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Start thinking outside the oil-and-gas box

Posted: Friday, February 11, 2011

OK, so the LNG plant is closing, and a whole lot sooner than most of us anticipated. We all thought that the export license extension granted last year was supposed to give us more time. It didn't.

So, for a while, we'll grieve over another major economic engine gone from the Central Peninsula and the loss of local jobs.

But let's not grieve too long. There's work to be done.

The Agrium plant closed just three years ago. We grieved that loss, too. But we survived. Our population hasn't actually dropped by that much. School enrollments remain pretty static, and are expected to increase. Those who did pack up and leave didn't have much holding them here in the first place.

The Kenai Peninsula is a place for families who want to plant roots. They're not easily relocated.

Anyone who's lived here for the past 20 years knows darn well that the economy has changed. The north Kenai Spur used to be a mighty and bustling industrial corridor. Now there are a number of unused shops and warehouses.

In their place, the health care industry has slowly and steadily become the region's newest growth economy. Growth at Kenai Peninsula College has helped the region become a new education hub, especially now with the promise of residential facilities so more students can live here and learn.

The Central Peninsula does not have to continue to eke out a survival based primarily on the oil and gas industry. Yes, we sincerely appreciate the dollars they bring. But by its very nature, that industry is transient; it has to be to survive. You who are in the business already know that you go where the oil and gas is.

So, let's take this weekend to lament the closing of the plant.

On Monday, let's start thinking about what takes its place.

Our local governments can become more proactive in seeking and luring business. We're not suggesting that borough and city policy makers have discouraged business. On the contrary, they've always welcomed new ventures with open arms.

What we are suggesting is that policy makers -- and residents, as well -- need to become aggressive in identifying and attracting the kinds of businesses that set roots, just like families do. Light manufacturing or service industries could take advantage of now empty facilities just waiting to be resurrected. We need to start brainstorming on an entirely new level, and on levels that may be outside our current comfort zone.

We at the Clarion will not abide a "woe-is-us" attitude on this. We won't look favorably on comments or letters to the editor suggesting the Central Peninsula is going dark. That kind of outlook is, ultimately, unproductive, and disrespectful of the residents who have made homes and built lives here.

We will, however, gladly give space in this newspaper to new ideas, innovation, inspiration and plain ol' moxie.

We will get through this -- with new thinking, new enthusiasm and our American ethic that values hard work.

In short: It's bootstrap time, folks.



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