Is AEDC the emperor who has no clothes? Does the mainstream media care? - Must Read Alaska
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Tuesday, April 7, 2020
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Is AEDC the emperor who has no clothes? Does the mainstream media care?

MEDIA GOES AFTER DUNLEAVY TEAM, IGNORES AGENCY THAT WAS SUPPOSED TO GROW THE ECONOMY

The Anchorage Economic Development Corp. produces a luncheon twice a year, in which the organization presents an economic look-back and forecast for the region, a report produced under contract by the McDowell Group, with the AEDC logo slapped on it.

Beyond that, the AEDC is not much more than an announcer at events and pronouncer of things. Its president since 2007, Bill Popp, is much like Punxsutawney Phil, who comes out once or twice a year to say whether the recession will end early or late.

While the mainstream media and bloggers have focused on their narrative over a brand-new economic development team headed by Gov. Mike Dunleavy, none has taken a critical look at the 33-year-old economic development agency that does lunch and puts out Facebook posts.

Last summer, Popp pronounced that Anchorage was in for a long recession due to massive state budget cuts. He railed against Dunleavy. The recession would last another three years, Popp said. He forecasted a net loss of 700 jobs in 2019 year in Anchorage and a thousand in 2020.

It was a reversal from his previous utterance, when months earlier he pronounced the economic recession effectively over in January of 2019. That was before he saw the governor’s budget, which made deep cuts in programs.

For Popp, the sky was falling. And the only way forward was to reverse the budget cuts.

This year, his January report shows Anchorage lost 300 jobs in 2019. And he forecasts 100 more jobs will be added in 2020.

A visit to the agency’s website shows that the group has fallen into disrepair from its own neglect. The website, which is the portal for people from outside the state who want to learn more about Anchorage economic opportunities, is rife with broken links and canned paragraphs that pump how well Anchorage has weathered the terrible national economy.

It wasn’t always like this. When founded in 1987 during the big recession in Alaska, it quickly helped bring cargo flights through Anchorage and helped clear the way for the Alyeska Resort. That was under the leadership of the late Scott Hawkins.

But it has been years since AEDC produced anything but glossy reports.

Has AEDC become a metaphor for the Anchorage economic scene — a nonprofit that skims funds from businesses and government to survive, and yet has no real deliverables other than contracting for reports and putting up Facebook posts to compliment others for their work?

Similar to the Downtown Community Development Authority, run by Andrew Halcro on behalf of Mayor Ethan Berkowitz, AEDC appears to have set the bar low for itself, lacking targets and milestones that one would expect to see in a pro-business enterprise.

And yet, the AEDC budget shows that Popp earns $168,000 a year, that overall payroll is about $700,000, and that the agency’s budget comes from government grants, membership, and an “other” category, which is a kickback from utilities paid for by Anchorage rate-payers. The budget for AEDC is $1.68 million.

GOVERNOR’S TEAM HAS A DIFFERENT APPROACH

Pivot to the newly launched Alaska Development Team, a creation by Gov. Mike Dunleavy, reportable to Dunleavy, and headed up by a young businessman whom he trusts named Clark Penney.

The Democrats and their media have had a field day in recent weeks implying it’s improper for the governor to contract with a trusted ally. And yet, in eight short months, the Penney-coordinated team has been working on breaking down barriers to business and actually has some promising new industries in the works:

They’re working on expanding mariculture across coastal Alaska from Kodiak to Ketchikan through a combination of working with coastal communities and lifting regulatory barriers at DNR for things like oyster farms and kelp farms.

The team was at the center of a timber deal in the Mat-Su that opened up 11,000 acres of beetle-damaged timber for the next decade. The timber is on state land, and the team was able to bring in the State Forester and move that timber sale along before fire season gets here.

They’ve been working to develop rare earth minerals from Nome to Bokan Mountain in Southeast. Through their efforts and with help from Texas, they had mining added to eligible projects for the Fixing America Surface Transportation Act.

Alaskans can look to the Alaska Development Team for upcoming improvements at the Anchorage International Airport that will lead to more cargo. The cold storage cargo enterprise at the airport is finalizing its lease agreements, and may break ground this summer. It will bring 200-300 direct jobs year-round. The Alaska Development Team had an important role in convening those conversations.

Business development is a long game. It can’t perform magic overnight and a lot of business is done around a small table in the “small conference room” of a company.

But at least it looks like the State of Alaska has the right team in place to bring some big deals over the goal line — deals that appear to involve diverse businesses that are not oil and gas.

Consumers of mainstream media are reading a lot about how Clark Penney has an $8,000-per-month contract to be that business development leader for Dunleavy. The media and left-wing bloggers like to do the math — over four years that would be $384,000 plus expenses for Penney. That’s more than the average reporter makes, and it seems like a lot to some.

Democrat lawmakers have said they want to see that contract put out to the lowest bidder and that’s a narrative the mainstream media has been quick to report.

The ADT group’s website is not yet launched, but its members are out in the field and on the phone, trying to stir up the economy in Alaska. Time will tell if it’s a good value for Alaska, but at least the new group is accomplishing more than published reports and doing lunch.

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Suzanne Downing had careers in business and journalism before serving as the Director of Faith and Community-based Initiatives for Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and returning to Alaska to serve as speechwriter for Gov. Sean Parnell. Born on the Oregon coast, she moved to Alaska in 1969.

Latest comments

  • Excellent article…

    • Suzanne’s writing skills make the Cole’s pieces look like 7th grade drivel. Outstanding essay!

  • Blah blah blah…great ideas like the Susitna River Dam, the Bridge to Nowhere, and the Anchorage Fish Plant etc., etc., etc.
    Hasn’t anyone told you the state has no money? Why would anyone want to come here where there is no viable university, no viable K-12 educational system, and nothing resembling a cultural environment when they can go to places like…well, Texas, or Oklahoma, or Massachusetts, where they have world-class universities and music and painting and all the stuff that makes living in a place worthwhile.
    Here we are talking about logging camps and strip mines and oil fields.
    Wonder why there’s a brain drain? Look around.

    • Define brain and drain, please.

      The K-12 system is broken by a strange adherence to Common Core standards at the state level (something that came from some enlightened brain trust). That’s getting fixed.

      For music, culture, and the like, we have plenty. But most of us would prefer to listen to salmon fighting at the end of our lines or a snowmachine pushing up a hill than sit in a stodgy auditorium where some sanctimonious musician gives us yet another opinion we didn’t pay for.

      The university can stay, as long as it pays its own way. But that’s the trouble, isn’t it? It produces something nobody is buying, and yet the State pumps in enough money they could pay full-ride scholarships to U.C. Berkeley for every graduate. Alas, we don’t. We pump more fiscal life blood into the leach farm just so we can say we have a university (and well-fed leaches).

      I hear Texas is nice this time of year and lots of Californians are moving there (bringing their ideas with them). In a few years it might be blue enough for you 🙂

    • Perhaps you need to get out a little more Greg….The Susitna Hydro Project could have changed the lives of all Alaskans for the better, especially those living in its interior, I don’t know much about the bridge to no where but both the Turnagain arm and Knik arm should have have crossing long ago and will some day have them and a fish plant in Anchorage idea when away long ago and our University system shot itself in the foot….and the unions have run the K-12 school into the ditch as well….but Alaska has it all and we may have a few tough days ahead for for factions of our State but together we will get it all moving in the right directions again. Hang in there spring is just around the corner.

      • The bridge to nowhere. The Airport Ferry hauls more passenger trips than the entire AMHS. Some 40,000 +/month during the summer months.. To an airport that has a minimum of a dozen 737 landings a day plus numerous other scheduled and unscheduled aircraft. Not to mention the weekly medivacs. And it might surprise you to know that the maintenance costs of a bridge over it’s 75 yr. lifespan is much cheaper than building and maintaining ferries and the related infrastructure.

    • Maybe you should leave since you are so negative about Alaska.The fish plant was a great idea except the labor cost wasn’t examined close enough. But guess what, those raw Alaska fish products are going to China where they are being processed into market ready items and being sold around the world.

    • Greg, i’m worried about you.

    • When I moved back to Alaska 20 years ago I was invited to a memorial potlatch. It was something wonderful that I had never seen before in person. It certainly resembled a cultural environment.

    • Greg oh Greg. Where oh where has your mind gone? Think about the circle of life. I know that’s deep. Think about the circle of life in a financial sense. Now read and re-read what you wrote.

    • Wow. You’re kind of in a bad spot. We do have those freaks reading to our kids in the public library. I bet Oklahoma doesn’t have that.

    • The life’s work of Bob DeArmond stands out as a testament to preserving the culture of Alaska (and I’m sure Dale also had a lot to do with it). Suzanne mentioned some while back that her father was once editor of the Alaska Blue Book published by the Alaska State Library, where DeArmond spent a significant portion of his career. Buried in the pages of one edition of the Blue Book is mention of the battle between ASL and NARA over the physical custody of historical source material related to Alaska. So what happened? NARA opened and subsequently closed an Anchorage facility and is now attempting to close its Seattle facility, moving the material even further away from Alaska. NARA aside, the present slippery slope of losing our history began in 2007 when Sheldon Jackson College closed and the holdings of Stratton Library were scattered hither and yon. Other libraries have closed or have been shorted on funding, often with the justification that the Internet will tell you everything you need to know. Go to Wikipedia and tell me what you find about important topics in Alaska history and culture such as Jesse Carr, Joann & Monte, Anchorage Baptist Temple, the 1978 Iditarod, the 12th State Legislature, the prosecution and trial of Lew Dischner and Carl Mathisen, and so forth. Instead, you will find information about climate change in Alaska ad nauseum, not to mention such drivel as the notion of a cat serving as mayor of Talkeetna for 20 years or how Jim Matherly’s entire life revolves around vetoing a particular ordinance. Why is the loss of our history happening? The professionals are standing around expecting a paycheck before they’ll do anything, all the while collecting their retirement check. Plenty of amateurs are attempting to save Alaska’s history on their own. The Terrence Coles of the world taunt those folks with a variation of the childhood game known as “whip out your curriculum vitae and I’ll whip out mine”. But really, who cares, right? I hear Ozzy Osbourne is touring again this year and I’m sure more people believe that to be high culture than what I just spoke of.

  • Thanks for putting this together for our consumption….I am reminded Paul Harvey said “Growth is the process of responding positively to change” and “I have never a seen a monument erected to a pessimist.”

  • Here is a great development project:
    End the Dividend.
    Take that $1-2 Billion a year and eliminate the annual budget deficit.
    Doing so will restore our once solid AAA credit rating to boot.
    Pay off the $1 Billion owed to the small oil companies.It might stimulate commerce.
    Fund a real capital budget on worthwhile projects and deferred maintenance.
    Start reimbursing the CBR to build a sufficient reserve fund for true emergencies and exigent circumstances (like a pandemic for example).
    I would sugar-coat the End of the Dividend by making the final check this year $3000. That will provide a buffer for Alaskans to adjust.
    By doing so maybe thousands of Alaskans will choose to leave the State if no 2021 Dividend. In my view that is a good thing.
    For those that are really on limited means such as the rural areas we need to strengthen our actual social welfare system for those truly in need.
    AFTER we have done all that – I would support the old “School Tax” (which wasn’t specifically for schools but it did defray the cost of the ambitious constitutional goal of providing an education to every child.) It was paid by every employed worker: resident and non-resident.
    I have avoided talking about oil production taxes because I think everything I have stated needs to be done anyway – regardless of any ideas to increase oil taxes. Personally I need more information to make an informed opinion either way.

    • Might as well wrap it up with giving a blue ticket to any remaining loser that has a tent and ship them to Seattle, Portland, or San Francisco.

    • You’re not going to buy anyone off by throwing them a $3,000 milk bone and stealing the PFD forever. We’re going to have to come up with other revenues like a lottery and a sales tax. How these other states are managing just fine without so much as an income tax.

    • Chris- An excellent plan with one exception. No need to “sugar coat the final dividend”. Just eliminate it now.

  • Boosters boosting boosterism

  • According to LinkedIn, Mr. Popp is a high school graduate. At $168k per year, he has done well for himself. That said, he may be a metaphor for most of Alaska: Overpaid, under-skilled, over-hyped and under-achieving.

  • Sounds like Popp should be glad his generous budget didn’t get popped! And to think Democrats complain of a man who is getting things done for $8,000 a month while Popp is getting $14,000 per month to “maintain” a broken website and post on FB.

    I am beginning to believe that practically anything the Left blames the Right for doing is exactly what the Left is doing but in spades.

    Our recent Ukraine deal, for example – “The President is doing unethical things in Ukraine!!!” But pay no attention to the numerous Democrat leaders and their kids on Ukraine’s payroll.

    I won’t go on. But there seems to be a weekly example.

  • Mr. Popp has done very well for himself as have many in the Promised Land of “non-profits” in Alaska.

  • And China’s payroll. They were so used to doing dirty crooked illegal stuff because there was no checks and balances. Hillary got away with it and so did Obama. Now all of a sudden there’s a new sheriff in town and starts naming names and he’s the bad guy. The hypocrisy is crazy. but this is nothing new this is been going on since the beginning of our country, but they don’t teach you that stuff in school.

  • Take a look at the Fairbanks Economic Development Council next, please. Just a bunch of Dunleavy haters who want their govt. money!

  • State Treasury checks are almost as shiny (with that new check smell) as Federal Treasury checks. And that’s what it’s all about.

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