Seattle makes profit at Alaska's expense

Posted: Tuesday, July 22, 2003

Once more Seattle business leaders have figured out a way to make big profits from Alaska. This time it's in a rapidly expanding cruise ship industry.

Seattle's gain is Vancouver's loss as several of the major cruise lines are shifting the base of their operations for ships headed for the lucrative Alaska market.

This has been a record-setting year for cruise ships at the Port of Seattle, and a new newspaper review of future prospects says another 50 percent increase in the number of sailings is anticipated in 2004.

By next year, the Seattle Times reported, at least a quarter of a million people will pass through the city en route to weeklong Alaska voyages. It forecast 140 sailings from Seattle's two cruise ship docks next season, up from 95 this year.

Each time a cruise ship docks in Seattle, the newspaper said, another $500,000 to $750,000 is pumped into the local economy. Big business, indeed.

Seattle always has profited from its position as the principal gateway to Alaska to its gold fields, to its fisheries, to its forests, to its oil fields and now to its scenic attractions.

Through the decades, Seattle's relationship to Alaska has been a one-way street. Seattle rakes in the cash and builds its economic empires. Alaska gets, relatively speaking, nothing in return.

Alaska has seldom, through most of these years of challenging times, received much support from Seattle and Washington state political leaders on issues of enormous importance to the development of its natural resources.

Both of the Seattle daily newspapers, the Times and the Post-Intelligencer, constantly bash moves that are necessary to strengthen the economy here. One example: They are steadfast on the side of the environmental lobbies that oppose oil and gas development in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

This surge in cruise ship business no doubt will deepen their desire to make Alaska the nation's zoo and its biggest national park. The reason, of course, is that virtually all of those people sailing north on summer cruises do so because they want to see Alaska's mountains and its breathtaking beauty.

Alaskans appreciate that, and are happy to have visitors come and be amazed and awed by the scenery. But little do most visitors realize that Alaska has millions and millions of acres of scenery and only limited economic prospects to support a growing population, once summer has passed and the cruise ships are sailing elsewhere.

Vancouver, B.C., has been the traditional port for the start of Alaska cruises, but its business is down sharply since Seattle got in the game. Tough luck, Seattle will no doubt say.

That's the way Seattle plays the game.

The Voice of the (Anchorage) Times

July 15

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