Forum focuses on area's economy, growth

Posted: Monday, March 04, 2002

Diversity is the key to a healthy, growing economy. And several agencies across the state are helping add diversity through a multitude of economic development programs. That was the theme Friday, as the Kenai Peninsula Borough Community and Economic Development Division and the Kenai Peninsula Small Business Development Council sponsored a luncheon and grant funding forum at the Kenai Merit Inn.

Bob Poe, executive director of the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority, was the keynote speaker at the luncheon.

Poe discussed the importance of economic diversity and innovation as driving forces in Alaska's economy. Poe's comments preceded the economic forum, which featured presentations from several funding agencies on how small business owners can acquire capital for starting or expanding businesses.

Poe spoke about the changes Alaska has undergone over the past 20 years, and how diversification is the key to sustaining Alaska's growth. He said when oil prices crashed in the mid-1980s, Alaska's reliance on oil revenue caused a major economic downturn. However, since then, the state has begun to rely on other areas for economic stability, such as small businesses and new industries like air cargo and construction.

"The boom and bust nature of the economy has stabilized," said Poe.

He cautioned that Alaska must now make efforts to manage the economy's growth.

"Each new person that come up here is a liability, an added cost," he said.

However, Poe said, those new people are exactly what Alaska needs to grow as an economy. He said new people lead to new industries and new jobs -- new jobs that aren't geared toward Alaska's traditional dominant industries like oil and fishing.

"One out of 10 jobs in Anchor-age are now involved in air transportation. ... That's a good thing. That's diversification," he said.

Following Poe's comments, various agencies gave presentations, followed by a question-and-answer period and a round-table discussion. Jack Brown, the borough's business development manager, said he was pleased with the response the forum received.

"We first planned for about 40 people, and we ended up with over 100," he said.

He said the forum's main goal was to allow area business people to interact with the various funding agencies.

"The big thing is networking. The greatest indicator of the impact will be in a year or when we'll be able to see any funding that came from this," Brown said.

Borough Mayor Dale Bagley said he was pleased with the Kenai forum and especially that Poe could speak at the luncheon. He said Anchorage area agencies often overlook the peninsula.

"They always get great speakers up there. We're trying to get at least one a month down here," he said.

He said the borough is trying to find more ways to help people explore new business avenues and the forum was just one way of doing that.

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