Newly elected Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor John Williams and his counterparts from Anchorage and the Matanuska-Susitna Borough have signed a pact creating an alliance they expect will give the wider Southcentral Alaska region more economic and political clout.
The Tri-Borough Commission for Regional Cooperation and Economic Development’s purpose, the mayors said, is to aid the region’s three largest municipalities in planning, policy coordination and advocacy in the areas of economic development, tourism, transportation and disaster preparedness.
Saying he was honored to sign the document on behalf of the Kenai Peninsula Borough, Williams said the peninsula was one of the state’s major recreational areas, a major supplier of natural gas and other fuels, and a “full player” in the regional transportation network.
“It is only right and beneficial that all three (areas) join together to create this tri-borough commission,” he said.
Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich called the agreement “a significant step” in the growing cooperation between municipalities that collectively are home to more than 400,000 residents more than 60 percent of Alaska’s population and are represented by a majority of the state’s 60 lawmakers.
Anchorage and the Mat-Su have been working cooperatively for several years. Begich said he was pleased to have Williams and the Kenai Peninsula Borough join in the cooperative effort.
“We are pledging to work closely” to the mutual benefit of all three municipalities, Begich said.
The agreement formalizing creation of the commission noted that the Southcentral region contains the vast majority of all Alaska’s roads and other public infrastructure, and is the state’s commercial headquarters.
With that in mind, the commission will be a forum for the three regional governments “to plan and coordinate common action, leverage resources and aggressively pursue solutions to common problems on a regional level,” the document said.
It also is seen as a way to complement the efforts of existing organizations, including visitor bureaus, economic development agencies and other government entities. According to the agreement, the commission will be empowered to lobby on behalf of the entire region at the state and federal level “in support of positions mutually agreed to by the three regional governments.”
Williams said the ability to lobby with one voice should give the region significant influence with the Legislature.
“I certainly do,” he said in an interview following the press conference. “It will give us more political clout to combine our forces and thoughts before we go to the Legislature.”
The agreement, however, won’t lock the municipalities into positions their governing assemblies do not back, Williams said. Proposed joint policy statements, regional economic development efforts or other cooperative initiatives, for instance, would be heard and acted upon by those bodies prior to any joint commission announcements, he said. Any municipality may decline to back any specific policy as they see fit, he said.
Initially, the Anchorage Economic Development Corp. (AEDC) will provide staffing for the commission. According to the pact, the mayors will seek additional resources, as necessary, from their respective governments as well as from state, federal and private sources.
The commission will meet formally at least three times a year, once in each municipality, but the mayors are likely to be talking far more often, Williams said.
In a press release accompanying the agreement document, the mayors said they would focus on regional planning, policy coordination and advocacy in the the areas of economic development, visitor industry support and development, fisheries and environmental protection, transportation, energy availability and affordability, health and social services, disaster preparedness, and enhanced relationships be-tween Southcentral and rural Alaska.
“Working together on important issues as a single entity can only mean improved public services and new economic opportunities for our citizens,” Begich said in the press release.
Mat-Su Mayor Tim Anderson said his borough and Anchorage had been working successfully together on transportation issues for four years, and the time was ripe to start coordinating on other issues.
“Bringing in Kenai makes good sense and further enhances the concept that we are a regional economy,” Anderson said.
Considering the synergies between the three municipalities, cooperation made good sense, said Bob Poe, the AEDC’s president and CEO. They could serve not only businesses in and beyond Anchorage, the AEDC’s prime focus, but grow Alaska businesses generally within and beyond the state’s borders.
Kenai fisheries could benefit from the connection with the AEDC. The corporation has received a $450,000 federal Housing and Urban Development grant aimed at building a shipping logistics center to handle perishable goods.
A facility in Anchorage that could ensure fish stayed cold until loaded on aircraft could help niche-market brands like Kenai Wild and Alaska Wild Salmon as their products move from processors to fancy restaurants Outside, Williams said.
Peninsula Clarion ©2013. All Rights Reserved.