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By JASON CUSTER
(This opinion has been endorsed by the Greater Ketchikan Chamber of Commerce through a board vote of ratification.)
Ketchikan has a unique opportunity to market itself to remote workers and other tech-based entrepreneurs as an ideal location to live and work electronically.
More and more people leverage technology to work remotely. From e-commerce, to programming, to engineering, to project management, there is an enormous amount of work which can be performed from nearly anywhere. A July article in Forbes indicated that in the next three years, the mobile workforce may comprise as much as 75 percent of the US economy. Right now, it’s around 40 percent nationwide.
Ketchikan has an ideal combination of the qualities which remote workers desire: lightening-speed internet via fiber optic links; unique arts and cultural opportunities; access to excellent medical and educational facilities; and an enormous, tremendously beautiful “outdoor playground” full of unique recreational opportunities. Access to the Seattle business community is a short flight away.
Thanks to substantial government investment in clean, renewable hydropower projects, Ketchikan’s residents enjoy the lowest energy costs in Alaska, paying just $0.10 per kWh – rates substantially lower than many places in the US, including Seattle. The vast majority of Ketchikan’s energy comes from renewable hydropower, making it one of the “greenest” cities in America. Residents wishing to live a lowcarbon lifestyle can convert this energy to “clean heat” through air-source heat pumps, or use it as fuel for electric vehicles. (Ketchikan’s small road system is perfect for EVs.)
Ketchikan’s housing prices are affordable compared to other locations where remote workers live — for example, Seattle. A McDowell Group presentation at the State Chamber of Commerce’s October Policy Forum indicated that Seattle is experiencing a population boom, with 11,000 new residents moving to the area each month. Imagine what a difference it would make to our economy if Ketchikan could capture 1,000 of these people… or even 100.
The City of Whitehorse has aggressively targeted remote workers as a major opportunity for growing their population and tax base, and bringing high-wage, tech-based jobs to the region. It seems to be working fairly well — Whitehorse has a growing young, affluent population, and a variety of rapidly-growing tech companies. These efforts could serve as a model which could be replicated for Ketchikan.
Our community has been tremendously successful in leveraging its natural beauty and recreational opportunities to attract tourists; this year, over 1 million cruise ship passengers. Through strategic investment and marketing efforts, we can be similarly successful in showcasing the same qualities to attract remote workers and tech-based entrepreneurs to live here year round.
Due to the Roadless Rule and federal land management practices, the Ketchikan region’s natural resources are largely unavailable to support sustainable employment and community well-being. Ketchikan would do well to diversify its employment by investing in attracting remote workers — who already have good-paying jobs — to live in our community.
Jason Custer works (mostly remotely) as business development director for Alaska Power & Telephone, and is a board member for the Greater Ketchikan Chamber of Commerce, the Alaska State Chamber and the Renewable Energy Alaska Project.