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By Dan Rudy 

Maritime industry sees plan to strengthen

 

Submitted Illustration

This new design for a marine service sector advertisement was commissioned by the Alaska Division of Economic Development and should soon be featured on posters to be distributed around Wrangell. The ad campaign is one element of a broader push around the state to support the maritime industry.

Wrangell seems to be in a fine position to prosper as attention in Alaska turns toward strengthening the region's various maritime industries.

The Fishing, Seafood and Maritime Initiative (FSMI) has been developed by the University of Alaska and other public and private partners with the intention of supporting a strong and sustainable maritime workforce in the state.

With over 500 firms and 70,000 employees, the maritime industry represents Alaska's largest employment sector, and its various "blue jobs" encompass seafood, transportation, recreation, Coast Guard and other support services.

The goals of the initiative are to sustain and enhance the economy through supporting Alaska's coastal communities and to provide research to sustain resources on which those communities can depend.

FSMI initially began in 2011 with the Rasmuson Foundation, Gov. Sean Parnell and the University of Alaska sounding out ideas on how to improve support for the seafood industry. In time the net widened to include other levels of education provision, including vocational certification and technical training programs.

This wider focus led to the development of a more formal workforce development plan, identifying a larger maritime industry and dividing that into sub-sectors of focus. Executive Director of the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation and an advisor to FSMI, Julie Decker explained it was the first time Alaska had addressed the larger industry in such a way.

"That was a huge step forward in itself," she said. "It took a long time to come up with a document."

FSMI put forward its Alaska Maritime Workforce Development Plan this spring and presented it to the Southeast Conference (SEC) at its annual meeting in September. The plan lays out strategies for developing local workers and supporting maritime-related careers. The plan is available to view online at http://www.alaska.edu/fsmi/AKMaritimeWFDPlan_HighRes_5-22-14.pdf.

"At the same time we were working at a local level in Wrangell," Decker explained. "We already have an advantage in a lot of ways over other communities."

In particular, the city's Marine Service Center (MSC) is fully operational, with expanded paving work recently completed and the addition of a new 300-tonne boat hoist, which broadened its capacity.

"We're well-positioned to thrive," said Decker. So long as the level of workmanship remains high, she said Wrangell fills the niche for smaller- to medium-scale ship service projects left in the region by Ketchikan's sizable drydock.

To capitalize on this, Wrangell's Economic Development Committee (EDC) and the Port Commission have sat down to discuss the service center's future. Together they identified three areas to work on: continuing to improve its infrastructure and expand the center's capabilities, putting greater effort into promoting the facility, and increasing career awareness.

Ports and EDC are cooperating to develop a survey of all dockside businesses and gather feedback from customers about Wrangell's sea-related services. This will help identify strengths and determine areas for improvement.

Some needs that have already been identified and discussed in the Borough Assembly include equipment and tool rental facilities near to or inside the Marine Service Center yard, which is currently not allowed. Also, a year-round motel of 50 or more units would be useful for accommodating those having work done on their vessels, particularly in the summertime when rooms are hard to come by.

Expansion in general is a priority, with MSC already nearing its geographical limits. At recent meetings, the Assembly has discussed the future need to consider development of other properties. In particular, the old mill and Institute properties have varying potential for industrial uses.

Marketing is another facet of improving MSC's potential. Through the Alaska Department of Labor's Division of Economic Development, a design for a "Made in Alaska - Maritime" sector advertisement was commissioned, which will be featured on posters to be distributed around the borough.

Wrangell's Economic Development Coordinator Carol Rushmore, is now developing a website to serve as a hub for Wrangell's various marine service enterprises. To be located at http://www.wrangellmarineindustry.com, the site will provide contact information to potential customers and take some of the hassle out of maintaining individual business webpages.

"It looks really nice," Decker said of the template. She expected the site to be online in the near future.

Career awareness has included working with the local school system to compliment more closely the needs of local industry. The resulting idea has been Future Wolf Fabrication, a program that will get secondary school students firsthand production experience through their vocational instruction coursework.

Acquiring a laser engraver and computer numerical control router, students will be able to use welding, machine fabrication and carpentry skills to fill real orders from the community's marine industry contractors.

Students at the high school have already been producing aluminum skiffs for two decades, but these new technological skills will be necessary for them to compete in the job market. Instructor Drew Larrabee presented the idea to SEC in September.

On the regional level, SEC has also set up a Southeast Marine Industry Council to organize member communities' efforts to develop roles within the industry. In addition to Wrangell, Sitka, Ketchikan and Homer have all been developing strategies of their own, and the council enables them to communicate their goals and share potential templates for success.

 

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