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Ketchikan needs industry.
The Ketchikan Gateway Borough is appropriately assisting the Alaska mariculture industry, an industry with considerable potential here.
The Borough Assembly voted to continue a grant and extend a $600,000 loan to OceansAlaska this week. Through the loan, OceansAlaska expects to return grant dollars to the borough and become profitable by 2018.
OceansAlaska, which originally intended to display the sealife of southern Southeast Alaska, turned its attention from displaying to growing it for commercial purposes about 10 years ago. (OceansAlaska has begun with producing oyster and geoduck seed; it has the potential of expanding its product line to other shellfish later.) Alaska has the necessary water quality for mariculture to thrive.
A successful mariculture industry is worth millions of dollars — proven in water less attractive than Alaska's — and is a viable opportunity to increase the number of Alaska jobs.
Ketchikan and other Southeast Alaska communities would like to experience an increase in jobs, especially since the loss of employment opportunities during the decline of the timber industry in the past dozen years.
The community has cheered Ketchikan Shipyard, which wobbled in some periods over its decades-long struggle to establish itself and expand. State and federal funding gave it numerous opportunities to develop its site and capabilities. The Ketchikan City Council intervened twice in the shipyard's history to assist it in an effort to become a viable industry.
Similar to the shipyard, OceansAlaska will have to muster the intestinal fortitude to become a valuable asset to Ketchikan and Alaska. Starting and growing a business isn't easy — especially in recent economic times.
But a business that isn't given a chance never will become that asset. Successful business people look for opportunities and take the risk with their financial capital to start a new or expand an existing business. Some times their investments don't pay off. Many could tell of their failures; that it usually takes a loss or two on the way to success. Then, again, it happens, they gain experience and those failures turn to successes. In some cases, very long-term successes, and none of those would have been possible if the business people had given up.
OceansAlaska has had its financial challenges in the past year, but it has people knowledgeable about the industry and energized to develop it willing to invest their time into the business. It needed the borough's support, and it received it this week.
This support came in the way of dollars designated for economic development. OceansAlaska's mariculture project is a fine fit for those funds.
Alaska, and specifically the Ketchikan and southern Southeast area, possess a marine environment that is conducive to sealife-related industry development. It should look to build on that natural infrastructure. Unlike other industries that extract a natural resource one time, mariculture is one that is sustainable for decades — perhaps centuries —to come.
The Assembly, by assisting OceansAlaska, has allowed the nonprofit organization to continue its effort toward new economic development of Ketchikan and Alaska where a limited number of opportunities are being advanced.