Humanities forum conference opens study of state's needs

Posted: Monday, November 26, 2001

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- The Alaska Humanities Forum has spent about $250,000 on two studies to learn what issues Alaskans care about and what they want out of the next two decades.

The two studies will be discussed at a two-day conference the nonprofit group is kicking off Tuesday in Anchorage.

The Anchorage-based forum is embarking on a three-year, $1 million process of establishing the state's needs over the next 20 years in terms of economy, education, communities/families, the natural environment and sustainable funding for public services.

One of the two studies was done by the Institute of Social and Economic Research at the University of Alaska Anchorage. The report analyzes trends in the state's population and economy since statehood in 1959.

The other was a poll by Craciun Research Group, which asked 1,000 people about issues facing Alaskans.

This week's conference -- ''Alaska 20/20: Alaskans Charting Our Future'' -- is expected to attract more than 300 participants from around the state.

''If we prepare people with data regarding the evolution of Alaska, we set the stage for a conversation of who we want to be,'' Jane Angvik, the forum's program manager, told the Anchorage Daily News.

The ISER data reveal that since statehood Alaska's population has nearly tripled and jobs have increased nearly five-fold. Economists, however, forecast slow job growth and stagnating incomes in the next decade.

State services are more in demand than ever, ISER found, but the state continues to rely on dwindling oil revenues to pay for them.

In the mid-1970s, as money poured in from the construction of the trans-Alaska oil pipeline, the average Alaskan's income was 178 percent higher than the U.S. average. Today, Alaskans' earnings are roughly on par with the national average, a drop ''somewhat -- but not entirely -- offset by a decline in Alaska's historically high living costs,'' the ISER report states.

Pollsters asked why people came to Alaska and why they left. They found that two-thirds of respondents came here for a job and nearly half left the state for economic reasons.

The mission of the conference this week is to use this information to come up with a written vision, values and goals. The forum plans to convene a series of community and regional meetings to comment on the goals before it holds a final conference in 2003.

The forum is only a facilitator in the process, said Ira Perman, president. A 43-member steering committee guides Alaska 20/20, and the effort involves 34 partner organizations representing business, academic and nonprofit organizations.

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