Kenai officials take steps toward future

Posted: Friday, October 20, 2000

Lori EvansExecutive Editor

You've heard the old saying: There are three kinds of people -- the ones that make things happen, the ones that watch things happen and the ones that exclaim "What happened?"

Kenai residents have the opportunity to make things happen by participating in an economic development meeting planned for their city early next year. Although a definite date has not yet been determined, the meeting has been scheduled for sometime between Jan. 20 and Feb. 3.

The meeting offers the chance to help shape Kenai's future. Its purpose is not unlike a strategic planning session used to take stock of where a business or public agency has been, where it wants to go and how it can best get there.

Savvy business people know the importance of such planning sessions. With them, a company -- or a city -- can set the stage for the kind of future it wants. Without them, the winds of change can blow a company -- or a city -- into turmoil.

Without a vision for the future, it's hard to know when you've arrived at where you thought you were headed. A plan makes it much easier to reach your destination.

As part of his vision for the future, Kenai Mayor John Williams is promoting the idea of creating an economic development position in the city. The person, who would report to the council, would seek out and develop economic opportunities for the city. Williams envisions a two-year contract at $200,000 as one of the best investments the city could make -- seed money for a multitude of projects.

Kenai is in a unique position. It has worked aggressively to attract public sector projects that bring with them what Williams calls "sustainable jobs" -- jobs that support a family and pay a mortgage. Among those projects are the Challenger Learning Center of Alaska, a new Federal Aviation Administration facility, the new state courthouse, the fire training center, the job center and the public health center now being built.

The theory has been if the city built up its infrastructure and created jobs, commerce would follow. Has it? Those projects have created a number of sustainable jobs, but have they created a corresponding growth in the community's population? Do people who work in Kenai live elsewhere; if so, why? Why aren't more small businesses located in Kenai?

Those are among the questions that Williams and other city officials hope to answer.

Other questions include: Is there further expansion that can take place to attract airport industries, health-care services, senior services and small businesses? What kind of businesses can use Kenai's existing infrastructure? Should the city move from wooing public sector projects and start courting private sector businesses like information services, light industry and light manufacturing? Should the city support a major private prison facility adjacent to Wildwood Correctional Center? Should the city pursue having a hotel-convention center complex built on city property?

There's no doubt the economy of the entire state, the Kenai Peninsula and the city of Kenai is changing as we hunker down into the new millennium. Although exciting projects are on the horizon, oil development, other major resource extraction and commercial fisheries development unlikely will be the major industries of the future.

The question then becomes: How does Kenai -- or any community -- capitalize on the new inventions and new technology that are on the horizon?

Kenai officials are looking forward and thinking outside of that proverbial box as they plan for the city's future.

The most important question they need to ask, however, is: What kind of future do residents of Kenai want for their city?

City officials need to make sure their vision for the city matches that of the residents they serve. The only way that can happen is for residents to be involved.

The other option, of course, is sitting back and exclaiming "What happened?" after the future arrives.

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