Alaska has long depended heavily on the oil and gas industry to keep its government and services viable. Lately, that hasn't been the boon it used to be. The state continues to rely on that industry for the bulk of its revenues, but the money clearly has slowed down and the effects are felt throughout the state.
The key to Alaska's future lies in economic development and diversification of the economy, and Rep. Joe Hayes believes he has a way to help do just that.
For months now, the Fairbanks Democrat has been pushing legislation that would create an enterprise-zone program with the goal of helping communities grow their economies through business development. The good news is that Hayes is getting a little help from the other side: Republican Sen. Gene Therriault is now pushing a companion bill in the Senate, which is a real boost to Hayes' efforts.
The idea behind enterprise zones is fairly simple. By creating a state enterprise zone program, economically depressed communities would be able to offer economic development incentives such as reductions in permit and user fees, credits or exemptions from property taxes, and flexibility in regulations and land sales. In exchange, these communities would be able to qualify for federal economic grants. By making a community more business-friendly, it is hoped, more businesses will want to expand or locate there, bringing with them jobs that help fuel the economy.
This is not a new concept. Enterprise zones have been used quite successfully in other states for years, and already numerous local groups are on board, including the state and Fairbanks Chamber of Commerce, the Alaska Municipal League and the Fairbanks City Council.
This program is not a handout. It is designed to empower communities to find what will work toward encouraging economic development in their area, and giving them the tools to make it happen.
The Legislature should support the efforts of Hayes and Therriault as these bills work their way through the House and Senate. It's an idea that could help Alaska diversify its economy, one community at a time. ------
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