Industry talks competition, cooperation with agencies

Southeast Alaska industry leaders met state and federal officials in Juneau to share challenges, opportunities and ideas to encourage entrepreneurship in the region.

Juneau Economic Development Council’s 2013 Innovation Summit was a venue for industry groups to engage with policy makers and agency officials on certain key issues. And it does more than that, Brian Holst, executive director of JEDC, said; it allows industries and businesses to share best practices for success in the region.

The summit was part of JEDC’s Southeast Cluster Initiative. The U.S. Dept. of Agriculture-sponsored initiative draws together clusters of businesses in the same region and in like industries, such as ocean products, visitor products, renewable energy and mining services and supply. These businesses share similar suppliers and service operators, share regional knowledge on markets and labor.

Holst said the summit was a success. More than 150 people turned out, he said.

“You could see that there was a lot of energy and a lot of enthusiasm,” Holst said. More than 30 organizations were directly involved in the planning of the summit.

“All of that is their volunteer time,” Eva Bornstein, program officer at JEDC, said, “They speak with their volunteer time.”

The event focused on a few key points. For Southeast industries to succeed, they must temper competition with collaboration and focus on the development of current and future talent.

These ideas were put to work days after the summit by the Mining Supply and Services Cluster Working Group. For about an hour the group facilitated an event bringing mining companies together to share their procurement needs and make deals with local mining service and supply companies “so that a greater number of firms can participate in supporting the mines,” Holst said, “It is open to attendees of the Alaska Miners Association and local businesses.”

Examples of services and supplies include heavy equipment repair, food services, safety equipment and clothing supply.

“Mines are like small cities pretty much,” Zach Wilkinson, JEDC technology transfer manager, said, “They need everything.

“Southeast Alaska’s visitor industry is also getting the cluster treatment. Kirby Day chairs the Visitor Products Cluster Working Group. He said he became involved with the initiative in 2011.

“We try to find way to improve the economy of the Southeast region,” Day said.

More than one hundred people have participated in the group over two years, Day said. This number includes state agencies, tour operators, community leaders, Alaska Native organizations and others.

“A little bit of everybody,” he said.

Day said the summit was a great opportunity for networking. A business owner could talk with public servants from different departments and divisions and even offices within state and federal government.

The summit didn’t create any new personal epiphany for him, Day said, but it helped with the visitor products group’s efforts to update 17-year-old regulations for the Mendenhall Glacier recreation area.

The group plans to meet two more times before breaking for the busy visitor season in April.

Day said he found the Research and Development Cluster particularly interesting.

“To get together with other chairs and see where they have like problems,” Day said, “Problems like hiring and permitting.”

Day acknowledged that the government is vital to Southeast’s economy.

“We are all headed (toward) trying to bolster and solidify an economy in Southeast Alaska,” Day said, “Government supports our economy here — especially in Juneau. This is a great opportunity to bolster that economy with industry big and small.”

Contact Russell Stigall at [email protected].

02/28/2013 - 6:48am