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“We have green, clean hydro power, and we have pretty good rates. That’s an asset. We’ve got Gig-E bandwidth (Gigabit Ethernet), we’ve got two telecommunications companies in town. We’ve got some financial incentives: we’re in a HUBZone – that gives us preferred status for federal contracting. We’ve got no state income tax and we’ve got low property tax in our community. Further assets are transportation – you don’t have to drive a bunch. Everyone complains about driving out to the mill site which is five miles, not that big of a deal compared to other places where you’re driving forty-five minutes to an hour to work. We’ve got daily jet service, we’re right on the Great Circle route for access to the Pacific Rim, we’ve got Prince Rupert right below us, and we have deepwater ocean access – we’ve just got to pave that driveway and we’ll have access to that. We’ve got plenty of water, we’re one of the highest-ranked seafood ports in the nation, we’ve got an emerging second-growth timber industry that can come online, and of course the industrial park is a big asset for us out the road. And here’s the top one: superb quality of life. Obviously everybody knows that who lives here. It’s beautiful, there’s a well-established trail network. We’ve been recognized as an exceptional place to work, live, and play in a number of publications. We’ve got two hospitals, four banks, a credit union. We have a high graduation rate, the universities, and Mt. Edgecumbe. Those are all assets to our community that will help bring people here.”

The downside for business growth in Sitka is expense. White said that the nature of an island economy limited the number of times money could circulate in the community before it was spent on a commodity from the outside. White said every new dollar of revenue in the community was multiplied one-and-a-half times, which he considered low.

“The reason that we’re low is that we export everything that we make and import everything we consume.”

White said the ways to raise the economic multiplier was to create high-wage, residential jobs, and to develop the service industry to keep money in town longer.

White cited the high cost of housing and transportation as two factors putting negative pressure on twenty-somethings and young families in Sitka. According to a recent McDowell Group study, the cost of living in Sitka in the last five years has grown at higher rate than any other part of the state except for the Aleutians.

White displayed a graph of population demographics that showed a definite dip in a key group.

 “Sitka is losing population, Sitka is losing population in the schools. And we’re seeing an increase of elderly people. So what’s happening is we’re losing our families, we’re losing our family-wage jobs, and we’re losing what holds the community together. And this (graph) shows… Where are the twenty-year-olds?”

White remained optimistic, nonetheless. The $100-million Blue Lake hydro expansion is expected to create a lot of high-paying jobs in the short term. The proposed construction of a deepwater bulkhead at Sawmill Cove to accommodate the movement of materials for that project would also support job growth.

White was cool on water sales, which have received some national attention lately. Sitka has a couple of contracts in place which reserve the right to sell bulk water. They earn the city about $100,000 a year. But White said the market for bulk water remains in limbo.

He was much more excited about fish meal. White said that as many as four entrepreneurs were currently negotiating with local seafood plants for the opportunity to process and market fish meal. With pressure from the state Department of Environmental Conservation to end the discharge of fish waste into the Sitka channel, White anticipated that there could be a fish meal plant operating as soon as 2012.