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The Sitka Conservation Society and the Sitka Economic Development Association might seem like strange bedfellows to anyone but Haley Sample. She works for both.
Sample arrived in June, one of several current and former students brought to town by the Sitka Conservation Society. She says she was immediately singled out as a little different.
“You know when I arrived I went to a city council meeting and one of the reporters came up and said ‘So, you’re the Republican of the group.’ And that’s been our framework: If you support economic development you’re on this side, if you support the environment you’re on that side. So, it’s reevaluating that position and seeing that those can be mutually beneficial, and that we should both be preserving our beautiful Sitka environment as well as promoting our local economic development.”
Sample has a master’s degree in Public Policy and Sustainable Development from the University of Oregon. She most recently has been a policy analyst for the Washington Low-Income Housing Alliance.
Sample says she knows Sitka in the past has been polarized. And although she hasn’t spent much time here, she thinks there’s some movement toward smoothing over those old divisions.
“I really see a renewed energy to merge those two together. I’ve talked to different city officials, different assembly members, and community members so far, and there’s really this thought process of ‘How do we protect our environment while being able to benefit from it?’ Because that’s really our competitive advantage in Sitka, the natural resources.”
Garry White, the executive director of the Sitka Economic Development Association, confirms that view.
“A job’s a job. Whether it is created restoring the forest or taking timber from the forest. It’s a job either way. Our task is to help create jobs and a business environment in Sitka. We try to play with the cards that are dealt to us, with the end goal of job creation.”
White says SEDA is looking for ways to create local investment in Sitka. He calls it “sustainable capital flow.” He thinks if a mechanism is built, the money will come.
“For instance putting our 401Ks and mutual funds in New York City somewhere, maybe we can figure out how we can invest in our own community, keep that money here, and build community – for us locally – rather than always looking for the highest returns.”
Sample says she’ll be trying to plug the gap between traditional lending provided by five local banks, and entrepreneurs who may not be loan-worthy in the traditional sense. Over the course of the summer she plans to collect information in a blog, as well as steer people to resources that are already in place. One of her favorites so far is the Alaska Small Business Development Center in Juneau.
Her goal, Sample says tongue-in-cheek, is to leave Sitka “with a big pile of money.” In reality, it may be pointing out examples of sustainable capital flow in other communities that have started this transition.
“My end goal right now is to figure out what’s going on in Sitka. And now I’m going outside the community and looking at what other communities are doing. I’m doing a case-study analysis, and interviewing, and coming up with a set of recommendations or best practices that Sitka can use to move forward to bring in this new era of sustainable development.”