Editor’s note: This is the first of five opinion columns the Clarion will run from the front-runners in the gubernatorial race for the primary election on Aug. 22.
Four years ago the central topic of discussion for politicians, talk radio and the public was reinstatement of an income tax, the current shift to resource development reflects my philosophy of moving forward and shows there is a positive new economic attitude in Alaska.
While the historic agreement on the terms to build a natural gas pipeline is making headlines across the state, there is another economic story about the last four years which is often overlooked.
Even without a gas pipeline, Alaska’s economy during my Administration has grown significantly, has become more diverse, and is less dependent on government jobs than in the past.
A central goal of my Administration was to put the economy back on track, and to use all of Alaska’s resources productively and responsibly to create a solid future for our youth, our most precious resource. The economic numbers over the last four years speak for themselves.
In each year of my Administration, the Gross State Product increased significantly: 7.9 percent in 2003, 14.3 percent in 2004, and 10.8 percent in 2005. This growth has meant jobs for Alaskans. Payroll employment increased by 14,800 jobs in the last three years, which is a healthy 5 percent increase. Significantly, job growth in 2004 and 2005 came entirely from the private sector. Government jobs declined by 100, while the private sector gained 10,700 jobs in this same two-year period.
This job growth means Alaskans are better off economically. Recently, an FDIC report found that Alaska’s annual per capita personal income rose by 4.3 percent in the first quarter of 2006, an increase attributed to high paying mining and construction jobs.
The current economy is strong and diverse. As Governor I pledged to revitalize industries, such as mining and fishing, which had been neglected and in decline for years. I am keeping my promise.
We worked hard to get the mining industry going. We took steps to reduce conflicts between the Department of Fish and Game and the Department of Natural Resources. We sped up the permitting process and cut through red tape while still requiring strong environmental controls.
The total value of Alaska’s mining activity increased 50 percent by 2004 with a value of $1.6 billion. Then it increased again in 2005 to $1.8 billion. The world class Pogo Mine opened in 2006 and expansions are underway in other mines. The Rock Creek and Gig Hurrah mines near Nome are scheduled to start production in 2007.
Like mining, the salmon fishing industry four years ago was neglected and in turmoil. Competition from farmed salmon had eroded prices while costs continued to climb. We again took action. In 2003, my Administration began a $50 million salmon revitalization program to jump start the industry by focusing on the quality of the fish harvested. The Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute was overhauled, given a small, effective working board, and got to work promoting our wild Alaskan salmon.
Combining effective marketing with higher quality fish produced results. In three years, the value of our salmon has almost doubled from $155 million to $300 million. Alaska’s commercial fishermen benefited from this turnaround, with the harvesting section now valued at $1.3 billion. Between 2003 and 2005, 1,000 new seafood processing jobs were created, ending seven consecutive years of decline. In 2005, Alaska’s seafood exports to international markets reached almost $2 billion, an increase of 47 percent over 2002 levels.
Tourism is also an important industry in our state, accounting for 13.7 percent of total employment, making it the state’s fourth largest employer. The number of people visiting Alaska has rebounded to pre-9/11 numbers and is on the increase.
My Administration is also committed to the development of small businesses and recognizes that small businesses create many new jobs. Again we focused on ways to reduce the red tape of state government. We started the Alaska Business Portal to allow citizens to set up a corporation or obtain a business license using the Internet. What used to take months can often be done in a matter of minutes on the Internet. 678
These efforts have created a $10 billion increase in Alaska’s economy is just four years. It has taken hard work, some tough decisions, some budget discipline, and a lot of planning and setting priorities. Now, all of our major industries, with the exception of timber, are thriving. Job growth is significant and is in the private sector where it belongs. Alaskans personal income is up and there are more jobs for our young people.
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