Long talks of economic development
Ron Long, Seward assistant City Manager
“We need to help existing businesses. We need to think about what new businesses need to be added to the mix"
—Ron Long, Seward Assistant City Manager
Ron Long, the new Seward Assistant City Manager, had a hopeful and upbeat message to share as the invited guest speaker at a recent Chamber of Commerce luncheon gathering. Many locals who know Long, especially fellow chamber members, were pleased to have this experienced marine surveyor, businessman, (former) Chamber of Commerce Board member, Ports and Harbors Advisory Committee chair, and seasoned former Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly representative appointed recently for a position so close to the seat of power. Long, in turn, says he’s thrilled about his new responsibilities. He will act as a liaison between the city and business community to help promote economic development, and will work to keep big city projects on track such as the construction of the new Seward Library Museum, the home-porting of the Coastal Villages CDQ fishing-fleet here, along with the new global research vessel Sikuliak.
“What I’ve learned so far reinforces what I learned from the private economy,” Long told the gathering after two weeks on the job. If the city hired an efficiency expert, they’d probably say we’re over-capitalized, he said. “But I’d say ‘No. We’re under customer-ized.’ ” It’s unfortunate that the city finds itself in a deficit position currently, cutting the budget while also setting higher tariffs on residents and businesses for services that the city provides. “But in the long term, the best solution for Seward is to get more customers, and it is in a position to do that,” Long said.
Long points to the relationship begun over a year ago with Alaska economic development expert Christi Bell, who suggested creating a network of partnerships between the public and private sectors as one of the strategies to deal with a slump in the number of local businesses, and steady population decline. “So we need to help existing businesses. We need to think about what new businesses need to be added to the mix,” he said. The chamber has hired Bell to help Seward look at available avenues to do this, with guidance from last year’s survey she helped create, the input from local public forums she moderated, and the findings of some local “SWAT teams” who interviewed business people about what they needed changed in order to remain here, and what their impediments were.
Creating the most excitement lately however is the Coastal Villages Region Fund Fishing Fleet. Long, and new Harbormaster Mack Funk, have worked together to create packages of information for Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell to submit to the Alaska legislature on Seward’s needs regarding the home-porting of the CDQ fleet in Seward. Highest among those needs are enclosing the SMIC basin with a protective breakwater to enable more vessels to safely dock, and to provide interim mooring for their vessels both at SMIC and at the Small Boat Harbor. The CDQ fleet already has two fishing vessels at the Small Boat Harbor, the Hawk and the Camai, 19 foot and 111 foot vessels respectively, and Seward has had a couple others in the past here, including the Gildy Logger and the Amak. The new cry politically is, “They’re already here,” and the new pin says, “Go Coastal!”
After the first phase is accomplished, the city will still have uplands development, installation of utilities for the area’s vessels, and finding available warehouse space, the latter of which can hopefully come from the private sector, Long said. A new breakwater would help make SMIC’s travel lift, Shell Oil, Seward Ship’s Drydock and other related businesses become more viable, he said. Some of these may be funded through loans, such as AIDA (Alaska Industrial Development Authority) grants, which would not need to be repaid. Legislative “appropriations,” which used to be called “earmarks” would not. “It’s not free money but it is an appropriate economic development strategy,” Long said.
He asked for the local private sector to show their support by writing letters of support for the project, and to talk about it Outside whenever possible. “Your influence will be very important to develop the funding stream to do that.”
The latest news about the research vessel Sikuliak is that the UAA Chancellor has informed city officials that it definitely will be coming to Seward. Kodiak has vied for a chance to home-port the vessel there, but apparently, Seward makes more logistical sense, as it is connected to Anchorage on a road system, among other reasons.
Addressing another matter, the new library/museum, controversial though it may have been, is already a reality, Long said. The building’s foundations have been set and concrete poured. It’s been covered, is being kept heated through the winter, and sensors have been placed inside the drying concrete to keep builders abreast of whether it’s drying and setting properly. He will do his best make sure contractors keep the project proceeding apace and within budget.
The City of Seward is currently providing moorage for two vessels from the Coastal Village Fleet. The City has also rented moorage to CVRF for two other vessels in the past (see chart).
The City is working to strengthen and solidify its long-term, business relationship with the Coastal Villages Regional Fund.