Offering a peek into the area's economic future, a two-day forum organized by the Kenai Peninsula Economic Development District kicks off this morning at 8:30 a.m.
"Last year's forum was really well received," said EDD Executive Director Betsy Arbelovsky concerning the first forum held in December 2000. It drew a crowd of 176 attendees, not counting those who viewed it on the World Wide Web.
"The Kenai Peninsula School District sent a crew of brilliant Soldotna High School production students that actually put it over the Internet," Arbelovsky said. "And we're going to be doing it again this year."
That extra touch allows those unable to attend to view it from their own computers.
It can be viewed live or later by choosing from a selection of recorded presentations.
Speakers include U.S. Sen. Frank Murkowski, R-Alaska, and former Rep. Gail Phillips, R-Homer, candidates for governor and lieutenant governor, respectively. Sens. John Torgerson, R-Kasilof, and Jerry Ward, R-Nikiski, are also on the agenda, as well as Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Dale Bagley and city mayors from communities across the peninsula. The keynote speaker is Jeffery Staser, federal co-chair of the Denali Commission.
Arbelovsky said she was excited when she heard that Murkowski is going to attend the forum.
"We really appreciate him prioritizing the Kenai Peninsula economy in coming here," Arbelovsky said. "It's a wonderful opportunity because the communication will be two ways. He'll be telling us what's going on in Washington, and we'll get that perspective. The work in the sessions isn't always the most important thing, a lot of things happen in the halls. People can come up in the halls and say 'this is an issue in the economy of the peninsula.'"
New this year are 11 break-out sessions, where individuals can choose from topics related to tourism, fishing, technology, manufacturing opportunities, resources, oil and gas, training and education, and Web site development for small businesses. Reports following these sessions allow everyone to benefit from the material being presented. The agenda was designed around feedback from community forums held during the past year.
Pre-registration was strongly urged by Arbelovsky, who has planned for 200 registrants. By Wednesday morning, 150 individuals pre-registered.
"Last year we had 75 people sign up, but 176 showed up," she said. "If people just show up, we can't guarantee admittance."
The forum begins at 8:30 a.m. today at the Kenai Peninsula College. To pre-register, call EDD at 283-3335. The forum can be viewed on the World Wide Web at www.kpedd.org.
Clarion reporter Jenny Neyman contributed to this story.
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