Hamilton: We are workforce Alaska

University president stumps for more education funding from Legislature

Posted: Tuesday, May 01, 2007

A “$38 billion ice cream cone” is how University of Alaska President Mark Hamilton described the riches the state receives by way of the oil industry, but he told Kenai business leaders he does not believe most Alaskans see it that way.

Hamilton was responding to a suggestion from John Walters, pastor of United Methodist Church of the New Covenant, during a Kenai Chamber of Commerce luncheon that Hamilton was attempting to “change the culture and ethos of Alaska.”

“I don’t think so. I think Alaskans are workers,” Hamilton said. “They don’t want to sit and wait and see what the price of a barrel of oil is (going to be).”

Visiting the Kenai Peninsula with his pick for interim University of Alaska-Anchorage chancellor, Fran Ulmer, Hamilton said he wants members of the state’s Legislature “to act like people,” when it comes to making funding decisions at the state level.

He said, when Alaskans consider the purchase of a new car, they look at their bank book, see they can’t afford it and decide not to buy; when their house needs an addition, they again look at the bank book and decide.

When their daughter says she wants to go to college, however, the bank book is irrelevant.

“Alaskans say, ‘I want to invest in my daughter,’” Hamilton said.

Using the analogy, he said Alaskans must do the same thing when deciding whether to invest in Alaskans through funding to education, or spend their money on recruiting efforts to bring workers in from Outside.

“When we have to go out of state to recruit somebody, we’re hurting the state’s economy,” Hamilton said.

“The price you pay to recruit, plus transportation, is two to three times what you’d pay to hire an Alaskan,” he said.

“We are workforce Alaska,” Hamilton said. “The University of Alaska is the workforce provider for the state of Alaska.”

He said that over the past 30 years, since the trans-Alaska oil pipeline was built, “$82 billion has left the state in the pockets of nonresident workers. Half of that would be $1 1/2 billion a year.

“I don’t blame the non-resident, but I contrast that with the resident and his passion and his dream (to stay in the state),” he said.

Hamilton said the university is the instrument that can change that.

“Help me train Alaskans to take the legacy jobs,” he said.

Construction contracts that contain hire-an-Alaskan clauses do not work, according to Hamilton.

“These companies need to hire trained people,” he said, adding that 100 percent of the state’s nurses, 100 percent of its engineers and 100 percent of its diesel mechanics are hired.

“We have got to train the workforce of Alaska, and we are the only way to get there,” Hamilton said.

Ulmer complimented the business leaders on their support of the Kenai Peninsula campus of the university and said the business community can help shape future programs of the school by contacting their legislators in Juneau. She said calls “from folks back home” have greater impact on legislators than do calls from university officials.

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