Economic forums sparking valuable ideas for peninsula

Posted: Friday, March 09, 2001

The two major highways that slice through Soldotna may be unattractive, but they've given Soldotna an all important asset: location, location, location.

That means convenience, which translates into business.

Soldotna's location is just one of many assets identified this week during the city's economic forum. Others, of course, include affordable housing; quality, easily accessible medical care; good schools; concern for the environment; and quality-of-life pluses such as the Kenai River, a variety of community parks, the Soldotna Senior Center, the Soldotna Historical Society Museum, Central Peninsula General Hospital and the Soldotna Sports Center.

Among the most important information to come out of the forum may be there's a lot that Soldotna has done and is doing right, and some of the things that can be improved don't necessarily involve a huge infusion of cash.

Some of Soldotna's concerns echo those facing not just that community, but the entire Kenai Peninsula Borough and the state: an aging work force, a shortage of trained workers in the fields of health care and technology, and the exodus of young people leaving the community for higher education and not returning.

There is a paradox to those concerns. How is it that there is a lack of trained people to fill the positions soon to come open because of an aging work force and at the same time Alaska is experiencing a brain drain of its young people to so-called greener pastures? Why don't the opportunities at home seem as promising as the opportunities in other places?

If we want Kenai Peninsula young people to find their future here than surely we need to do a better job of marketing the opportunities that are available here and providing students with the training needed to be successful in those opportunities. It just doesn't make sense that industries are begging for workers and our young people are going elsewhere to seek employment.

Like Kenai's economic forum held earlier this year, Soldotna's forum brought up the need for more cooperation between the twin cities. Residents recognize that both communities would benefit by joining forces, at least on some projects. The much talked about convention center for the central Kenai Peninsula presents such an opportunity. Soldotna has a conceptual plan for such a center. It makes sense that such a center be located next to the Soldotna Sports Center. It also makes sense that such a project, which would benefit not just Soldotna, but Kenai and other central peninsula communities, be a shared venture.

For the good of both communities, the days of competition between the cities of Soldotna and Kenai should be a thing of the past. The new millennium is a time for a new spirit of cooperation -- and a new convention center would be a fitting project to mark the change in attitude. Such an effort won't be easy, and it will require strong leadership in both cities to accomplish.

Just as Soldotna has found its subsidy of the sports center a sound investment for the entire community, an investment of time, effort and money by both Soldotna and Kenai to bring a joint project such as a convention center to fruition would reap its rewards. The cities working together should be able to accomplish far more than one city alone could. Both cities need to remember how much they share; after all, it's not uncommon for residents to live in one city and work in the other one. The "unity" in "community" should be a catalyst for the cities' cooperation with each other.

The boroughwide economic forum held in December and the city forums that followed are giving residents and community leaders much food for thought on how to maintain thriving communities. Nikiski residents gather Saturday at Agrium's meeting facility to discuss ideas for their community. Registration begins at 8:30 a.m., with the program beginning at 9 a.m.

Kudos to the Kenai Peninsula Borough Economic Development District and the individual communities for making these economic outlook forums happen. They have provided valuable discussion about the future. Unless a community has a vision and a map for where it wants to go, it will never know if it's arrived.

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