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Viewpoints: Letters / Opinions

2022 Southeast Conference Mid-Session

By Austin Otos


March 02, 2022
Tuesday AM

The Ketchikan Gateway Borough recently traveled to Juneau for the Southeast Conference Mid-Session. This is an economic summit designed to highlight the growth of Southeast Alaska. Several local organizations strongly represented Ketchikan at the event, including: Alaska Marine Lines, Tessa Axelson (Alaska Forest Association), Tongass Federal Credit Union, Deborah Hayden (economic developer), Ketchikan Indian Community, Ward Cove Group, Julie Sande (Commissioner, Alaska Department of Commerce), and Jack Finnegan (Spruce Root Grant recipient). Many entities from our community attend the conference in order to advocate for economic development.  

Among the subjects covered at the conference were mariculture, tourism industry updates, federal infrastructure grant opportunities, energy investments, and fishing forecasts.

Governor Dunleavy's Chief of Staff Randy Ruaro provided an update regarding the State's commitment to distributing federal infrastructure funding to local communities. This project will provide the State of Alaska with five billion dollars over the next five years. The State intends to use some of the infrastructure money to increase funding for improvements to marine transportation in coastal Alaska, new electric ferry technology, and public utility investments. The process to apply for funding will be competitive across the State, with local communities applying through a grant process to support their key infrastructure projects.

There was a significant portion of the conference dedicated to forecasts for general industry segments, including tourism, forestry, fisheries/mariculture, and mining.

Travel is rebounding, with independent travel up significantly from previous years and cruising set to resume. Some tourism businesses emphasize that they are facing problems finding housing for their employees who are coming to work for the summer months. In addition, travelers want the same level of service as before the pandemic. This is relevant to our community since seasonal housing is difficult to find and is in high demand year-round. The lifting of COVID restrictions on cruise ships may result in a slight uptick in cruisers, but it may take a long time for customer confidence to return to 2019 levels.

It was a good year for the mariculture industry with a grant awarded by the Build Back Better initiative for a new mariculture processing facility. Prince of Wales Island will house the facility and contribute to the development of value-added seafood products. Creating more manufacturing and processing in the region will enable exports of mariculture products and increase production through a new hatchery system.

Additionally, Southeast Conference is seeking to build a pellet manufacturing facility in Ketchikan to make pellets from wood waste as part of a federal program for biomass energy. The facility could provide heat for a variety of buildings in the community that use wood pellets for heating.

We look forward to the main Southeast Conference annual event in mid-September to be held in Ketchikan. 

Austin Otos
Amanda (AJ) Pierce
Ketchikan Gateway Borough Assembly Members




Editor's Note:

The text of this letter was NOT edited by the SitNews Editor.

Received March 01, 2022 - Published March 02, 2022

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