It’s no secret that many challenges stand in the way of economic growth in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta, among them the high cost of energy and transportation. But this week, leaders of Native non-profit agencies, corporations, and other entities teamed up in a two-day meeting to look at the issues.
The Association of Village Council Presidents contracted Shelly Wade of the Agnew::Beck Consulting firm to run the meeting. She outlined some of the issues during the first day of the meeting on Thursday. Wade says that over the years the Delta has seen a sharp increase in population, particularly in the number of youth under the age of 19, but at the same time there has been a decrease in workforce-aged adults. That, along with less oil revenue in state coffers, is impacting the Delta.
“You see decreased funding for the Department of Public Safety, Department of Transportation, Department of Health and Social Services,” Wade said.
These are all segments of government, which the Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy says makes up at least half the jobs in the region. The Economic Development Summit is working to update the region’s five-year economic strategy. The work is required by the U.S. Commerce Department’s Economic Development Administration if the area is to continue to receive federal funding through its programs. The basic formula for the Yukon-Kuskokwim region’s needs is directly based on information gathered in the federal census.
For the first day of the meeting, the regional partners attending, along with members of the public, broke into four groups to discuss the region’s strengths and to brainstorm strategies to deal with its challenges.
“What are the things that exist in the region today, or are future opportunities that could really grow the economy?” Wade asked the room.
Wade hopes that those attending the summit will find ways of collaborating to lessen economic stress and take advantage of the region’s opportunities.
“Identifying what is the thing, the product that the Y-K can offer outside of the Y-K, so if that’s mining, or tourism, or fishing,” said Wade. “What is the product that people want to buy from the Y-K so you can really have revenue generating opportunities?”
Wade says that those not attending in Bethel on Friday can participate by going to AVCP’s website and filling out their economic development survey, which will be used to help update the strategy.
The Economic Development Summit continues at 9 a.m. Friday morning, fully open to the public, at the Bethel Cultural Center with snazzy door prizes consisting of round-trip flights with Grant and Ravn Air. But you’ve got to attend the whole day to be there for the drawing.