Alaska Voices: Tourism and Entrepreneurial Spirit in Alaska

For those that are concerned that Alaska is facing a zero-growth future, a few success stories.

  • Monday, September 2, 2019 9:50pm
  • Opinion

Alaska’s economy is growing and offers many advantages to expand due to our unique location. For those that are concerned that Alaska is facing a zero-growth future, I’d like to highlight a few of the many success stories that are happening throughout the state.

I recently returned from a trip to Nome, where I was invited to attend the community reception for the visiting cruise ship passengers. Seeing a large Holland America cruise ship, the Maasadam, off the coast of this remote northwest Arctic community was impressive. There was another small cruise ship in port as well. The community provided a warm welcome, with people from the surrounding communities gathering in Nome to provide an opportunity for visitors to purchase local arts and crafts. Additionally, several entrepreneurs arranged to provide cultural and adventure tours for passengers to explore and learn more about the region.

Unfortunately, the seas were high the day I arrived, and after one attempt to disembark the passengers, the ship’s Captain canceled the lightering activity due to safety concerns. Of course, this was the right call. While the day didn’t go quite as expected, it highlighted the need to expand the Port of Nome to be able to accommodate increased traffic in the Arctic waters. I participated in a tour of the port, which emphasized all the activity that occurs in the region. Discussions with Nome city officials reinforced the need to have an Arctic port to be able to respond to increased traffic, emergency response capabilities, and national security concerns.

Over 50 vessels of varying sizes are currently participating in the Nome offshore gold mining, there is a robust local fishing industry, and the port serves as an important transshipment facility for fuel, equipment, and other supplies to small communities in the region. These entrepreneurs are fully occupied, contributing to Alaska’s economy with a strong message that state government needs to work together to address the fiscal uncertainty and provide stability that will encourage further investment in the state.

With the tourism industry reaching record highs, and the cruise ship passenger numbers increasing by 7% last year and estimated to increase by an additional 16.5% this year, more and more communities are expanding their offerings. The Huna Totem Corporation is another exemplary organization. They are currently building a second cruise ship dock in Hoonah and expanding their on-shore adventure tours. They have quietly developed a significant and unique port of call in Hoonah, with over 70% of their workforce being shareholders. Hoonah is an exciting new venue for visitors in Alaska.

As the industry looks to expand further, this opens numerous possibilities for Alaskan coastal communities. Unalaska is experiencing growth in this area as well. The Unalaska/Port of Dutch Harbor Visitors Bureau accentuates places to stay and a few of the on- and off-short adventures tours the community offers, such as the birding and natural history tours, fishing charters, and sea excursions. We highly value tourism as one of Alaska’s core economic engines helping to enable self-sufficient and resilient communities.

It’s the goal of the State Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development (DCCED) and this administration to assist free enterprise and enable entrepreneurs to do what they do best. Alaska has always been careful to balance development with cultural and environmental concerns. Working together to grow our economy and helping each other succeed, we can continue to make Alaska a vibrant place to work and live.

Julie Anderson is commissioner of Alaska’s Department of Commerce, Community & Economic Development.

Julie Anderson is commissioner of Alaska’s Department of Commerce, Community & Economic Development.

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