Saturday, September 20, 2008

Even the weather was on our side for the southeast conference!

With Rupert basking in a week long late summer splurge of sunshine, the mood for the annual Southeast Conference surely must have made for a very positive affair, even if a few of the agenda topics were of a more serious nature.

Considering the warm and sunny temperatures of the last week, the usual description of Rupert as a rather wet place at the best of times, probably seemed like an unproven urban myth. Instead, as those Pacific currents helped to bring the sun back to the north coast after a fairly lengthy absence, the visitors must have had time to marvel at the vistas from the various vantage points around town and without the need for rain gear or an umbrella.

With the conference now safely in the books, Prince Rupert’s organizing liaison group for the Southeast conference can take a bow, as they receive the accolades from the community for assisting in a very successful and rewarding three days of discussion and socializing with our visitors from Alaska.

From Mayor Herb Pond, to city council and the staff members of the City of Prince Rupert, as well as members of the Chamber of Commerce, the Port Corporation and other local volunteers, all helped to stage Prince Rupert’s contribution to the annual gathering in a very impressive way.

The Mayor is always at his political best when it comes to these kinds of events, and while he may have a few controversies to deal with on the home front these days, when it comes to promoting the city and the region for that matter, he seems to find his stride rather quickly.

From interviews with a number of Alaska media outlets, to the day to day requirements that a conference such as this takes, Mayor Pond kept Prince Rupert’s profile key as the backdrop for the delegates as they tackled their agenda.

The three day session, held for the most part at the Chances Convention centre, brought together officials from many of the communities of Southeast Alaska who discussed a variety of economic and social issues that affect the member communities.

As the host city this year, Prince Rupert took advantage of the conference to show off the port development and provide some background information on how the gateway of Prince Rupert could prove beneficial to its northern neighbours.

With a string of guest speakers outlining the present pace of port development and where they hope to see the future go, the Alaskan visitors left Rupert with a much better impression and much more information as to how the Fairview Container Port may impact on their economies as well as ours.

The state of the Southeast economy was one of the major discussion points in the course of the conference and Wednesday’s Daily News provided some background on an issue that has many parallels on the North Coast, allowing for three days of information sharing that may benefit all communities down the line.

Regional economy dominates debate
By: George T. Baker
The Daily News
Wednesday, September 17, 2008

On Tuesday, the Southeast Alaska Conference focused on an issue that is very dear to Ruperites' wallets.

Delegates and speakers discussed the region's economy, which is struggling, even amid the growing strength of the state's economy and its oil revenues. In southeast Alaska, where oil is not a player, a cloud of pessimism has joined an already grey sky.

"The region does not have an oil industry and that's why the numbers have not matched the totals of the rest of the state," said Dan Robinson of the Alaska Department of Labor.

Robinson was joined by Alyssa Shanks, also from the state's labour department, who broke down Southeast Alaska's regional economic trends and, when compared to the rest of the state, some numbers showed a depression in the region's economy.

Southeast Alaska has seen a steady decline in population since 2000, according to the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development, affecting the region's economic power. The region has lost 6 per cent of its population even though the state's population overall has gown by 15 per cent.

Robinson thinks that the lack of oil availability might be an advantage for the southeast in that they could diversify the Alaskan economy, so that the Alaskan economy is not as dependant on oil revenues in the future.

"The state for the short-to-medium term is going to have a fat surplus over the foreseeable future," said Robinson about the state's US$1.3 billion dollar surplus, most of it due to oil generated revenues.

It is unlikely that another industry will be as lucrative to the state as the $8.6 billion in oil revenues the state was able to register in 2007, 58 per cent of that from a new oil tax passed by the state that year, accounting for one-third of the its economy.

It's good news for Alaska but bad news for its southeast region.

A representative from Kake, Alaska, a rural community on an island west of Juneau, was not as impressed by the economic outlook and shared his community's concerns.

"Last federal election we had 412 voters in our town but we have recently lost three families because there isn't enough work," said Sasha Soboleff of the Kake Island Tribal Corporation.
"There is virtually no industry and we are probably going to lose our school."

Since 2000, Kake has lost 300 people and has been hit hard by increasing energy costs, where a gallon of unleaded gasoline costs US$10, heating fuel costs US$9.10 a gallon and to powering home costs US$1.17 per kilowatt hour, which is 11 times the national average.

Soboleff said that when the state paid out its vaunted largest Alaska Permanent Fund rebate this year - worth almost US$3,300 to taxpayers - Kake families began looking at it as money to pay for moving costs out of the city.

The region's population trend is in a slump and that is intrinsically tied to a weakening economy, according to Shanks.

Alaska is currently seeing a 1.6 per cent of decrease in employment but its decrease was quite low in comparison to the US federal average of 10.5 per cent.
Shanks said that there is an interest in mining exploration in the region but that the short term outlook for jobs tied to mining is flattening because there are few mines ready to go to production.

However, even while the state is gaining and the region is losing, the theme so far this week has been the Port of Prince Rupert is open for business and that there is a possibility for southeast Alaska exports through the port.

"There are opportunities for Alaskan seafood products and a demand for consumer goods in the Asian market," said Maynard Angus, manager of Public Affairs for the Port of Prince Rupert.
Angus gave a presentation to delegates about the layout of the port and expectations of growth. "Everyday someone asks when is phase two going to start. Well basically until we get the approval from the federal government we can't go."

On Monday, the port's CEO Don Krusel said he expected the phase two to begin 2012.
On hand was Chief James Bryant of the Allied Tribes of Lax Kwala'ams and Metlakalta, who welcomed the delegates and mentioned that he was quite interested in what would be discussed over the next couple of days.

"It is important about the Alaska Marine Highway to the people of Metlakatla and Lax Kwalaams and I will be very interested in hearing what you have to say," said Bryant.

And Mayor Herb Pond welcomed all and said he wanted the delegates to pay close attention to what's happening with the port.

"This is extremely exciting for me to share my community with you. We need to get together and talk about the opportunities you have with the port and if it doesn't improve your way of life then forget it. But we at least have to talk about it," Pond told the visitors.

No comments: