The Seward Phoenix Log - News of the Eastern Kenai Peninsula since 1966

By Wolfgang Kurtz
Log Editor 

Growth for Seward a matter of cooperation

 


The latest plan for Seward’s economic future is laid out in a January 2013 draft outline that brings more focus to making Seward a more fertile environment for innovation and economic growth. At a Feb. 19 meeting of Seward’s YES Group, Laszlo Kozmon of Strategy Nets and Christi Bell from the University of Alaska Center for Economic Development discussed this recent major revision to the Seward Economic Growth Plan.

The present effort to put together a workable plan for progressive economic development of Seward went through a couple stages. Initially the Seward Chamber of Commerce set the process in motion by working with the UA Center for Economic Development to retain a working group then known as TIP Strategies. The objective was to gauge what opportunities and challenges were facing businesses in Seward. TIPS then employed a team of “secret shoppers” that conducted a survey of the Seward area, evaluating its accessibility and overall friendliness to new and expanding businesses.

The new plan mentions that, although markets drive growth, the civic economy creates a space and support for that growth. The 2010 survey exposed some critical deficits and disconnects in the city’s regulatory structure and business environment that initially resulted in the rejection of the survey by a large component of the established business community and local government.

What the 2010 canvassers heard was that many local businesses were looking at closing up shop and that there were a lot of challenges. Since that time, attitudes and efforts have turned a corner. Work with the city and the chamber to address the identified issues has been reinforced by the organization of a very active community of business owners and entrepreneurs largely represented by the YES Group. Participants have been encouraged to redirect energy from discomfort with some of the existing problems and disconnects to focus on working with what is possible and progress from there to address the harder issues.

At the meeting, Kozmon asked, “What does it take to make a region grow?” According to Kozmon, Seward needs brainpower in the form of good, capable people. To attract and keep those smart people, a community needs to have an attractive quality of life and it needs to be connected both internally and to the outside world. To create and promote its assets, a community needs to organize and work together.

“There’s a real secret here, that the market economy is where growth occurs. It’s entrepreneurs, innovation and businesses that create the growth. There’s other factors like having a story to tell, a great place to live or having great people. That just goes to support the local growth economy. Without all of that you don’t have a winning, healthy, growing economy,” said Kozmon.

From Kozmon’s perspective as an experienced analyst, the challenges that Seward has been facing are dwarfed by the opportunity that Seward’s natural and developed assets represent. He ticks them off. Broadband and fiber cable terminates in Seward. Seward has expanding marine assets and a deep harbor. Seward is connected by rail to major Alaskan markets. Seward is doing business all over the world from a small community. Kozmon’s offered the illustration that his high school was as big as Seward.

“Seward is doing some cool, cool stuff with some potentially world class assets that are underutilized,” Kozmon enthuses. “The task is that these economic resources need to be diversified and capitalized on. Seward can’t survive on what it has the way it is using it today.”

According to Kozmon, another of the challenges is that the City of Seward does not have much in the way of pro-growth policies. Complicating that is that there has been a parochial understanding of growth opportunities. There is not a broad awareness of what is going on in the rest of the world and what technologies could be brought to bear in Seward building on the assets already available.

In past interviews with local residents or local business operators, or city government staff and officials, there was a very wide variety of perspectives on how to provide for Seward’s growth. “Growth comes from cooperation. So Seward needs to understand its growth opportunities better and get more experience in on working together. You’re starting to develop more momentum in that direction just by getting together in meetings like this,” said Kozmon.

Kozmon mentioned the ongoing development of the Seward Marine Industrial Center as a engine that will help grow the Seward economy and retain businesses. Along with SMIC expansion there is a proposal to invest in further development of the Alaska Railroad’s dock and industrial area. However, looking beyond institutional expansion in the area he points to innovation that could lead into diversifying the economy with new businesses. Using existing assets and further developing core competencies toward manufacturing alternative energy products or locally developing other high growth advanced technology industries is a realistic goal.

“Seward is sitting on a gold mine,” Kozmon enthused. “If Seward is a good place to live, then that’s a good story to tell and it attracts success for the community.” Bringing more growth and business to Seward is not a process of extraction, it is all about addition.

Seward Economic Growth plan is available online at tinyurl.com/201301sewarded.

 

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