxes on the one industry that pays for everything in this state and wonder why they have no plans for further investment in our state," said Wayne Stevens, president of the Alaska State Chamber of Commerce.
As the key executive representing some 500 business members, Stevens presented the organization's top five priorities being forwarded to the Alaska Legislature this session: develop an energy policy for Alaska; develop consistent land use and a permitting process for resource development; encourage the construction of a natural gas pipeline; develop and comprehensive fiscal plan; and create a strategic economic development plan for the state.
He said chamber board members will conduct a fly-in March 3, 4 and 5, gathering in Juneau to advocate for the priorities.
"Every business member who participates can help us realize these goals," Stevens said.
Besides spending a significant amount of time lobbying the state legislators, he said the state chamber actively works with state departments as laws are implemented.
"Sometimes the intent of new laws is very different from the actual effect of the laws," Stevens said.
He related a recent episode involving new regulations governing temporary staffing agencies, which would actually have forced the businesses to close. The chamber helped protect the agencies from "the onerous impact of the new regulations."
Though he repeatedly stressed the importance of belonging to local chambers of commerce, Stevens said, "Membership in the state chamber of commerce gives you a voice."
The state chamber's business members are represented by an 81-person board of directors, which includes representatives of 35 local Alaska chambers and the chambers of Seattle, Tacoma, Bellingham, Portland and the Yukon.
Representing the Kenai Peninsula is Bob Favretto, owner of the Kenai Chrysler Center. Agrium's Lisa Parker recently stepped down as representative of Senate District Q. Any state chamber member who resides in or does a significant amount of business in the district is eligible to fill the seat, and may contact Favretto or the state chamber if interested.
Representatives on the state board from peninsula chambers of commerce include Robert Peterkin II, Kenai; Lisa Roberts, Soldotna; Judene Van Cleave, Nikiski; Cheryle James, Cooper Landing; Kathy Kacher, Anchor Point; Debbie Carter, Seward; Julie Woodworth, Homer; and Mary Glover, Seldovia.
Stevens said as the chamber continues to work to encourage economic development of the state, it must also "work to ensure health care and the education system are top notch ... if we want to get people to move here."
"We need to acknowledge the challenges, but not let them overwhelm us," he said. "Hopefully we can work together to make Alaska a better place for business."
When asked about the state chamber's position on the proposed Pebble Mine, Stevens told the business leaders it is important to protect the Bristol Bay fishery, and it is important to allow the mining industry to operate in Alaska.
"Pebble should be allowed to go through the permitting process before being shut down," he said.
Asked if the state chamber takes a proactive role such as proposing ethics legislation to prevent such scandals as the recent VECO bribery schemes, Stevens said, "If you cannot hear your mother's voice on your shoulder, no legislation is going to change you."
Phil Hermanek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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