Neither ice nor blowing snow could dampen the enthusiasm at the Kenai Peninsula 2001 Economic Outlook Forum.
Some 150 attendees, half of them small business owners, spent Friday and Saturday sharing information with elected officials, representatives from various agencies and fellow business owners. The annual event began in 2000.
"I sat down with Tom Boedeker, who was president of EDD's board of directors at the time, and suggested that we needed to hear from the residents of the borough," said Sen. John Torgerson, R-Kasilof, who, along with the Kenai Peninsula Economic Development District, served as co-host of the event.
Over the past year, more than 770 peninsula residents have attended community-based forums. Feedback from those events has helped create a comprehensive economic development strategy. The information also helped guide the development of this weekend's two-day event at Kenai Peninsula College.
On Friday, the mayors from the Kenai Peninsula Borough, Seldovia, Homer, Soldotna, Kenai and Seward offered profiles of their areas and described economic development projects under way.
Keynote speakers were Jeffrey Staser, co-chair of the Denali Commission, on Friday and U.S. Sen. Frank Murkowski on Saturday.
"It's going really well," said Betsy Arbelovsky, executive director of the EDD, Saturday. Arbelovsky, Mary Jackson and an army of helpers kept the program moving, provided attendees with materials and helped everyone find their way to breakout sessions held in various classrooms.
Ginger Steffy, director of the college, said it was fitting that KPC partner with the economic outlook forum.
In addition to training the peninsula work force, she said the college employs 103 full-time employees and brings $5 million into the community each year.
"People don't think about us as a business," Steffy said.
Afternoon sessions gave participants opportunities to identify assets, hindrances and goals in the areas of tourism, fishing, technology, manufacturing, forest products, work force development, education and Web site development.
Coming back together as a group, findings were shared and notes compared.
Locally produced items were on display, including clothing, kayaks, food and promotional materials. Continental breakfasts, snacks and lunches were catered by The Chase is Over Catering and Isabelle's Fine Catering, of Soldotna.
Rick Swenson, of Homer Ocean Charters and Otter Cove Resort, as well as a past board member of the Kenai Peninsula Tourism Marketing Council, said attending the forum was a way of marketing his business.
"It isn't what you know, but who you know," Swenson said. "You have to meet and greet and look at everyone as a potential client."
Torgerson said the value of the two days was in listening to others and hearing what projects they're involved in.
"But it's even more successful when they take the program back to their communities," he said. "That ties it all together."
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