It’s coming back to Ketchikan next year.
The Southeast Conference concluded its annual meeting at the end of the week.
The three-day meeting started with a presentation that has increased in popularity over the years for its summation of and projections for the Southeast economy: By the Numbers.
The 2021 version, compiled by Rain Coast Data, reiterates the dire effects the novel coronavirus had on the 2020 economy. It isn’t a year on which most in Southeast wish to dwell.
This year elicited an encouraging report by contrast, and 2022 is expected to be even more uplifting for the region.
Southeast is in a volatile period of recovery.
Alaska’s congressional delegation successfully herded the Alaska Tourism Restoration Act through Congress and to President Joe Biden’s desk in record time earlier this year, allowing for the suspension of a law that prevents foreign-flagged ships from sailing between two U.S. ports without stopping at a foreign port. With British Columbia not welcoming foreign-flagged ships during the pandemic, the suspension allowed cruise ships to sail directly between Seattle and Ketchikan without a B.C. stop.
As a result, the cruise industry is managing an abbreviated three-month season through the Inside Passage and around the region from July to October.
The shorter and less voluminous season didn’t match 2019 by a long stretch, but at least travelers who wished to visit by cruise ship had the opportunity. Their presence encouraged the community, despite the delta variant of COVID-19 affecting the industry this fall.
Thinking well into the future, Congressman Don Young, working with Alaska’s senators, has introduced legislation to allow ports or land owned by Tribes or Alaska Native Corporations to satisfy the Passenger Vessel Services Act’s (PVSA) foreign stop requirement.
Jet passenger traffic also increased this year, with June 2021 posting a 260% increased over June 2020.
Meanwhile, the fishing industry to date has experienced an improvement over 2020. Seafood jobs increased 11%, as prices also rose. Coho and sockeye catches exceed those in 2020. Chum and king are similar. Pinks came in much higher than expected.
When it comes to the timber industry, the projections aren’t as vitalizing. Sealaska Corporation has decided to transition out of the industry and, while President Donald Trump had implemented the Alaska Roadless Rule exemption, President Biden canceled it again. The exemption would increase the availability of timber available for harvest.
The mining industry — a longtime economic factor in Southeast — holds continuing promise. The Hecla Greens Creek mine had 450 full-time, permanent employees in August, which is 10 more than August 2020.
The Coeur Alaska Kensington mine had only three fewer of its 40 full-time employees than it did in ’20.
The construction industry showed a 9% increase in jobs during the first half of this year, in part due to development in Ward Cove. The future is in federally funded projects as communities and the state spend cautiously.
The health care industry in the region saw a 0.5% decline in jobs this year. The response to the pandemic is credited for that. Worker fatigue and the challenge in filling positions is a current concern.
Finally, 13% of 440 businesses surveyed expect to add jobs over the 12-month period between April of this year and next, according to the By the Numbers report. Nearly half expect to maintain current employment, while 15% anticipate cuts. Forty-five percent credited government aid in allowing for staff retention.
Sitka had the most positive response, with a third of its businesses who responded to the survey indicating they expected to add staff in this period. Twenty-five percent of respondents answered the question with unknown.
But Ketchikan’s largest industry is expecting 1.4 million cruise ship passengers in the coming year. Almost 600 voyages are anticipated. If that can be realized, the First City will be back in large part economically.
The full report is available on the Southeast Conference website.