State leaders seek business input on effort to develop economy

Department of Commerce’s Britteny Cioni-Haywood, left, director of Community and Economic Development Division, Development Manager Ethan Tyler and Commissioner Chris Hladick deliver a presentation on economic development strategy on Jan. 26. (Photo by Skip Gray/360 North)

Business and community leaders have told state officials they’d like to see new sources of money to finance economic development.

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That was among the early findings of a state effort to build a comprehensive strategy to develop Alaska’s economy.

Chris Hladick, state commissioner of Commerce, Community and Economic Development said the strategy could lead to a summit of business leaders and a long-term effort to build a partnership between the state and the private sector.

“You need to build this from the bottom up,” Hladick said. “You have to have industry and private enterprise involved in the process. And we’re talking about a decade if not longer, is what you really need to do to see results.”

Northern Opportunity is the state’s name for its comprehensive economic development strategy.

A draft strategy will be prepared this year, but state leaders expect it will take much longer for the strategy to improve the business climate.

State officials said there’s interest in expanding the use of micro-financing and crowd-funding, as well as expanding state financing.

They’re drawing on the experience of regional economic development organizations. The Senate Labor and Commerce Committee heard testimony from regional leaders Thursday.

Anchorage Economic Development Corporation President and CEO Bill Popp said research points to opportunities for pharmaceutical companies to expand operations in the state.

“We have by no means proven that this is a slam-dunk opportunity,” Popp said. “But it’s a great first indicator that we’ve got something to work with here, if we can just sort out the other things related to the cost of doing business here.”

Southeast Conference completed a five-year strategic plan for the region last year.

Economic Development Planner Meilani Schijvens said job losses in the state government are putting a drag on Southeast Alaska’s economy.

“The real question, of course, is how the impact of the state fiscal crisis will impact the regional economy,” Schijvens said.

Hladick noted past economic development efforts have ended when new administrations take office. So, he said, it’s important that the private sector take a lead role in any future strategy.