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.