Twenty businesses and community organizations were invited to the daylong meeting. The morning included presentations from those groups, followed by an open discussion on the economy in the afternoon.

It was during that discussion that a number of suggestions were made on ways to improve the economy.

Among the ideas:

• Relocation of the ferry terminal to Baranof Warm Springs, with a road connecting Sitka to the eastern Baranof Island community.
• Setting up a land swap deal to move the marine freight companies to the Sawmill Cove Industrial Park, and putting a cruise ship dock at the current barge landing area along Halibut Point Road.
• Providing zoning changes that would help close deals on the Sheldon Jackson College property sooner rather than later. College trustee Gary Paxton says if it doesn’t happen in the next several months, the college might have to file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection.
• Develop affordable housing. The cost of living in Sitka, it was said during the meeting, can often make it hard for businesses to recruit employees.

The Assembly could not take action on any of the ideas on Saturday. And how soon any will be accomplished is unknown. Some are things the Assembly could consider doing right away. Others, like the possibility of a road across Baranof Island, are probably years, and maybe even decades, away from happening.

“I might not be alive when I say ‘Gee, I think it was successful,’ because a lot of this is going to take time,” Westover said. “With our dam expansion, we may need a new diesel plant to get through that, and a redundancy line, and a dock out at Sawmill Cove. I think Sawmill Cove hustling and bustling and more people coming to town with all aspects of the tourism business, and the businesses doing well downtown – that’s what I see as success.”

Westover says she called the roundtable because she feels not enough attention has been paid to the city’s economy. She says she sees wages stagnating while the cost of living continues to rise. Sales tax revenues have declined, which points to leaner times for the city’s retailers, many of whom depend on tourism traffic, which has also declined in recent years.

Many of Sitka’s larger employers were not at the table, including SEARHC, Sitka Community Hospital, the U.S. Coast Guard and the school district.

“It’s not that they’re excluded from our vision for our economy but it’s another roundtable,” Westover said.

Westover said she wanted Saturday’s event to focus largely on the private sector, with a few exceptions: the University of Alaska Southeast was there to talk about career training. The U.S. Forest Service, the Baranof Island Housing Authority, the Sitka Tribe of Alaska and USDA Rural Development were also represented. Those public entities, by and large, talked about the ways they could serve or assist private industry in Sitka.

Assembly member Mim McConnell said it was helpful to hear from the diverse group of participants.

“I think some better understandings were accomplished, of where people are at and what they’re thinking,” McConnell said. “And information is always good in a collaborative process, which is what we’re talking about here. That’s one of the first steps you need to have in this process, is inform. Everybody needs to be on the same page. We all need to have the same facts and if we have that then we can move forward in figuring out where we’re going to go next.”

In addition to McConnell and Westover, the other Assembly members in attendance were Phyllis Hackett and Pete Esquiro.
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