Economic Outlook Forum slated for next month

Posted: Thursday, October 18, 2001

Peninsula residents can help plot economic development strategy next month at the second annual Economic Outlook Forum, organized by the Kenai Peninsula Borough Economic Development District.

"We'll take the ideas we had last year and build on them. This year, we want to get into writing an action plan," said Betsy Arbelovsky, EDD executive director.

The Nov. 16 -17 forum at Kenai Peninsula College in Soldotna, will last twice as long as the boroughwide forum last year. Admission is free. Other sponsors with the EDD are state Sen. John Torgerson, Phillips Petroleum Co., Agrium and the Kenai Peninsula Borough.

Torgerson will give the opening address Nov. 16.

"We'll do the national anthem. Then, we'll hear from every mayor on the peninsula -- what's working in their communities, what's holding them back, what's on the horizon. People liked that last year. People from Nikiski need to know what's going on in Homer," Arbelovsky said. "Then, we'll hear from one of the Native corporations what's going on with them."

After that, participants will break into smaller groups for detailed discussion of particular topics such as training and education, marketing and technology. There will be more break-out groups after the morning speakers on Nov. 17.

"It's going to be fun, and folks will work in groups, and each group will come up with an action plan," Arbelovsky said. "They'll talk about assets, liabilities, goals, action plans and resources."

She plans break-out groups to consider:

n Tourism and product development.

n Forest products, including production of value-added products and non-timber products such as devil's club, mushrooms, berries and birch syrup.

n Commercial fishing, including a report on a trip by borough and fishery officials to Chile to study means for moving quality products to distant markets.

n Tourism technology, with an advanced technology session for tourism techies and a beginner session for people intimidated by computers.

Break-out groups will include facilitators and experts to serve as resources, Arbelovsky said, and they will last a couple of hours each so that participants can delve into detail.

The Economic Development District, a nonprofit corporation separate from the borough government, is required to do strategic economic development planning under the contracts by which it receives borough, state and federal funding. Arbelovsky will use what she learns from the Economic Outlook Forum to update the EDD's Comprehen-sive Economic Development Strategy.

That is an important document, she said, because when area groups apply for grants and funding, agencies and foundations often weigh whether their proposals fit the strategic plan.

Last year, forums in communities from Seward to the south shore of Kachemak Bay followed the boroughwide forum in Soldotna. Altogether, more than 700 peninsula residents participated.

"Participants identified issues such as quality of life and building year-round employment," Arbelov-sky said.

"We look forward to shifting these concepts into a plan of action to lead to a stronger economy."

She said she expects another round of community forums this year.

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