Gretchen Fauske

Understanding the military’s role in Alaska’s economy

On May 13, 2005, Fairbanks residents awoke to a startling possibility: the loss of as much as a third of the borough’s population. The reason? The Department of Defense Base Realignment and Closure Commission, also known as BRAC, proposed to withdraw 2,821 troops from Eielson Air Force Base and transfer the aircraft of the 354th Fighter Wing to Nevada, Georgia, and Louisiana. This would mean an exodus of families, civilian employees, contractors, and the closure of untold numbers of businesses. BRACs are used by DoD to reorganize its bases for increased operational readiness and efficiency; Eielson made the list because of high operating costs. But Alaskans had long been told that our bases play an essential role in the nation’s defense strategy for the Pacific Region due to the ability to rapidly deploy to hotspots and were surprised that the military was changing course. The idea that Eielson AFB, which at the time of the proposed closure had been part of the Fairbanks area for 60 years, could be reduced to a skeleton military crew with what felt like a swiftly-made and ill-reasoned decision, was shocking. It spurred the community to action. Fairbanks Economic Development Corp. President and CEO Jim Dodson helped lead the effort. Back then, he was a local businessman who had been raised with an appreciation of the military, attending “in the home” military appreciation dinners as a young man and eventually hosting his own. He also served in the Special Forces during the Vietnam War, giving him perspective about how the military functions as an organization. Recognizing that his hometown’s economy would be devastated by the BRAC, Dodson and then-Mayor Jim Whittaker created a team to fight the closure, and enlisted Sen. Ted Stevens, Gen. Mark Hamilton (retired from the military, Hamilton was the president of the University of Alaska at the time), and other Alaska leaders in the fight. “I knew that if the BRAC went through, you’d see this community dry up and go away — 30 percent of the population, 38 percent of our payroll — that’s just too much of our community to lose,” Dodson said. “You would see businesses close, homes being foreclosed on. I didn't want that to happen to Fairbanks.” As part of the BRAC process, the commision in charge held a series of public meetings in communities with military bases on the realignment and closure list. The first meeting was in Fairbanks, where the commissioners were greeted by a crowd of more than 3,000 people, all wearing red T-shirts emblazoned with “America Needs Eielson.” The Pentagon, under intense pressure from the community and the congressional delegation, announced that fall that Eielson AFB would remain open. “We changed their minds,” Dodson said. Today, it’s a victory to look back on —  a story told to show how a small community fought for their future —  and won. Dodson says that the borough changed for the better after 2005. “Before, Senator Stevens was really the one making sure the military was in Alaska,” Dodson said. “But after the ‘Save Eielson’ campaign, we all recognized that Eielson AFB, Fort Wainwright, and Clear Air Force Base are a huge part of our economy. Since then, we have been very proactive in supporting the military’s presence in Fairbanks.” Although many Alaskans have been slow to recognize the importance of the military to Alaska, the economic impacts stretch back before statehood. During World War II and the early-Cold War, Americans migrating to the territory of Alaska reshaped the pre-statehood economy. By the mid-1950’s, as much as 40 to 45 percent of Alaska’s population was tied to defense operations as active duty, civilian support, contractors, and dependent family members. The military built roads, airfields, and ports still in civilian commercial use today, and invested heavily in scientific research at the University of Alaska. Prior to North Slope oil production, the military’s economic role dwarfed all other private industries, including mainstays like mining and fisheries. “The military drove the economy of Alaska in the ‘50s and ‘60s to an even greater degree than oil and gas does today,” says Nolan Klouda, Executive Director for the University of Alaska Center for Economic Development. “The economy completely centered around military in those days. People who came for mining and fishing lived the sourdough lifestyle — off the grid, single men for the most part. The military brought families to the state, and with them, mainstream America came to Alaska. They wanted housing, neighborhoods, schools, places to shop, and entertainment.” Today, Alaska’s economy and population are more diverse, but the military still plays a major role. The roughly 29,000 active duty, National Guard, reserve, and defense civilian personnel is the equivalent of about nine percent of the state’s workforce, though official employment figures do not generally count service members. In the 2017 Fiscal Year, the DoD spent more than $4,000 in Alaska for every resident — more than double the amount of the 2019 Permanent Fund Dividend. And yet, there’s still opportunity to grow the relationship for the benefit of all involved. Klouda is leading a study funded by the DoD Office of Economic Adjustment to better understand the role of the military in Alaska’s economy, and the opportunities on which Alaskans have yet to capitalize. The Alaska Defense Industry Resilience Initiative will identify barriers and vulnerabilities to defense sector firms; help decision-makers and community leaders better understand community sensitivities to changes in defense activity; identify types of assistance needed by defense firms; and identify assets, resources, and stakeholders to support resilience of defense firms. “"The military is a huge investor and employer in the state, and we need to remember that when we think about economic development strategies." says Klouda. Dodson agrees. “It’s one thing to get a military mission, but then you have to figure out how to make the most of it economically,” Dodson said. Although past military impacts were often seen in funding large-scale infrastructure improvements — rebuilding the railroad after WWII and building the Parks Highway to connect Anchorage and Fairbanks — today, technology offers additional economic opportunity. Nationally, the military has been a patron of technology development; the first computers and the internet are just two critical examples. More recently, military technology focused on unmanned aircraft systems, or UAS, has spurred business and educational opportunities in Alaska, along with the creation of the Alaska Center for UAS Integration at University of Alaska Fairbanks. Similarly, military research can spur innovation. Dodson points to the new Long Range Discrimination Radar, or LRDR, at Clear Air Force Station as an example. An LRDR is capable of detecting ballistic missiles en route to targets in the US or allied nations. It will also be gathering non-missile information, 99 percent of which will not be classified, according to Dodson. “There’s an opportunity for UAF or others to use that information to help Alaska understand weather patterns in the Arctic, migration of waterfowl, and more,” says Dodson. “It could have tremendous impacts to aviation. What if someone in a remote part of Alaska knew what the weather was going to be before they took off? It could really increase safety.” The DoD also provides funding to incentivize new technology, like the Small Business Innovation Research, or SBIR, grants for research and development, a boon for tech entrepreneurs. Alaska company Triverus has been part of the Navy R&D process for more than 15 years, beginning with a SBIR grant award in the early 2000s to develop a Mobile Cleaning, Recovery and Recycling System, or MCRRS. With support from the Navy, multiple iterations of the product were designed and tested before the final design was approved. Today, the Palmer-based company employs 22 people and was awarded a contract from the Navy to deliver 43 MCRRS units, each valued at $850,000. In addition to the military, the company also serves the aviation, oil and gas, and construction industries. “The military has to stay at the cutting edge, and constantly look for new solutions. That's a great thing if you're a tech-focused entrepreneur in Alaska,” says Klouda. Dodson also sees opportunity in increasing the number of Alaska companies supplying the military with goods and services, especially with two squadrons of F-35s (46 aircraft) coming to Eielson AFB. The first F-35 is scheduled to arrive April 2020, with the rest following over the course of two years. He estimates an increase of around 5,000 people once families and civilian contracts are factored in. Almost 15 years after the fight to save Eielson AFB succeeded, the future is bright. Instead of a dwindling population and crippled economy, the borough is buzzing with activity. “Eielson is going to be 50 percent larger than it was,” says Dodson. “That’s good economic impact, but you have to manage it right,” Dodson says. “It’s pretty huge.”

Startup Week 2019: Entrepreneurship transforms economies, communities and individuals

It’s hard to know what’s going to change your life. Decisions like choosing a spouse, becoming a parent, or purchasing a home will obviously make an impact, but sometimes an innocuous-seeming choice can reroute your trajectory, spinning you into a world you didn’t know existed.  Take Erin Baca, for example. She was working at a project management firm in 2017 when she decided on a whim to sign up for Startup Weekend.  Startup Weekend is a 54-hour weekend event during which participants pitch ideas for new startup companies, form teams around the ideas, and then work to develop a prototype to present at a demonstration event on Sunday evening. Some of Alaska’s best known startups — Pandere Shoes, Attently, and 60 Hertz — originated at Startup Weekends.  Baca says her participation was a pivotal moment in her career. “It took me supremely out of my comfort zone and introduced me to an entirely new group of people I never would have met otherwise,” she said. “I also discovered previously untapped talent and passion in myself, which I’ve been able to convert into a career path where I can live my values every day.” Countless participants have gone on to apply lessons learned as they launch companies, work for startups, or support them in other ways. Today, Baca is an associate at the 49th State Angel Fund, a venture capital function run by the Municipality of Anchorage that invests in high-growth businesses. She helps organize the Alaska Angel Conference, volunteered at a recent Startup Weekend, and is the 2019 co-chair of Alaska’s Startup Week, which is November 18-24.  People holding jobs like Baca’s are considered “entrepreneurial ecosystem builders” — those who help develop opportunities, make resources available, and build a supportive community to advance entrepreneurship.  If Baca’s job sounds like fun, it is. But it’s also vitally important to Alaska’s economy. Over the last decade, startups in Alaska consistently added 4,000 to 6,000 jobs to the economy each year. Firms that are aged five years or younger accounted for 89% of Alaska’s net employment growth in the private sector, making a compelling reason to support high-growth entrepreneurship in Alaska. “People succeeding in the state is fundamentally good for everyone, but it goes beyond financial returns and economic returns. It’s also good for community returns,” says Baca.  Continuing to grow Alaska’s entrepreneurial ecosystem is one of the reasons Baca signed up to co-chair Startup Week.  Startup Week brings entrepreneurs, local leaders, and friends together to build momentum and opportunity around entrepreneurship in Alaska. Similar celebrations happen across the world, and Alaska’s Startup Week is timed to coincide with Global Entrepreneurship Week to leverage international connections. Baca is joined by Pamela Parker, founder of Everything Bagels located in Soldotna, as co-chair. A math teacher turned entrepreneur, Parker always knew she wanted to start her own business. It look a move across the country and the search for a bagel to suit her East Coast cravings to inspire the launch Everything Bagels. Pamela Parker, Co-chair of 2019 Alaska Startup Week and founder of Everything Bagels. (Photo/Courtesy/ Alaska Small Business Development Center) A little more than three years after opening, Parker is immersed in Alaska’s startup scene; she led Startup Week for Kenai and Soldotna in 2018 and she stepped into the statewide role this year. Parker says she noticed that other communities, like Anchorage and Fairbanks, had strong and developing entrepreneurial ecosystems, but didn’t see something similar on the Kenai Peninsula. After discussing with other local business owners, she says they decided to find opportunities to engage with each other in more meaningful ways.  “Startup Week gives me an excuse to step out of my business for a moment and learn about the amazing things that are going on in our community. It allows me to get tips from other small business owners and inspires me to try new things,” says Parker. “You just get this feeling being in the room with other movers and shakers that you just want to go out and do something. It reminds you why you’re doing the whole crazy entrepreneurship thing in the first place. It makes it even better knowing that I can help others in their communities achieve this same feeling by helping to coordinate the statewide effort.” Venture capitalist Brad Feld, known for co-founding Techstars, his work at the Foundry Group, and writing a series of books about entrepreneurship (Startup Communities: Building an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem in Your City is particularly well known) says that communities should offer a myriad of events that appeal to the interests of a wide-range of entrepreneurs.  Accessing community is an important component of entrepreneurial development. Entrepreneurs can grow their networks and connect with collaborators, mentors, investors, and more. Additionally, events offer the opportunity for participants to gain new knowledge or skills, test out ideas, and meet future customers.  “Any one of these events may seem trivial by itself, but the combination of all of them happening continuously over a long period of time and being inclusive of anyone who wants to engage in them and being led by entrepreneurs is what empowers,” says Feld. Although there’s still a lot of growing to do, through Startup Weekend and Startup Week — along with weekly 1 Million Cups pitches, numerous idea or business plan competitions, conferences, and other events — Alaska is on its way to providing the rich landscape of events described by Feld.  If you’d like to be part of Alaska’s entrepreneurial ecosystem, consider participating in a Startup Week event. It’s an easy and fun way to get involved as an entrepreneur, an ecosystem builder, or someone who’s curious and wants to learn more. You never know — stopping by might just be one of those choices that changes your life! Gretchen Fauske is a marketing-minded economic developer fueled by a passion for entrepreneurship, innovation, and small business. She is the associate director for the University of Alaska Center for Economic Development, Board President for Launch Alaska, and a Gallup-certified CliftonStrengths coach.

‘Your voice is valuable, speak up’: The power of mentorship

Women engaged in mentorship programs experience greater confidence, make more networking connections and receive increased guidance when navigating their careers. When Kim Waller walks into a room, people notice. She exudes charisma, and once she starts starts speaking, especially about issues she cares about, it’s easy to see why she recently received a Gracie award for her radio show Power on the Block. But appearances don’t always match how we feel, especially during our teenage and young adult years.   “When I was a young woman, most people would have said I was outgoing and confident,” says Waller, founder of the Women’s Power League of Alaska, or WPLAK. “But the truth is, I had low self-esteem and low self-confidence. Fortunately, there were people around me — my mentors — who saw I needed direction, and they stepped up and helped me. Looking back, my life could have taken a very different path if I hadn’t had them helping me.” Years later, Waller is returning the favor. She moved back to Anchorage in 2018 after a career in media for MTV Networks and iHeartMedia in New York City to launch WPLAK, which includes a mentorship program specifically designed for women in their 20s. Demand to participate quickly outstripped the number of available mentors, and Waller is looking forward to growing the program when applications for the next cohort open. “In my 20s, I needed guidance — both personally and professionally. It’s a crucial time in a woman’s life: we’re thinking about our careers, relationships, family planning. It’s a lot, and the choices we make impact our future,” Waller said. “At that time, I needed people to believe in me more than I believed in myself, and they did. That’s when I really learned the power of mentorship.” While there is momentum to change attitudes on these topics — organizations like Lean In are doing valuable research focusing on women at work and the #MeToo movement is shedding light on widespread harassment — social pressures still prevail. Mentorship can play an important role in overcoming challenges. Women make up approximately half of Alaska’s workforce, driving a significant portion of the state's economic activity. Despite possessing equivalent hard skills like computer programming, accounting, or technical writing to their male counterparts, women often face social challenges and workplace biases that men do not. These range from wage disparity (Alaskan women earn 72 percent of what men make on average) to balancing caretaking and household activities with professional duties, and more. Mentorship and female entrepreneurs Katherine Jernstrom, founder of Anchorage-based coworking space The Boardroom, says that reaching out to mentors was invaluable as a young entrepreneur, especially when she was launching her business. “I started out doing customer discovery to test the idea (of The Boardroom) by asking smart people around me for their advice and feedback. Some of them became my mentors and I still speak to them regularly,” Jernstrom said. Entrepreneurs with mentors are five times more likely to start a business and keep that business. According to Youth Business International, three-quarters of young entrepreneurs participating in mentorship programs felt they had stronger decision-making skills and felt more confident in running their businesses through the support of their mentors. Women entrepreneurs in particular experience greater success when they have a mentor; 75 percent of women business owners report positive business outcomes resulting from engaging in a mentorship relationship, 2 percent point higher than male business owners. This is not a phenomenon isolated to young entrepreneurs. Women at all stages of their career benefit from mentorship, as both a mentee and a mentor. Jernstrom says that as her career progresses she continues to turn to her mentors for guidance. She says that one of the most important aspects of a mentor/mentee relationship is trust and mutual respect. “You have to be able to lay your cards on the table and not feel judged or worry that someone is going to think you’re being silly,” Jernstrom said. “I know my mentor cares about my success and well-being, and that makes me comfortable being vulnerable when we dive into the nitty-gritty of what I’m working on.” As Jernstrom’s reputation as a successful entrepreneur and savvy business person grows, people often seek her out for advice, giving her the opportunity to step into the mentor role. She says women tend to be more timid in terms of addressing business challenges, whereas men are more apt to meet them head-on. “A lot of mentoring women is coaching them to sit at the table, and telling them, ‘Don’t be shy, don’t back down. Your voice is valuable, speak up,’” Jernstrom said. Becoming a mentor or mentee Mentorship is almost universally considered critical to career success, regardless of gender. For those looking to engage in mentorship, First Round studied 100 mentor-mentee matches, and identified the following ground rules: Kick off relationships around distinct problems or challenges. Build in off ramps. Create a schedule — but keep it loose. Measure progress in every meeting. Carve out time to exchange goals. Mentoring doesn’t always need to be a formal relationship. It might last for just a few moments or span years; the common thread is the knowledge and experience that is transferred from mentor to mentee and vice versa. Waller says that mentorship can take the form of an uplifting conversation, an email of encouragement, or a relationship that spans years, and that she has grown just as much as a mentor as when she is a mentee. “When I’m mentoring someone, I’m mentoring myself as well — we may not think we know as much as we do until we sit down and start talking to someone who hasn’t walked in our shoes,” Waller said. Jernstrom is often invited to coffee to help a fellow entrepreneur vet ideas or work through a problem and considers it a form of informal or peer mentorship. She too says she benefits just as much as the invitee. “I learn a lot from other entrepreneurs, even if they’re the ones who asked me for advice,” Jernstrom said. “New perspectives are so valuable.” Regardless of the form it takes, mentorship is powerful. “Mentorship makes a difference,” says Waller. “We don’t do anything alone. There have been many hands in my success, and if I can help someone else achieve their dreams, then that is the true measure of success.” Gretchen Fauske is a marketing-minded economic developer fueled by a passion for entrepreneurship, innovation, and small business. She is the associate director for the University of Alaska Center for Economic Development, Board President for Launch Alaska, and a Gallup-certified CliftonStrengths coach.

Manufacturing matters: Momentum in a small but growing sector of Alaska’s economy

When Jennifer Loofbourrow walks through the headquarters of Alpine Fit — currently a 960 square-foot shop and showroom with a lofted office in Midtown Anchorage — she radiates enthusiasm for the eye-catching technical apparel she manufactures. Women’s tops in Bering Sea Blue and Arctic Dusk Purple are carefully folded next to bolts of uncut fabric; sewing machines, many of which are vintage yet functional, line the walls.  Although her energy is contagious, a successful business isn’t built on enthusiasm alone — especially when it comes to manufacturing in Alaska. Fortunately for Alpine Fit’s future, Loofbourrow knows the outdoor products industry well. She previously worked for athletic wear company Lululemon, where she briefed company executives on the properties of different fabrics. Later, she and her husband owned a women’s clothing business in Ireland. Armed with this background, Loofbourrow believes she can carve out a niche in an industry dominated by giants like Patagonia and North Face, and she’s committed to doing it in here. “Establishing a capacity for sewn product manufacturing here in Alaska — the ideal testing grounds for any outdoor product — helps build industry relevant knowledge in our home state, allows us to adapt and develop products efficiently, and function as a modern business in an evolving industry faced with constant growth and change," said Loofbourrow. For those that appreciate the opportunity to see how their products are made and meet the people making them, Alpine Fit is an exciting place to visit, especially considering the rarity of this type of experience in the state. Alaska doesn’t have a high rate of manufacturing — in fact, the state ranks dead last for the amount manufacturing dollars contributed to our Gross Domestic Product, or GDP. Even Hawaii, an island state more than 60 times smaller than Alaska, has a higher contribution. Experts site logistical challenges, small in-state markets, high costs of energy, and labor issues as barriers. Regardless, manufacturing in Alaska has been growing, albeit with a few hiccups along the way. Nationally, manufacturing jobs provide above-average wages, especially for skilled positions that require training but not typically a college degree. Additionally, manufacturing creates value and generates wealth that circulates within the economy at higher rates than most other sectors. This is especially valuable when you consider that much of Alaska’s economy is resource extraction based and Outside economies end up reaping a large share of the profits. Exporting goods made in Alaska also brings outside money into the state.  Alyssa Rodrigues, executive director for the new Alaska Manufacturing Extension Partnership, or MEP, center at UAA’s Business Enterprise Institute, sees a lot of potential for the manufacturing industry in Alaska.  “We assume it can’t work, so apart from the MEPs, no one is putting a lot of time or effort into helping manufacturing grow,” Rodrigues said. “But there’s a lot of potential, even beyond local markets. One of the services the MEP offers is export assistance, and I’m looking forward to connecting with companies who want to sell outside of Alaska.”   Part of Rodrigues’ strategy is to focus on three distinct areas: food and beverage, outdoor recreation products, and military-related manufacturing. Based on a combination of research and discussions with other MEP centers across the country, she thinks each sector can leverage their Alaska-specific strategic advantages into growth opportunities.  Rodrigues points to companies like Triverus, which makes outdoor surface cleaning equipment for military, municipal, and private clients; Bambino’s Baby Food, which uses Alaska-grown ingredients and wild-caught seafood in its products; and Heather’s Choice dehydrated backpacking food which is sold in REI and Amazon, as examples of locally launched companies now selling their products in the Lower 48. “I think others can achieve a similar growth trajectory,” Rodrigues said. Besides exporting and creating well-paying jobs, another facet of manufacturing is supply chain redundancy. The value of producing local food, beverages, and other products is especially apparent in times of disaster. As many Alaskans learned during the 7.1 earthquake in November 2018, food supplies that arrive in Anchorage by barge or plane and then trucked throughout the state quickly disappear when they aren’t regularly replenished. Considering that 95% of food purchased in Alaska is imported, creating redundancy so that Alaskans have access to food in the event of a supply chain disruption increases economic and community resilience.  Manufacturing also offers opportunities for import substitution, which encourages local production for local use instead of importing products. Alaskans spend $2 billion on food each year, but $1.9 billion of that spending leaves the state. Keeping more of that money in state would generate employment and keeps local dollars circulating throughout the economy. Rodrigues especially enjoys doing her part. “I buy a lot of ice cream, probably nine pints a quarter. It used to be all Häagen-Dazs; now it’s one pint of Häagen-Dazs, and eight pints of Wild Scoops (an artisanal ice cream shop in Anchorage),” Rodrigues said. “It’s way more delicious and I’m happy to pay extra to support a local business.” Import substitution at its most enjoyable! Gretchen Fauske is marketing-minded economic developer fueled by a passion for entrepreneurship, innovation, and small business. She is the associate director for the University of Alaska Center for Economic Development, Board President for Launch Alaska, and a Gallup-certified CliftonStrengths coach.

CED Series: Attracting economic growth

In 2011, Charlotte went bananas. City officials in North Carolina launched a marketing campaign to entice Chiquita Brands International (aka Chiquita Banana) to relocate from Cincinnati and make Charlotte their new headquarters. Amidst photos of bananas framing city signage, a #bananasforCLT hashtag on Twitter, and yellow bow ties, the government offered $22 million in incentives over a period of 10 years to seal the deal. Economic developers often use incentives and marketing tactics to encourage companies to relocate or expand to their communities, a practice both costly and competitive. A key tenement of economic development, it has recently evolved to include attracting and retaining workers. Charlotte was successful in their bid, anticipating 400 new jobs and $14 million of investment. Although the resulting jobs numbers weren’t quite as expected (134 local hires, 141 transfers from Cincinnati, and 28 recruitments from outside) city officials cited $11 million in construction, new residents buying homes and paying taxes, and charitable contributions as a worthwhile return on investment. Last year, Amazon made headlines as cities lined up for the opportunity to host HQ2, the company’s second North American headquarters. The expected antics ensued: Newark and New Jersey offered nearly $7 billion in tax incentives, Birmingham, Ala., constructed giant Amazon boxes around town, Phoenix did something with a cactus that didn’t really work out, and Mayor Sly James of Kansas City purchased 1,000 items from Amazon and used the reviews to promote his town. Even Anchorage got in on the action, citing easy outdoor access, university graduates, and lack of traffic in an online application. From the 238 proposals submitted, Amazon selected 20 cities for round two and is currently making the rounds to select the location for their expansion. Anchorage didn’t make the cut. The Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport is the fifth largest cargo hub in the world. (Photo/Chris Arend Photography/Alaska Division of Economic Development) Economic developers in Alaska are generally skeptical of our ability to compete head-on with other states to attract Fortune 500 companies. When considering what might work in Alaska, Bill Popp, CEO of the Anchorage Economic Development Corp. says that his team is focusing on opportunities at the Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport. “We’re looking at distribution facilities for pharmaceuticals, supply chain logistics, there’s potential in high-end electronics and aviation parts distribution,” he explains. “When you consider that Anchorage has the fifth-largest cargo airport on the planet with hundreds of wide body jets and the opportunity for foreign carriers to exchange cargo here, there are a lot of possibilities. The challenge is getting them past the cost of construction and the cost of labor.” If labor is expensive and in short supply, what can we do to attract more workers to Alaska? Economic developers have recognized a shift in who attracts whom: Instead of talent following companies, companies have started following talent. Back in 2005, author Thomas Friedman told us that “It’s a Flat World, After All” and since then, it’s flattened even further. We’re now competing on a global scale. As availability of qualified workforce continues to plague Alaska businesses, attracting talented new workers to our state, along with growing our own, is essential. People are more mobile than ever before, and can choose where to travel, work, and pursue an education. Attracting potential workers that would appreciate the Alaska lifestyle could help solve the labor shortage. There’s also the matter of “boomerangs”: young Alaskans who leave the state (often for education) and find themselves wanting to come home after graduation or launching their careers outside. Born and raised in Anchorage, Chase Christie moved to San Francisco shortly after graduating from the University of Oregon in 2004, and started a career working in solar energy. After 15 years in the Bay area, he was eager to return home but knew he needed to find the right opportunity. When an Anchorage-based solar company offered him a job, he jumped at the chance. He says the proximity to the outdoors is just as great as he remembers, but that the city has changed a lot, too. “Anchorage has evolved in so many great ways since I was a kid. There's a more developed art and music scene, there are great restaurants, things that I didn’t appreciate when I was younger that I do now make the city really special and so unique.” Christie is here to stay. “I have a friend from New Hampshire who moved here in 1999 and he says it best: ‘I’ll move somewhere else, just show me someplace better.’ And I couldn’t agree more.” Moira Gallagher manages Live. Work. Play, AEDC’s grassroots effort to make Anchorage the No. 1 city in America in which to live, work, and play by 2025. She frequently considers how to attract more people to our state, and laughingly says, “I’ve actually thought about putting signs in sweaty subways during the summer — something along the lines of ‘Guess what? In Alaska it’s 68 degrees and sunny in the middle of the summer’ — an appeal of Alaska being it never gets too hot!” There are opportunities aplenty to continue developing a lively and vibrant downtown core in Anchorage. (Photo/Ken Graham Photography/Alaska Division of Economic Development) Despite our advantages, she says that there are two challenges to attracting new workers to Anchorage: lack of affordable, high-quality housing and lack of a dynamic urban core. “When people live downtown they bring vibrancy which is great for existing businesses and attracts new businesses,” she said. “People want entertainment, restaurants, music, public art. The greatest cities in the world have walkable, lively, happening downtowns.” That said, Anchorage offers an appealing combination of city and wilderness. “Our outdoor recreation is second to none. We have more acres of parkland than any other city in America,” she said. “You can get on your bike and be in the Chugach foothills 10 minutes later. In the winter, you can ski Kincaid Park on the lighted trail, or go to the downtown tree-lighting ceremony. In the summer, visit your favorite fishing hole at Ship Creek or ride miles of bikes trails. And the people here are great.” Both Gallagher and Christie have significant others who relocated to Alaska. Gallagher says her husband is from New York and “loves that Anchorage feels like a small town, yet is large enough to support big-city amenities like the performing arts and multiple general hospitals,” while Christie says his Berkeley-born girlfriend “has a job that she absolutely loves, finds she’s inspired by the people she works with, and sees living in Alaska as a long term opportunity.” Speaking of relationships, are you wondering how things turned out between Charlotte and Chiquita? Chiquita was purchased by a Brazilian company in 2015 and shortly after, packed their bags and departed Charlotte… even after the yellow bow ties, clever hashtags, and $22 million in tax incentives (some of which will be refunded, but still!). Now that’s bananas. Gretchen Fauske is marketing-minded economic developer fueled by a passion for entrepreneurship, innovation, and small business. As the associate director for the University of Alaska Center for Economic Development she is responsible for leading the entrepreneurship, marketing, and outreach efforts of CED as well as providing strategic leadership for both CED and the UAA Business Enterprise Institute.

Workforce development: Career readiness and the evolving world of work

Katrina Chertkow graduated from the University of Alaska Anchorage earlier this month with a bachelor’s degree in sociology. A member of the Honors College, she graduated summa cum laude, and is pursuing a master’s degree in integrated marketing and communications at Northwestern University in the fall. Chertkow is a high achiever by any definition. And yet, her career path is uncertain. “I’m not sure what my career options are after grad school, which avenues to take,” she said. “Should I work for a marketing agency, start my own business, or freelance?” Cherkow’s uncertainty isn’t surprising. Students graduating this spring have watched as the number of people spending their career with one employer rapidly shrinks, and an increasing number of individuals have multiple careers in their lifetime. The Freelancers Union says that 34 percent of the U.S. workforce — 53 million Americans — are working as freelancers. With the rise of the “gig economy” short-term employment contracts will become more common. Workforce development serves both individuals and businesses with the objectives of: Preparing the workforce with the skills necessary to meet current and anticipated labor needs Supporting job retention and career advancement Connecting workers and employers in the labor market — International Economic Development Council For those in workforce development, this raises an interesting question: How can we prepare Alaskans for an ever-evolving world of work? Christi Bell, executive director for the UAA Business Enterprise Institute, says that higher education is already transforming to meet workforce and employer needs: “Some universities are focusing more on certificates and very targeted proofs of learning, and others are moving toward a ‘2+2+2’ model, which essentially means that students will come to university throughout their lifetime for ‘just in time learning’ — education that provides them with the knowledge, skills, and abilities needed for the exact point they are at in their careers.” For example, students could earn an electrician certificate, return in a few years to complete a bachelor degree in electrical engineering, and later enroll in a masters program for project management or sign up for specialized arctic engineering classes. Although this may seem to be a novel approach to career readiness and education, consultant and business advisor David Eisenberg says history is repeating itself: “Prior to the divestiture of AT&T (mandated in 1982), for example, workforce development provided by the Bell System was second-to-none in the technology sector. There was a highly-structured educational system within the Bell companies which coupled all manner of training — technical, supervisory, cultural, etc. — with specific experiential tracks to build the employee bench and future leadership. “It was well accepted that individuals with this sort of Bell System training were as well prepared for workplace advancement as university graduates at the time.” Preparedness for the workplace is a growing challenge for universities. “Hiring decisions are still made based on a degree, but we’re simultaneously hearing employers from all sectors tell us that they see a lack of ‘career-spanning’ skills from university graduates,” says Bell. Bill Popp, president and CEO of the Anchorage Economic Development Corp., agrees, noting that he often hears complaints from businesses regarding the lack of available qualified workforce. “It’s one of the biggest barriers cited in our business confidence survey,” he said. “Employers aren’t finding the skilled and professional workforce they want to hire. Quality of entry level workforce is also an issue.” Of survey respondents, 59 percent said that the availability of professional and technical workforce was a barrier to business growth Skill gaps include a combination of critical thinking, critical communication, problem identification and problem solving, and increasingly a range of interpersonal skills, sometimes called “soft skills.” This spans leadership, teamwork, and networking as well as timeliness, engaging with customers, and performing to one’s highest ability.  Bell says that although universities can encourage soft skills through class presentations, internships, and work preparedness seminars, the best way for students to obtain them is through applied work environments. She sees an opportunity for economic developers to bridge between universities and employers, explaining, “Universities are going to need to incorporate more interdisciplinary and experiential learning experiences into the traditional academic curriculum.” Economic developers are already making progress in this direction. In Anchorage, AEDC recently released the Internship Playbook to help companies establish and enhance internship programs through sharing best practices, foundational information, program structures, policies and procedures. Popp explains, “Internships can be an amazing asset for any size company, as well as any job seeker looking to get an edge in their search for employment. Done right, internship programs can be a great source of new talent both for the company and the community.” Students can also look to professional associations to grow their networks and their skills. The Alaska chapters of both the American Marketing Association and the Public Relations Society of America offer low cost student memberships and deeply discounted training opportunities, and the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce’s Young Professionals Group provides leadership and networking opportunities for Alaskans ages 21 to 39. Further, a group of professionals is exploring the launch of a Code School to train Alaskans in the basics of computer science, an increasingly sought-after area of knowledge. Internships and other training opportunities outside the classroom not only build critical skills, they also distinguish applicants during the hiring process. “I used to scan resumes looking for the ‘black sheep’ — someone with unique training and experience that stands out from the rest of the flock,” says Eisenberg. “My most valuable employees were those who had a variety of unusual experiences or interests or had taken what seemed to be a somewhat eccentric career path. They tended to demonstrate — through action — a willingness to take risks, make mid-course corrections (if necessary), and satisfy a thirst for continuous learning and self-development.” For qualified job seekers, there’s no shortage of job opportunities. According to AEDC, there were 31,000 jobs posted, representing more than 700 occupations at 4,800 employers during 2017 in Anchorage alone. Chertkow says that a combination of academic and service industry experience make her feel well-prepared for both graduate school and her future career. “My undergraduate research projects taught me project management, follow through, and team-collaboration while my jobs in retail and food service taught me customer service skills.” Gretchen Fauske is marketing-minded economic developer fueled by a passion for entrepreneurship, innovation, and small business. As the associate director for the University of Alaska Center for Economic Development she is responsible for leading the entrepreneurship, marketing, and outreach efforts of CED as well as providing strategic leadership for both CED and the UAA Business Enterprise Institute.

Economic development in Alaska: taking stock of our opportunities

Jeff Stepp thinks Alaska is at an inflection point: “It’s a pivotal time in Alaska’s history and economy because of the confluence of the loss of federal earmarks and the decline of the price of oil, which contributed greatly to our economy during the last 40 or 50 years.” Stepp, the Economic Development Coordinator for the Fairbanks North Star Borough, doesn’t like seeing empty buildings in his community. He’s not alone; with “pivotal times” comes a hefty dose of discomfort… and opportunity. Amidst Alaska’s recession, economic developers across the state are working to course correct from a reliance on the aforementioned federal earmarks and oil revenues to a more balanced, resilient economy. Taking advantage of our unique geography, human capital, and the transformation of our existing industries just might propel us into an economically vibrant future. A transformation of this depth and breadth won’t be easy; along with a stubborn hope that climbing oil prices will solve our state budget woes, many are quick to bemoan challenges of doing business in Alaska. Economic developers often site the high costs of energy, real estate, and labor; limited infrastructure; a small population; and distance from markets as barriers. But after acknowledging our limitations, the conversation turns from challenges to opportunities, and that’s when it gets interesting. Brigadier General Billy Mitchell once remarked that “Alaska is the most strategic place on earth.” Britteny Cioni-Haywood, director of the State of Alaska Division of Economic Development, notes that “our geographical location is becoming more and more of an advantage as we move into a global economy.” Boasting the fifth largest cargo airport in the world and already an important stop for intercontinental shipping, the emerging Northern Sea Route and the Northwest Passage will make Alaska an even more valuable player in the transportation of goods. Economic development is a program, group of policies, or activity that seeks to improve the economic wellbeing and quality of life for a community, by creating and/or retaining jobs that facilitate growth and provide a stable tax base. — International Economic Development Council Two squadrons of the fifth-generation fighter jet F-35 will be arriving at Eielson Air Force Base in 2020. (AP Photo/U.S. Air Force, Senior Airman Julianne Showalter) Alaska’s location also makes it a critical component in the United States’ global defense framework. In a recent issue of Military Review, U.S. Army Colonel Michael J. Forsyth wrote that Alaska “is singularly closer to many national capitals in the hemisphere than most points in the lower forty-eight states. This makes Alaska the perfect power projection platform for the United States from a military standpoint.” Alaskans have seen increased military investment in our state during the last few years, most recently from the 2018 appropriation of $168.9 million for construction projects at Eielson Air Force Base in preparation for two squadrons of F-35 Lightning II aircraft arriving in 2020. Military investment can reach further than the infusion of cash into the state; with increasing engagement in the innovation economy, Stepp says that there is “tremendous potential for vibrant partnership between the military, municipalities, universities, and businesses.” He points to the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio as an leader in using research and development to leverage innovation; events like Dayton’s “Commercialization Catalyst” feature presentations about Air Force Research Laboratory technologies that are candidates for entrepreneurs to bring to commercial markets. Following this model, or one like it, would accelerate the creation of scalable startups in state. Alaska's human capital is an important part of the state's economic future. (Photo/University of Alaska Center for Economic Development) Alaska is ripe for this type of strategic approach; an often overlooked “natural resource” is our people. Nolan Klouda, Executive Director for the University of Alaska Center for Economic Development, is the lead author of the Emerging Sector Series, which assesses and defines the growth potential of economic sectors. He sees an overlooked knowledge economy in Alaska: “We’re home to a sizable professional services workforce. These are the engineers, consultants, and other specialists who possess rare knowledge in fields like renewable energy or aviation. But we have relatively few companies working on a new product or piece of software that could scale. If that valuable knowledge could be funneled in an entrepreneurial direction, we could see a new generation of high growth companies.” Klouda thinks this could mean new industries in the state that would hire Alaskans. Our knowledge workers largely came into existence performing services for the resource sector and, just as they are poised to innovate, so too are the industries they hail from. Alaskan companies can be leaders in identifying or improving upon new technologies, markets, partnerships, and ways of doing business. “Alaska’s traditional industries require smart, skilled people in order to function. And that skillset will help propel us into the global knowledge economy,” says Klouda. As we capitalize on new opportunities, we must also strengthen our existing visitor industry and support responsible development of our natural resources. This will lead to economic growth and new state revenues. Cioni-Haywood points out that to maximize our resource wealth we need to transition from predominantly extraction to value-added resource development. This means activities like refining more of our own fuel or processing salmon into high-value products rather than shipping whole. Back to Stepp, and those empty buildings: “I also see an opportunity for a new business, a new entrepreneur, a new idea to fill that space. We have to be sure that we are using all of the available economic development tools – from education and workforce development to best practices to investment and incentives – to transition to a prosperous future for the next generation of Alaskans.” During this pivotal time “as a state, as a community, we need to be more scrappy and resourceful to keep our economy afloat.” It’s time to get scrappy, Alaska. Our future depends on it, and opportunity awaits. Gretchen Fauske is marketing-minded economic developer fueled by a passion for entrepreneurship, innovation, and small business. As the associate director for the University of Alaska Center for Economic Development she is responsible for leading the entrepreneurship, marketing, and outreach efforts of CED as well as providing strategic leadership for both CED and the UAA Business Enterprise Institute.
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