Mining initiative moves Alaska Forward
Alaska Forward has developed a strategy to enhance the state’s economic structure. These are called industry clusters, and a committee has just met in Anchorage to get its next one moving forward: that of the mining industry.
Industry clusters are sets of firms linked together by services, common customers, geographic areas, shared reliance on labor markets and other commonalities. They complement each other while remaining in competition and draw productive advantages from their mutual proximity.
The implementation committee just met in Anchorage to determine the path forward for its mining cluster, the latest one Alaska Forward is engaging. Within this are six action initiatives to be addressed.
Mike Satre, executive director for the Council of Alaska Producers, said the difficulty in mining clustering is that mines are spread out, but the work in support of the mining industry, such as those by private companies and the university, help establish the cluster.
“Mining being an important part of Alaska’s economy,” he said.
A large action initiative was for a workforce development plan to meet the state’s need for a sufficient mining workforce. The need for training students and workers and then keeping them in the state was a key factor. Training was deemed to be essential to provide these jobs to residents. The committee presented how additional mining classes could provide $35 million per year in Alaska wages.
Tactical issues for workforce development involve the construction of training plans and the need for instructors. One tactic would be a training center centrally located to mining activity and prospective employers. This would be a cost-effective way to make use of limited instructors. Specific task training and standard basic training to include preliminary federal programs would be needed.
The initiative takes workforce needs estimates into account. Such estimates for both mining construction and operations phases include 4,200 for Pebble, 4,000 for Donlin Gold, 900 for Niblack, 850 for Bokan Mountain, 2,400 for International Tower Hill, up to 350 for Chuitna and up to 125 for Wishbone Hill.
Funding remains the primary problem for workforce development training. Partnerships, such as those though the University of Alaska, will be needed to help overcome this. Other funding sources could include state and federal grants, contributions and even international support.
Other obstacles include lack of coordinated training, public perceptions on mining, Mine Safety and Health Administration regulations, geographic challenges and lack of industry focus.
In fact, public perception on mining is another cluster initiative. The purpose is to develop a statewide communication strategy to position mining as a leader in responsible resource development. The committee states that opposition to this stems from public misconceptions that mining must damage one resource to produce another.
An action plan would involve developing positive message and media, strategies to leverage initial messaging as a base for a focus on environmentally responsible mining and forming a speaker’s bureau with presentations in different regions.
A third initiative is to improve the communication in the mining network and create a collaborative environment for all tiers of industry, producers, explorers and independent mines. An action plan suggests using social media and a mining network.
A fourth initiative is to create a single comprehensive place-based website to encourage investment and development. This is to combat numerous websites that are deemed to be incomplete for Alaska’s mining industry. This would compose of both public and private sector phases.
The final two action initiatives for mining are potential infrastructure development plus research and development. The infrastructure’s objective is to encourage systematic and rational investments, both public and private, to deliver power and transportation to the mining industry. Better research is needed to help Alaska set a world-class example of mine engineering and expertise. This includes processes for ventilation, remediation and tailings. Research is also needed with a special emphasis on cold climate mining.
“I think that’s really what were focusing on is connecting or promoting mining interests and also looking at partnerships with the university in terms of creating some broader base support for the industry,” Satre said.
Now that the action initiatives are moving forward, Satre said the next step will be to look at the other industry clusters to examine any crosscutting measures and common ground.
“Really from here on out, the chairs, the co-chairs of the cluster group will work with the initiative champions to actually start moving forward on these various things,” he said.
Alaska Forward is part of the Alaska Partnership for Economic Development, whose goal is to engage the public and private sector with strategies to improve economic conditions across a variety of venues in the state. This is where clusters come in.
Brian Holst, executive director for the Juneau Economic Development Council, is part of the implementation committee. He said the ultimate result is to strengthen these industries in Alaska and to be more productive, which will increase innovation, productivity, employment and wages.
Holst said the clusters are a relatively new concept and only four have been engaged. Besides mining, this includes logistics, tourism and clean energy. These are many more clusters than this for Alaska’s industries.
Alaska Forward has several partners, such as the Denali Commission, University of Alaska, the governor’s office and several private enterprises. It received $100,000 in the governor’s fiscal year 2011 capital budget.