Trends 2016: Diverse business community a boon for Soldotna

The City of Soldotna is in a good position to weather the impacts of budget cuts at the state level while supporting its current economy, according to city officials.

“The big uncertainty is what the state’s finances are going to end up looking like and definitely any of the options I think they’re considering are going to have an impact on residents and businesses,” said Stephanie Queen, director of economic planning and development for the city. “So I don’t know what that’s going to look like yet.”

While cuts at the state level will impact some sectors of the economy, Queen said others will continue to thrive and help balance the situation.

“One thing that’s positive with our local economy is that … we’re pretty diverse and then we’ve got a couple of industries that are actually projected to do pretty well this year, like tourism and health care,” she said. “So I know the state’s predicting a lot of job loss, and certainly with businesses related to oil and gas and construction, but they’re also predicting new jobs to be created in tourism and health care so for us that means that as tourism and health care grow… it’ll be able to provide a little bit of stability for some of the areas that are really challenged.”

While Soldotna does not necessarily focus on drawing new businesses in, it will continue to support the business owners it already has, as well as provide guidance and resources to interested entrepreneurs, Queen said. In particular, the city helps businesses when they want to expand or relocate within the city, she said.

City staff also consider initiatives and programs not directly related to businesses a part of the Soldotna’s overall economy, and have been doing their best to foster them, Queen said. Things like increased local park programming, new events or festivals like the Frozen River Fest all draw more participation from residents and end up benefitting local businesses and the local economy, she said.

“Each one of those are partnerships of the city and the private sector and the nonprofit sector kind of pulling together to try something new, and I think it’s been really positive,” Queen said. “We don’t think of those things as separate from economic development, we think of it as really integral because, again, (as) part of our role, we might directly interact with businesses but a lot of it is just trying to make sure that it’s an environment where people want to live or want to invest.”

One area that may be affected by the state’s budget is capital projects. Soldotna has a few coming up, like upgraded highway and park signage that already had funding appropriated, but future state funding for capital spending could be impacted.

City Engineer Kyle Kornelis said that while less funding from the state could hamper capital projects spending, there are other ways to support it.

“We’ve been fortunate to have quite a few grants in the past like most municipalities,” he said.

The Soldotna City Council was presented with a Streets Inventory and Management Plan at its March 9 meeting, which included recommendations for which city streets to address in the coming years and how to maintain them most efficiently. Kornelis said the document is still so fresh that action on the streets will wait until finances are more certain.

Another factor that will have an impact on Soldotna’s economy is the loss of the year round sales tax, the extent of which Kornelis said is still uncertain. The city’s finance department is still gathering data to determine what that final impact will be, he said.

In the meantime, capital spending will still be supported to an extent despite what kind of funding comes from the state.

“I think that the other important thing is that we’re in a good position to do that,” Kornelis said. “We’ve been fortunate with some projects in the past to take care of some major needs … It may not be as robust but we’ll still have a healthy economy here … in terms of capital projects.”

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