Ketchikan’s economic potential is excellent.
It might not feel like it in the year of the novel coronavirus pandemic with the governmental shutdown of the economy for a couple months and continuing repercussions.
But this situation isn’t permanent. It’s temporary.
A year ago, Ketchikan felt like it was rocketing upward — more cruise ships and more passengers to enhance an accelerating and increasingly successful tourism industry.
This year the projectile sputtered, eliminating the cruise ship season, but it didn’t crash altogether. The City of Ketchikan is negotiating for Port of Ketchikan upgrades and expansion. The Ward Cove Dock Group is installing a dock to accommodate ships of the largest capacity.
That isn’t the full extent of Ketchikan’s — and in some cases the region’s — prospects.
• The Southeast Conference is to receive a $400,000 federal CARES Act grant to address economic effects of the coronavirus pandemic. It intends to hire a regional disaster recovery coordinator, whose responsibility will include pursuing components necessary for advancing the mariculture industry. The industry generates about $350 million annually in New Zealand. Alaska has the natural resources to do as well.
• Alaska, particularly Southeast, the locale of the Tongass National Forest, has been pursuing an exemption to the Roadless Rule for a couple decades. That exemption is expected to be announced within weeks. While the immunity might attract litigation, that, too, can be overcome. The freedom to build roads will enhance economic development opportunities ranging from recreation to power generation, tourist adventures and timber harvest. Harvest isn’t expected to be as it was in the heyday, but it can be one aspect of developing the economy.
• The pandemic has shown Alaskans — all America for that matter — that it is overly dependent on China and other nations for its supplies, particularly when it comes to those needed to protect health and safety. President Donald Trump and the majority of congressional members realize that, and efforts are underway to encourge the manufacture of products here.
One natural resource used to produce a variety of products, including technology for equipment used by the armed services, is rare earth elements. Ninety percent of those elements come from China. Prince of Wales Island’s Bokan Mountain contains tons of seven of the 35 critically needed elements. Ucore continues to pursue their eventual extraction.
• Alaska’s Department of Transportation has several projects in the pipeline for Ketchikan and other Southeast points, particularly on South Tongass Highway.
• Ketchikan International Airport also is to be expanded and upgraded to accommodate an anticipated increase in traffic. The increase is expected to be about 13% over the next two decades to about 184,000 aircraft boardings annually.
• The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is about to award a contract for demolition of a pier on Stedman Street. The pier will be replaced with one appropriate for NOAA’s hydrographic survey vessel Fairweather to be homeported here.
• Current congressional legislation also will allow federally owned ships to be maintained at Ketchikan Shipyard. The lack of permission has been an impediment for federal agencies operating in Alaska and the shipyard. In addition to potentially allowing more federal ship work to be done at the Ketchikan Shipyard, the legislation would help in encouraging Fairweather crew members to relocate to Ketchikan. The 40-some crew member families will make their homes where the Fairweather is maintained. During maintenance breaks is when the families can be together. At other times, the Fairweather is underway.
• The shipyard, as well as local ports, might as well benefit from the Fairweather, but also other federal ships, including Coast Guard vessels and icebreakers.
The United States is expected to have six new icebreakers built before 2030. The first two will be homeported in Seattle, where the nation’s only two are currently. Even then, one is broken. But, Alaska is the nation’s only Arctic state, and common sense says that the ice-breaking fleet should be located in and near the Arctic Ocean. The icebreakers also could be maintained at Ketchikan Shipyard as a result of congressional legislation.
• Not the least of opportunities is small business of which several cropped up this year leading to the 2020 cruise ship season that might have been. Rain City Drug Store and Forget-Me-Not Chocolates opened their doors in recent months. Other businesses relocated or focused on in-store and building improvements with next year’s cruise ship season in mind.
This isn’t a comprehensive list of Ketchikan and Southeast opportunity by a long shot. But it is indicative of a bright future. Just as the community and the region, the whole state in fact, can be surprised by a virus and its effects, it can be astonished when projects like these and others take off.
This isn’t fake optimism, as Alaska Sen. Dan Sullivan noted during a recent visit. This is pure potential, much of which is beginning to be realized as the groundwork is being laid for industry and business to take flight. And fly it will.