Southeast Conference fashioning five-year economic plan
Delegates from around the region traveled down to Prince Rupert, British Columbia, this week for the 2015 Southeast Conference. The bulk of the three-day conference took place Tuesday and Wednesday, wrapping up this morning.
SEC executive director Shelly Wright said 125 people preregistered for the conference, with 150 or more expected to participate in all. Wrangell economic development director and SEC board member Carol Rushmore is representing the community at the conference. Accompanying her will be Assembly member Julie Decker and Chris Hatton, who sits on the Southeast Alaska Solid Waste Authority Board of Directors.
Though not part of Alaska proper, Prince Rupert is considered a neighbor community and is a significant economic partner with Southeast. During the conference on Tuesday, the host city presented its tourism opportunities, and subsequent presentations highlighted biomass opportunities in Canada and Alaska and the possibilities of the province’s liquified natural gas production for affordable Alaskan energy.
Alaska’s Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott was a guest speaker at the conference, providing a white paper on cross-border water issues related to Canadian mining. With him was the assistant deputy energy minister of BC, David Morel.
“We’re not going to spend a lot of time on the mining issue,” Wright said, framing the discussion. She explained the topic would be largely kept to opening communication between the state and province on transboundary issues.
“Of course, the Marine Highway is going to be a big discussion,” Wright explained. In the afternoon, Alaska Marine Highway System deputy commissioner Mike Neussl and Chelan Produce owner Dave Kensinger led an interactive membership discussion on transportation priorities, with suggestions on how to improve business.
Another big discussion, held on Wednesday, looked toward developing SEC’s next five-year plan. As an organization, SEC is the the state- and federally-designated regional economic development organization for southeastern Alaska, representing 32 regional communities for the past 58 years. Every five years it partners with the Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska to prepare an economic development strategy for the region.
The planning process was began during the mid-session summit last March, with input collected from SEC’s various members since. Committee workshops then begin developing sector-strategic plans for directing development efforts through 2020.
“Between then and now we’ve had several committee meetings,” said Wright. The committees will continue working through Feb. 2016, after which a draft plan will be presented at the next summit in March. A finished product is anticipated to be complete by next June.
“It’s really too broad yet to say what it’s aiming towards,” Wright explained. Right now the committees are sifting through a number of draft action initiatives, but over time a plan will take shape.
The conference was also a time to look back at the region’s economy and assess how it stands at the present, with a five-year assessment and business climate outlook presented to the conference (see story on page 3). Despite some serious concerns about the state budget, Southeast has improved in most sectors economically since 2010 and looks to be in a good position moving forward.
Additional information, reports and materials can be found at the SEC site, http://www.seconference.org.