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Alaskanomics's Blog: Resource Development Council Conference Day 1


Posted: 26 Nov 2013 09:11 AM PST


The Resource Development Council recently hosted its 34th Annual Alaska Resources conference. Attendees were treated to two full days of speakers and the chance to network with friends and colleagues. Neal Fried, Economist with the Department of Labor, started off the morning with a review of the past few years before speaking to the trends that he expects to see in 2014. Five years after the recession, Alaska is third in the nation for job gains; behind only North Dakota and Texas. Since late 2008, Alaska’s unemployment rate has been below the national average. Fried continued by outlining highs and lows in each of the industry areas. Employment in Alaska’s timber industry has been at a low level since 2009 and is looking for growth.  Going the other direction, mining has more than doubled since 2002. Fishing has seen nice growth in both processing and harvesting. Even with the decline in oil production, there has been steady growth in jobs since 2004. In the past decade, Alaska has seen a 12% increase in all employment.

The morning session continued with an industry update from oil and gas, fisheries, forestry, mining and tourism. Each presenter gave an outlook on what had happened in 2013 and what was on tap for the coming year. Kara Moriarty with the Alaska Oil and Gas Association noted that Cook Inlet was making a comeback and had grown by 38% from 2012 to 2013. The next step is to bring offshore production online and to realize the full potential of offshore drilling for Alaska and the nation’s economy. Moriarty concluded her portion by outlining the issue facing voters in the August 2014 primary election. The oil tax referendum is a threat to Alaska’s economy. She asked attendees to stand united against the referendum and not only vote ‘No’ on 1, but educate others as to the harmful nature of returning Alaska to a failed tax system.

Greg Baker, CEO of Westward Fishing Company gave his update on the fishing industry in Alaska. The management of fisheries in Alaska is a world recognized model of sustainability. 60% of America’s commercial seafood is harvested off Alaska. The fishing industry has been strong in the recent past and will continue because of the work done to sustain the resource, while still being profitable.

Shelly Wright, Executive Director of the Southeast Conference, shed light on the forestry industry. While timber has not been strong in the recent years, the total harvest hasn’t dropped from year to year. A challenge to the timber industry is that the federal government owns nearly 95% of the forest land, 80% of that is the Tongass National Forest.

Karen Matthias, Executive Director of the Council of Alaska Producers, discussed the status of mining in Alaska. While the controversy with the Pebble Project gets much of the attention regarding mining in Alaska, Matthias highlighted the 6 producing mines throughout the state. Red Dog, Fort Knox, Usibelli, Pogo, Kensington and Greens Creek are all currently in production stages and contribute to the 4,800 direct mining jobs in Alaska. There are 8 projects that are currently in advanced exploration stages and look to increase mining employment if they are able to move forward. There are many challenges to the mining industry including the uncertain investment climate, the overreach of the federal government in permitting and public perception. Each of these areas makes it difficult for producers to move forward with mines that are still in exploration phases.

Ralph Samuels of Holland America Line rounded out the group with an update on the tourism industry. He stated that 2013 was a good year for tourism and 2014 was looking to be another good year. Tourism not only brings visitors to the state, but it also promotes local products in hopes that travelers will share their experiences and products with family and friends. An exciting project that is in the works is the South Denali Visitor Center. This project is located at mile 135 of the Parks Highway and will be another stopping point for visitors and residents to enjoy interior Alaska. Phase 1 of the project should be completed by fall 2014 and will include construction of an access road, six miles of interpretive trails, and a campground. Phase 2 will include a push to Curry Ridge and will build a visitor center.

Each industry representative shared recent successes and challenges and were hopeful for the coming year. Throughout the conference, speakers encouraged attendees to take an active role in resource development outreach. As the ranking members of the committee, Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) discussed the work being done in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources committee. Both shared a mutual admiration for the bipartisan work being done to strengthen the nation’s resource industry and promised that the work would continue.

For the full presentations from each of the first day’s speakers, please visit http://www.akrdc.org/membership/events/conference/2013/presentations/

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