State focuses on business retention

In the face of impending fiscal disaster, the state of Alaska is partnering with regional economic development organizations and chambers of commerce to research the statewide business climate.

Economists have been examining ways to diversify the state’s economy as the price of oil continues to drop, taking the state’s budget with it. One way to shore up the economy is to promote local businesses, so the partners are hoping to find out more about what makes businesses stay in an area.

Models in the Lower 48 and Canada have shown that business retention benefits the local economy in more areas than just recruitment, said Rick Roeske, the executive director of the Kenai Peninsula Economic Development District.

“If you spend your money locally and you are hiring people locally, what they found over a period of decades is that if you can identify the key blocs of hiring local people, you get better returns on your local economy,” Roeske said.

The point of the program is to gather information from local businesses about their opinions on the economic climate of each area and work with them to expand their business and workforce. Most of the other states operate similar programs.

Alaska is one of the last states to get on board, said Stephen SueWing, a development specialist with the Alaska Department of Commerce, Community & Economic Development. The state originally began planning the venture in the spring of 2014 and started offering the training to local development organizations — beginning with the Kenai Peninsula Economic Development District — this October.

Statewide, the first step to engaging businesses is to offer a survey to gauge business owners’ feelings about the economic climate.

“It’s an engagement tool — it’s a program by which economic development organizations can engage with their businesses on a local level,” SueWing said. “The survey is part of the engagement process.”

The point of the program is to connect economic development organizations with their businesses beyond just when things are going wrong, SueWing said. The 48-question survey is a starting point to facilitate one-on-one conversations and gather feedback, beginning a two-way relationship. For example, the chambers of commerce can gather information about what services they are providing to local businesses, he said.

“It’s kind of like a living journal,” SueWing said. “It’s not only interactions, but also the services that have been given to that business.

The overarching principal of it is that keeping businesses in the community is much easier than attracting businesses.”

The Kenai Peninsula Economic Development District is working with the Soldotna and Kenai chambers of commerce to distribute a survey to all local businesses. There are actually two surveys, Roeske said — one tailored more to oil and gas and the other more general for any business owner.

Retail sales make up the biggest sector of the economy across the peninsula, followed closely by construction contracting. Promoting local businesses, especially in retail, could prevent some of those dollars from leaving the peninsula and going back to corporate headquarters elsewhere, Roeske said.

“Where we’re going with this is that in the current state of Alaska’s situation, we want to get some more data,” Roeske said. “No recession lasts forever, and when we come out on the other side, we want to be a little better off.”

The state plans to run the survey for two years to start, but the development district hopes to make it more long-term, like the Situations & Prospects report it does annually, Roeske said. Despite depressed oil prices and the possibility of taxes, Roeske said the Kenai Peninsula Economic Development District is still receiving inquiries about microloans for starting a business.

“Surprisingly, Americans are entrepreneurs, and they always know that they’ll come out the other side,” Roeske said. “Even though the price of oil continues down, the entrepreneurial spirit of Americans is not going away. Even in the face of less than ideal economic conditions, people are still planning for the future.”

Reach Elizabeth Earl at elizabeth.earl@peninsulaclarion.com.

More in News

Girl Scout Troop 210, which includes Caitlyn Eskelin, Emma Hindman, Kadie Newkirk and Lyberty Stockman, present their “Bucket Trees” to a panel of judges in the 34th Annual Caring for the Kenai Competition at Kenai Central High School in Kenai, Alaska, on Thursday, April 18, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Bucket trees take top award at 34th Caring for the Kenai

A solution to help campers safely and successfully extinguish their fires won… Continue reading

Children work together to land a rainbow trout at the Kenai Peninsula Sport, Rec & Trade Show on Saturday, May 6, 2023, at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex in Soldotna, Alaska. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Sport show returns next weekend

The 37th Annual Kenai Peninsula Sport, Rec & Trade Show will be… Continue reading

Alaska Press Club awards won by Ashlyn O’Hara, Jeff Helminiak and Jake Dye are splayed on a desk in the Peninsula Clarion’s newsroom in Kenai, Alaska, on Monday, April 22, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Clarion writers win 9 awards at Alaska Press Club conference

The Clarion swept the club’s best arts and culture criticism category for the 2nd year in a row

Exit Glacier, as seen in August 2015 from the Harding Icefield Trail in Kenai Fjords National Park just outside of Seward, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)
6 rescued after being stranded in Harding Ice Field

A group of six adult skiers were rescued after spending a full… Continue reading

City of Kenai Mayor Brian Gabriel and City Manager Terry Eubank present “State of the City” at the Kenai Chamber of Commerce and Visitor’s Center in Kenai, Alaska, on Wednesday, April 17, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Mayor, city manager share vision at Kenai’s ‘State of the City’

At the Sixth Annual State of the City, delivered by City of… Continue reading

LaDawn Druce asks Sen. Jesse Bjorkman a question during a town hall event on Saturday, Feb. 25, 2023, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
District unions call for ‘walk-in’ school funding protest

The unions have issued invitations to city councils, the borough assembly, the Board of Education and others

tease
House District 6 race gets 3rd candidate

Alana Greear filed a letter of intent to run on April 5

Kenai City Hall is seen on Feb. 20, 2020, in Kenai, Alaska. (Photo by Victoria Petersen/Peninsula Clarion)
Kenai water treatment plant project moves forward

The city will contract with Anchorage-based HDL Engineering Consultants for design and engineering of a new water treatment plant pumphouse

Students of Soldotna High School stage a walkout in protest of the veto of Senate Bill 140 in front of their school in Soldotna, Alaska, on Wednesday, April 17, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
SoHi students walk out for school funding

The protest was in response to the veto of an education bill that would have increased school funding

Most Read