"A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty."
Sir Winston Churchill
Talk around town lately has tended to center on how the Twin Cities can deal with what is increasingly being looked at as a crisis of economy. However, what should be discussed is the enormous potential this area has for new growth, development and innovation.
The closure of Agrium's nitrogen plant combined with dwindling oil and gas supplies in the Cook Inlet basin has certainly cast a shadow over town. But sometimes rain is good; it nourishes new growth and washes away old grime.
At Wednesday's Kenai Chamber of Commerce meeting, Kenai Peninsula Borough Business Development Manager Jack Brown said, "The number one (reason) that companies relocate to a specific market is quality of life."
We are blessed to live in an area with an extremely high quality of life. Fewer and fewer places in this ever-shrinking world can boast both small town friendliness and wide-open spaces like we take for granted here on the peninsula. The peninsula is home not only to abundant and thriving environmental wonders mountains, lakes, forests, rivers and wildlife abound but a hearty breed of people who thrive on hard work and spirited recreation.
The peninsula also has a decades-long history of being an area willing to open its arms to business and industry after almost a half century of oil and gas development, we've proven we know how to combine commercial uses with protections for the environment we love.
This is not to say times may not get rough for the short term. The loss of major industrial players from any economy is always going to be a tough blow. It's likely rising taxes, diminished real estate prices and increased jobless rates will force people to tighten their belts.
Now is the time when the community itself must come together to find innovative solutions to the problems facing our economy. When you consider that the people of the Kenai Peninsula have always relied on each other for survival from small groups of Athabascan hunters and gathers to wily Russian fur traders to hearty homesteaders this should not be an insurmountable task.
Some of the heavy lifting already is being done. The city of Kenai has created an economic development group that already has begun to outline economic strategies for the future. The chamber just finished a new full-color business creation guide for distribution to those thinking of moving to town. The state recently created a task force to examine ways to find training and jobs for the highly-skilled Agrium employees soon to be out of work.
These efforts are solid steps toward building a new and diverse economy here on the peninsula and should be supported. But government-created task forces and strategy groups alone won't make the difference. In order to truly begin to find the opportunities that lie all around us, area residents themselves must step forward with new ideas. That means taking chances on new businesses and sharing good ideas with others.
Both the Agrium task force members and Kenai Economic Development Strategy (KEDS) group are community members who live and work here in town. Don't hesitate to share your input with them. Members of the Agrium task force include Bob Favretto, Jim Carter, George Ford, Roy Wells, Rick Ross, Bill Popp, Gary Superman, Bob Swenson, Bill Noll, Greg O'Clary and Pat Cowan. On Saturday at 10 a.m., the KEDS group will host an economic forum at the Kenai Visitors and Cultural Center. Anyone hoping to provide input on where we should go from here should strongly consider attending.
A new day of economic prosperity on the central peninsula won't dawn through the efforts of government and industry alone. Hope is on the horizon, but it will take a little innovation and a lot of hard work from all of us to ensure that the dark clouds of recession are burned away by the sunshine of new ideas.
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