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USDA Invests in Southeast Alaska to create jobs and healthy communities



SourDough News | January 1, 2012


Federal and state government leaders participating in the Southeast Economic Summit.
Federal and state government leaders participating in the Southeast Economic Summit in Juneau, Alaska, on Dec. 13, 2011. Photo: Ray Massey/USDA Forest Service.

Over the last three years, the U.S. Departments of Agriculture and Commerce have charted a new path forward in creating jobs and healthy communities in Southeast Alaska. Three USDA agencies (Farm Service Agency, Forest Service, and Rural Development) and the U.S. Economic Development Administration have invested $153.5 million in Southeast Alaska through guaranteed loans, grants and service to communities, businesses, and non-profits.

“Leadership of these federal agencies recognizes rural communities in Southeast Alaska are experiencing declining populations, fewer job opportunities, and increasing energy costs,” said Alaska State Director of Rural Development Jim Nordlund. “Since over 90 percent of the land base in Southeast is managed by the federal government, we understand the need to work collaboratively with state and local businesses to help revitalize these communities by supporting job creation in areas that offer growth potential.”

Through the collaborative USDA Investment Strategy for Jobs and Healthy Communities in Southeast Alaska, USDA and EDA are helping to create quality jobs and sustainable economic growth; promote small business creation, expansion, and retention; improve access to capital; and promote job training and educational opportunities.

To begin the process, USDA contracted with the Juneau Economic Development Council to convene four business-cluster working groups (in ocean products, forest products, visitor products and renewable energy) to determine which industries are driving growth in Southeast Alaska, and to identify action initiatives to help spur economic growth.

“We want to make sure the investments we make are smart investments,” said Nordlund. “That’s why we invested so heavily into the work of JEDC and the cluster working groups.”

Nordlund added that although the new jobs coming into Southeast Alaska would be created by the private sector and not the federal government, there were areas where government could help.

“Almost half of the $74 million invested in the last three years directly supports initiatives similar to those identified by the economic cluster groups, in the areas of fisheries and mariculture; healthcare; forest management; recreation and tourism; renewable energy; and transportation,” said Nordlund.

“Communities in Southeast Alaska deserve our help so they can sustain themselves,” said Farm Services Agency State Executive Director Danny Consenstein, whose agency is increasing their support for shellfish farmers, since those involved in the mariculture industry can qualify for many of FSA’s programs for farmers.

“For the long term, what will help Alaska is a bit more diversification. In rough times, if you have a lot of different things going on, you are more likely to survive.” Consenstein noted that diversification would benefit the economy and he emphasized the need to focus on education, training and research to involve the next generation in growing Southeast Alaska businesses.

Economic vitality in the region is also important to the mission of the USDA Forest Service and Regional Forester Beth Pendleton joined USDA partners in reaffirming the Forest Service’s commitment to the investment strategy.

“The Forest Service has been actively engaged in the forest products cluster, the visitor services cluster, the ocean products cluster, and the bioenergy cluster, as well,” said Pendleton, who also announced the Forest Service recently funded a new $100,000 contract with JEDC for 2012.

Pendleton said the Forest Service is interested in continuing salmon habitat improvement restoration work that engages local contractors and subcontractors and results in improved fish passage that increases salmon production. In the area of visitor services, the Forest Service is working with the business sector and local communities to develop a series of connecting trails.

“In January 2012, the Forest Service will award the first of several $24,000 community capacity building grants for communities who need help in planning projects,” said Pendleton. “For example, a group that is interested in establishing a pellet mill operation may receive help in creating a business plan.”

On Dec. 13, 2011, the Juneau Economic Development Council hosted the Southeast Economic Summit in Juneau. The purpose of the summit, which was led by local business representatives, was to begin the implementation phase of action initiatives identified in the 2011-2013 USDA Investment Strategy for Jobs and Healthy Communities in Southeast Alaska. During the summit, many of the USDA investments in the region were also highlighted.

“We are extremely proud to be working with our state government and local businesses to create a better understanding of the many programs, loans and grant opportunities available through USDA that can help enrich the lives of Alaskans in our local communities,” said Nordlund.

For more information on the USDA Investment Strategy visit http://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/r10/home/?cid=FSBDEV2_038855.

By Teresa Haugh, USDA Forest Service Alaska Region Office of Public Affairs