Ulmer: Halibut passes salmon in value

Posted: Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Economic research has shown halibut has surpassed salmon as the most valuable species for Kenai Peninsula fishermen.

That news was delivered at the Soldotna Chamber of Commerce Tuesday by former Lt. Gov. Fran Ulmer.

Ulmer, now the director of the Institute of Social and Economic Research, told business leaders of many research projects the institute is involved in and said she wanted to alert people to the fact the research is available.

In a good news, bad news scenario, Ulmer said the economy on the peninsula is much more diversified than in other communities in Alaska but said the economy is not growing as fast as it did in the 1980s.

The economy once was growing at a rate of 5 percent annually, but has slowed to about 1 percent in terms of employment growth, she said.

"But that growth is stable," Ulmer said. "About one-third of the economic growth is oil and gas, one-third is federal spending and one-third is everything else."

She expressed some concern about the balance, particularly because of the region's dependence on federal spending.

Referring to statewide figures, Ulmer said about $8 billion a year comes to Alaska in the form of federal spending. One in three jobs depends on federal spending, she said.

"Federal spending in Alaska is huge," she said.

"Seniority is wonderful, when it's working for you," she said, in reference to the ability of Alaska's elder statesman U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens to bring large amounts of federal funding to the state.

Ulmer cautioned that Alaskans need to pay attention to the level of federal spending, and they need to put forth efforts into making the natural gas pipeline project happen.

Other areas of research ISER has conducted pertaining to the peninsula include the oil and gas industry.

"Nine of 10 of the Kenai Peninsula's taxpayers are oil and gas related," Ulmer said.

She said ISER research has shown that oil production has declined from a peak of 226,000 barrels per day in 1970 to 29,000 barrels per day.

Ulmer told those attending the luncheon meeting at the Riverside House Restaurant that the peninsula's visitor industry is much more diverse than it is in other areas of the state.

"Here you have some cruise ship visitors, as well as some who travel independently, and the natural resource — fishing — attracts a lot of visitors here," she said.

ISER research also has shown an increasing part of the Kenai Peninsula economy is based on the fact the peninsula is a good place to live, Ulmer said.

"(Baby) boomers are aging and we're staying," she said.

Referring to a study of the Anchorage economy, Ulmer said, "The over-60 population is growing at five times the U.S. average.

"I know this isn't Anchorage, but you are impacted because you're on the road system," she said.

During a question-and-answer session following her presentation, Ulmer was asked by Soldotna Mayor Dave Carey if ISER expected a decrease in federal spending to impact all groups equally, or if it meant seniors or young people would start leaving the state due to a decrease.

"ISER does not have a crystal ball," Ulmer said. "Studies have shown that people in higher education and higher income levels tend to leave less quickly in an economic downturn.

"Also, younger people and seniors stay," she said.

Ulmer said ISER research information is available online at www.iser.uaa.alaska.edu.

She also said the University of Alaska Anchorage-based research institute conducts brown bag sessions during which researchers present findings the first Thursday of each month in Anchorage.

She said she would consider putting the popular sessions on the road, perhaps bringing them to the Kenai Peninsula, in the future.

She also is looking into broadcasting the sessions on public radio.

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