Strategic plan is first goal for borough's Community, Economic Development office

Posted: Tuesday, October 10, 2000

The Kenai Peninsula Borough's new business development manager is Wanetta Ayers, and her first goal is to develop a strategic plan for economic development boroughwide.

"I think you have to know where you're going to get there," she said. "I think there are bits and pieces of it throughout the borough. It may just be a process of trying to coalesce that and bring it together. But it requires private sector participation."

The plan could include a list of target industries that fit the quality of life and the resources available on the peninsula, she said.

"We might figure out our strengths and weaknesses, and what would be required to attract those businesses," she said. "We might figure out that we need to invest in infrastructure. Or we might need to invest in the educational system to create a different kind of work force."

For example, the city of Tacoma, Wash., decided to wire the whole city with fiber optics.

"Then they promoted themselves as America's No. 1 wired city," Ayers said.

Ayers' job is one of two new positions created with the opening late last month of the borough's new Community and Economic Development Division, a division of the mayor's office with a budget of $335,000.

The other new position is a grants manager hired to ensure that the borough is availing itself of all opportunities for state and federal funding. That job was filled by Bonnie Golden, who formerly worked as assistant to the mayor. The new office is at the Red Diamond Center on Kalifornsky Beach Road, (262-6355).

The borough also has moved Jeanne Camp, an economic analyst formerly based in its Planning Department, to the new CEDD. Her job is to compile economic, population and demographic information. Camp writes the borough's quarterly economic reports and its annual Situation and Prospects report.

The CEDD also is the new home for the local Small Business Development Center, which formerly operated as part of the nonprofit Kenai Peninsula Borough Economic Development District at Mile 14.5 Kenai Spur Highway.

Now, the University of Alaska Anchorage will operate the SBDC. The CEDD will provide office space and contribute about $69,000 in support. The SBDC and CEDD will share a receptionist.

The SBDC provides one-on-one counseling to help small business owners or prospective owners write business plans, seek outside funding and solve business problems, Ayers said. It also provides training sessions and seminars around the peninsula.

Some of the information Camp compiles is available on the Internet. Ayers said she is looking for ways to make it easier to use and more available to the public.

She also would like to compile a data base -- and post that on the Internet -- where businesses and industries eyeing the peninsula can log on to find the resources they need.

"Someone might be looking for 15 acres near a deep-water port," she said.

Once the strategic plan is done, the borough can court businesses and industries that fit, she said.

"My philosophy in economic development is to grow out in concentric circles and look for your potential marketplace," Ayers said. "We need to tell our story in Alaska and let people know what resources are here."

Then, the peninsula can market itself further afield.

"One thing most people involved in economic development in Alaska are concerned about is that even though there is a relative sense of economic prosperity, we are not necessarily sharing in the prosperity that comes with information technology in the rest of the nation. The big question is how to realize those benefits here," she said.

Mayor Dale Bagley has given her a list of projects, she said. Among those is developing a bid for the 2006 Arctic Winter Games. That means forming a local group to pursue the project and determine if there is sufficient interest, Ayers said.

In Alaska, the state historically has paid half the cost, and local organizers have had to find ways to fund the rest. The 2000 games in Whitehorse, Yukon, had a projected cost of about $2.6 million, she said. They were funded by the Canadian, Yukon and city of Whitehorse governments, ticket sales, merchandising, sponsorships and interest.

The games are expensive, but the potential rewards are great. The games could fill local hotels and restaurants in February and March, and let people know what is available locally for food, lodging and winter recreation. That could produce long-term benefits.

Ayers, who received her master of business administration degree in 1984 from the University of Washington, worked from 1984 to 1986 for the Anchorage Convention and Visitors Bureau; from 1986 to 1991 as executive director of the Tacoma Pierce County Visitor and Convention Bureau in Washington; from 1991 to 1994 as a free-lance marketing and public relations worker; and from 1994 to 1998 as executive director of the Kodiak Island Visitor and Convention Bureau.

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