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By ZACHARY HALASCHAK
Daily News Staff Writer
For the first time in seven years, Southeast Conference will be hosting its annual meeting in the First City.
The meeting will run from Wednesday morning through Friday afternoon and will feature a number of prominent political, business and community leaders from Southeast Alaska and around the state.
Robert Venables, executive director of Southeast Conference, told the Daily News on Friday that the event would be a great opportunity to highlight the changes, challenges and issues facing Southeast Alaska.
“We’re going to have over 50 speakers and they're going to come in and just kind of give a big download of short informational bursts and updates so folks can be aware of what is going on,” Venables said.
Speakers range in diversity from the president of the University of Alaska system to the president of ConocoPhillips Alaska.
Folks can register to attend all three days, or simply register to pay for just one day that they are interested in. The bulk of the presentations and events are to be held at the Ted Ferry Civic Center.
Day one, which kicks off bright and early Wednesday with a 7:15 a.m. registration, begins with an opening ceremony and remarks from Southeast Conference President Jan Hill, Ketchikan Gateway Borough Mayor David Landis, City of Ketchikan Mayor Lew Williams III and Ketchikan Indian Community Tribal Council President Gianna Willard Flanery.
“Day one we really take a look at the economy of Southeast,” Venables explained.
In addition to panels focusing on federal legislative updates, energy, the University of Alaska system, the maritime industry and economic development, there will also be a gubernatorial forum luncheon beginning at 12 p.m., during which those in attendance will get the opportunity to hear from all three candidates for governor.
The gubernatorial forum is the sole event during the conference that will be open to the public free of charge.
Day one is scheduled to end with a community reception at the Cape Fox George Inlet Cannery.
Day two of the conference has a number of highlights, including a presentation from Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities Commissioner Marc Luiken.
“The transportation, the AMHS reform project — that’s a really big, big issue for southern Southeast, all of Southeast, coastal Alaska, the state of Alaska,” Venables said.
Venables noted that day two also would focus on some of the region and state’s other “economic engines,” such as resource development and health care.
Another feature of day two of the conference is an “oil and gas luncheon” hosted by ConocoPhillips Alaska President Joe Marushack.
“That may seem out of place for Southeast, but really everything — government is such a big part of our lives that oil receipts really fund the vast majority of our state government,” Venables said. “… So it’s really unseen in Southeast, for the most part, but it’s a very important part of our economy.”
The luncheon is slated to begin around noon.
Thursday will also see an hour-long legislative forum featuring a number of Southeast Alaska political figures.
Those on the roster include three legislators: Sen. Bert Stedman, R-Sitka; Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins, D-Sitka; and Rep. Dan Ortiz, I-Ketchikan. Also taking part in the forum are House candidates Chris Dimond, Sara Hannan, Trevor Shaw and Richard Wein.
Venables said that the forum, which is scheduled to begin at 2:30 p.m., would be shorter than the Wednesday gubernatorial forum.
“This one will be more of a meet-and-greet — a more formal meet-and-greet — where they can get the chance to introduce themselves to the folks (there) who can then engage them otherwise as well,” he said. “There may be time for a couple of questions, but there is just not a lot of time.”
Tourism and the seafood industry are also on the docket for Thursday of the conference.
Rounding out day two is a dinner, banquet and auction beginning at 6:45 p.m. According to Venables, proceeds from the auction will benefit Southeast Conference scholarships for students.
A number of goods and services will be up for bid.
“It’s a combination of various types of items that come from the community and the region locally — sometimes it’s pieces of art, sometimes it’s excursions, sometimes it’s accommodations — it’s just whatever the membership brings to contribute,” he explained.
The final day of the conference, Friday, will begin with breakout groups to further discuss matters facing Southeast Alaska.
“The third morning we are going to have some workshops,” Venables said. “… (They) will meet for the morning sessions to dive a little bit deeper into some of the topics that they’ve gotten information for (from) the first couple of days.”
The workshops begin at 8:15 a.m., after which Southeast Conference will hold its annual membership business meeting.
The final day will close out with a luncheon aboard Holland America’s Westerdam ship. The deadline to purchase tickets for the luncheon was Sept. 5.
The last time Southeast Conference’s annual meeting was hosted in Ketchikan was in 2011, and Venables told the Daily News that he is excited for the three-day event.
“Really almost everyone gathered is a leader either in local or state government or in business and industry,” he said. “… We’ve got some really strong leaders coming to talk to us about all of this and it’s kind of a rare opportunity to see everyone gather and have access to this information.”
For folks interested in attending, tickets are available for purchase online until Monday, after which admission will be at the door.
The full agenda for the conference can be found at: bit.ly/2MaWdfd