April 22: Juneau Empire on plotting the Capital City's economic course:

Posted: Monday, April 23, 2001

Juneau throughout its history has never been a sedate place. From its earliest gold mining days and later as the seat of government for a wild young state, Juneau has been a raucous place. The clanging of heavy machinery, the sounds of aircraft, boats and legislators arguing for their constituents, are as much a part of the town's personality as the glaciers and pristine beauty to be found at every point of the compass.

Most beautiful places like Juneau suffer from having split personalities, or perhaps, multiple personalities. Key West, Fla., Eureka Springs, Ark., and Aspen, Colo., to name a few are also afflicted with this condition.

Opposing forces, each with good intentions, bring on the condition. The yin and yang compete as the forces of change meet the inertia of those not willing to accept change. It is an incontrovertible fact that the world is changing and, as it always has, so is the state of Alaska. Our mobile society is attracted to beautiful places like moths to a flame.

Juneau has reached a critical point where its economic future is at risk. The outfall of this risk could affect our quality of life and ultimately the opportunity for our children and grandchildren to find jobs and raise their families here.

The risk exists, not only from the ever-present pressure to move government out of town, but from trends that indicate that Southeast Alaska and Juneau are not keeping pace with the rest of the country and the state. The latest census figures show that the population of Southeast Alaska is not growing as fast as the rest of the state or nation. Southeast has lost important jobs in timber, mining and commercial fishing, while the cost of living remains very high.

In Juneau, even our grip on state government jobs is loosening. According to statistics available from the Department of Administration, Juneau went from being home to 40 percent of state positions to 37 percent from 1990 to 2000. During this time Anchorage picked up more than 520 state jobs.

Although some signals point to a shaky future for Juneau, hope remains high.

Widely divergent ideals exist on what constitutes quality of life in Juneau, however, most people don't take for granted the fact that Juneau is a great place to live.

One of the biggest challenges for our community is the lack of economic diversity. Tourism and state government jobs are now the remaining cornerstones of our local economy. To rest our future on the hope that these two employers will always be here for us is unwise. Our attention now should be focused on economic development. Economic development doesn't have to mean runaway growth and development. Economic development can be managed in a way that enhances quality of life while giving our children and grandchildren the opportunities we wish for them here at home.

A central mission of economic development is to actively recruit new businesses to fit whatever vision we have for the future. In addition, we need to build on what we already have. Bartlett Regional Hospital is a shining example of an institution that has evolved into a truly regional asset. As the hospital has expanded its services and reach, other businesses in Juneau have benefited. Patients who used to fly hundreds of miles for care in Seattle, contributing to the economy there, can now get comparable care at home in most cases.

Everyone should be cognizant of the positive impact of shopping locally first.

Juneau merchants are your friends and neighbors. They contribute tens of thousands of dollars to over 200 charities and non-profits operating in Juneau. They support our schools and events, and through sales tax, the infrastructure of our community. Buying local is the easiest step toward economic development and improved quality of life.

A number of progressive construction plans are in the works that will also make Juneau a better place to live. Resolutions to ease our overcrowded high school and capitol are in sight. There is real excitement in the community about the prospect of a new golf course and waterfront development.

Several overdue roadway improvements are on the drawing board. All these projects are progressive steps for Juneau.

Solid leadership, open minds and a spirit of compromise are needed for this community to move forward in a balanced, constructive way.

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