- Associated Press - Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Here is a sampling of Alaska editorials in the last week:

Oct. 3, 2017

Ketchikan Daily News: Southeast by the numbers

Measuring the regionwide economic health of Southeast Alaska isn’t easy.

The region is large, while its communities are small and dispersed. Despite the potential difficulty in compiling data, Rain Coast Data recently issued its “Southeast Alaska by the Numbers 2017” for Southeast Conference.



The report’s detailed overview is informative reading for anyone interested in trying to understand the health and general direction of Southeast Alaska’s economy during the 2014-16 timeframe.

We’re not economists or social scientists, so we’ll leave attempts at full interpretation to those who are more qualified. Still, the report is gracioulsy geared to the layperson, and some of its elements stand out as particularly noteworthy.

One aspect of interest is a marked change in demographics.

While Southeast Alaska’s population declined by just 1 percent to about 73,800, the number of individuals aged 65 and older grew by 10 percent - about 900 people - to approximately 10,140. The “20-something” and under age 5 categories declined by 6 percent and 5 percent, respectively. Meanwhile, the number of people in their 40s has declined by 16 percent (1,700 people) since 2010, according to the report.

Clearly, Southeast Alaska’s overall population is aging. As the report notes, “27 percent of all adults in the region are over the age of 60, a percentage that is growing.”

The report doesn’t go into deep demographic detail for individual communities, but does give overall population figures.

The Ketchikan Gateway Borough lost 1 percent of its population during the 2014-16 timeframe, ending at 13,758 people, according to the report. Craig dropped 9 percent to 1,102, yet substantial increases were seen in Prince of Wales Island communities such as Kasaan (19 percent), Coffman Cove (16 percent) and Hollis (20 percent).

Regarding economic sectors, the 2014-16 period saw the visitor industry surpass the seafood industry as the “most important private sector industry in the region,” according to the report.

The visitor industry in 2016 tallied 7,752 jobs with total wages/earnings of $229.4 million, increases of 12 percent and 22 percent, respectively. Seafood saw 3,854 jobs and employment earnings of $209.7 million during 2016, declines of 12 percent and 19 percent, respectively.

Southeast Alaska’s total workforce declined by just 1 percent to about 45,260 during that time period, yet total employment earnings rose slightly to about $2.17 billion.

A substantial change shown in the employment data is specific to state employment, which dropped by 10 percent - about 565 jobs. Although the dip in state employment fueled the 4 percent drop in total government employment, the total payroll for federal, state, municipal and tribal governments increased 1 percent to $771 million in 2016.

Other economic sectors covered in the report include the “private maritime economy plus U.S. Coast Guard employment” and health care.

Maritime economy employment declined by 6 percent to about 6,380 jobs, and the sector wages dropped 10 percent to about $354 million. Health care employment rose by 1 percent to about 3,340 jobs, while health care wages increased 8 percent to about $189 million.

As noted earlier, we’d be hard pressed to provide an accurate summary of what the individual details might mean for Southeast Alaska and its economic future. The report’s own economic outlook, which is based on surveys of businesses throughout the region, is colored heavily by the specific sector and geographic area that a business operates in. A timber industry participant is foreseeing further declines, for example, while the financial and visitor industry are forecasting brighter futures.

While there isn’t much specific information regarding Ketchikan in the general report, it continues to be our belief that Ketchikan itself is blessed with a relatively diverse economic base and strong local infrastructure.

This is a community that doesn’t take much for granted. It continues to plan ahead, work for investment for infrastructure, and to maintain quality services while evolving with the regional and world. Many people here work hard to build their businesses and do a great job, whatever sector they’re in.

With these attributes and others, we see Ketchikan in a good position to continue as a strong economic presence in Southeast Alaska.

___

Sept. 30, 2017

Fairbanks Daily News-Miner: Get your ideas together for improving the Fairbanks city center

Downtown Fairbanks has seen a lot of improvement in the past 20 years. It’s cleaner, seems relatively safe, appears more inviting and is brighter in the fall and winter. The effort by so many people over those long years has indeed born success.

But, as always, there’s more to do. A city’s downtown should be forever in a state of transformation. It’s how you keep people coming back after you’ve gotten them interested.

With that in mind, it’s good to see a process underway for developing a new plan for the city center. Fairbanks North Star Borough Mayor Karl Kassel earlier this year put together a group of 10 people to help with the plan, and community meetings are a part of the program.

The idea at the moment is to determine what type of downtown people want. That in itself is significant task.

The first of the public meetings was held Wednesday and was the first public part of what is to be a year-long effort. Planners from the borough and from the city of Fairbanks attended to provide advice and answer questions. Government officials, members of commissions and business and visitor organizations were invited with the aim of getting ideas on such subjects as transportation, housing, commerce, culture and the natural environment.

It’s been a few years since the last downtown plan, Vision Fairbanks, fell apart. The Borough Assembly rejected the plan’s recommended new zoning classifications in 2011. Residents and businesses disagreed with several other components of the plan, too, such as changing one-way streets to two-way streets and putting a traffic roundabout in downtown.

The assembly repealed the full Vision Fairbanks plan in July. Now we’re on to the new approach.

The borough government is taking the lead on this because it has authority on matters of community planning and zoning. But the drive for a new downtown plan does, so far, have the support of city Mayor Jim Matherly.

Downtown Fairbanks is a location that should be inviting year-round, even on those -40 below days of January. Making it a desired destination, in whatever season, should be a continual process. Fortunately for Fairbanks, this community has plenty of people up to the task.

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