Local News

Chamber, SEDA forums examine economy, explore ideas

In what’s become a ritual of spring, members of the business community in Sitka will be gathering on two occasions this month to examine the local economy.

In the first, the Sitka Chamber of Commerce will hold an economic summit on Wednesday afternoon, April 11, to hear presentations from a panel of Sitka’s major industries.

In the second, on Tuesday April 17, the Sitka Economic Development Association will host a public forum to develop ideas to improve Sitka’s economy.

Chamber director Jennifer Robinson has invited representatives from the charter industry, the City of Sitka, commercial fishing, the schools, health care, retail, and the visitor industry to give five-minute overviews of their respective areas. She says her panelists were surprisingly receptive to the idea.

“I’ve had very good response. People were very willing to come forward and talk about where they see us as being at. I was really surprised at how easy it was to get people to speak. People have been really positive.”

Robinson says a lot of the country is having a hard time, and the economy is “pretty important.” But her panelists are concerned about more than numbers.

“To me it also speaks to how much people care about Sitka.”

Robinson looks at the summit as a listening session, laying the foundation for future discussion. Audience members at the summit will have limited opportunity to interact with the panelists on Wednesday afternoon. Not so next week at SEDA’s economic forum.

SEDA director Garry White says the Sitka Economic Development Association, the Sawmill Cove Industrial Park, and the city – all have strategic plans. White says the economic forum is a chance to look outside those plans.

“You know there are some good ideas that are out there in the community, and we’d like to hear those, and to try to see what other ideas there are to bring in more money to the community and improve the quality of life.”

White says he’s drawn inspiration from the success of the Sitka Health Summit – and even consulted that event’s planners for tips. The Health Summit is noted for turning ideas into action, with broad-based support.

White says economic development requires the same sort of champions.

“It’s really going to take a community to create jobs. The SEDA board can’t create many jobs. We can advocate for infrastructure and policies that bring in those jobs, but real entrepreneurs have to create those. And we’re hoping that if we get this dialog going, people are going to come in, and they’re going to realize what they’ve got to do in this community to bring more jobs in.”

White says the goal is to have some action items at the end of the meeting.

Sitka’s economy is not all gloom-and-doom. Fish abundance and prices have been relatively strong, the Forest Service is developing restoration and second-growth timber markets, a fine arts campus is on the rebound, and cruise ship tourism – though low – may have bottomed-out.

White says the forum is not necessarily about reinventing Sitka’s economy, but developing its assets.

“Our economy’s been very diverse, and we’ve been very lucky. When you look at other communities around the state they’re 100-percent fishing, or 100-percent tourism, or they’re 100-percent something else. We have that diversity: fishing, tourism, health care, education. We have a bunch of different sectors that can help balance us if one is down. The goal of this is to strengthen what we have, and to look at other opportunities we can achieve off the assets we have available to us.”

The Sitka Economic Forum will convene from 1:30 to 5:30 PM next Tuesday, April 17 in Harrigan Centennial Hall. The Sitka Economic Forum will be Wednesday April 11, from 4 to 6 PM, also in Harrigan Centennial Hall.

The public is encouraged to attend both events.

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