How can Haines improve economic development? A group of business owners and community leaders is trying to figure that out, with a new initiative aimed at helping local businesses, and the economy, grow.
Chamber of Commerce President Kyle Gray says the idea for the Haines Economic Development Corporation came together when the Chamber started looking at how other communities in the region developed their economies.
“And what we found is that it’s uncommon for a community to have only one economic development organization,” says Gray. “They’ll have a chamber; they might have a rotary depending on the size of the town. But what we found consistently is these economic development corporations are highly effective in all the communities that they’re in.”
The Haines corporation has a ways to go before becoming a reality. They’re already incorporated, and have a board, but they are still looking to the borough for seed money. Then, Gray says, they would bring the idea to the assembly and the public. So right now, they don’t know exactly what this would look like in Haines.
“Until we can get funding, until we have the meeting with the assembly, we don’t, I would say know with 100 percent detail know what the Haines Economic Development Corporation is going to do,” says Gray.
The Haines Borough previously tried to take a direct role in economic development, with a Community and Economic Development Director, but that position no longer exists.
Other models around the region help explain what a corporation could look like. The Haines board looked most closely at what’s going on in Skagway, Petersburg and Juneau.
“Our model follows the Juneau model the closest,” says Gray. “And the JEDC is a very effective organization. They get a lot done in that community. They are partially funded by the borough, partially funded through grants. In Skagway they’re 100 percent funded by the borough.”
Basically, Gray says development corporations create more resources for local businesses.
“They find ways to grow what you already have,” says Gray. “How do you do that? They provide resources for entrepreneurs. They may have a finance program for example. They may have a small business resource center, which we’ve talked a lot about doing in the Chamber.”
He says they do research on the community, and define what are called economic clusters.
“Find out the dollar amounts that are contributed per each segment of the economy,” says Gray. “For Haines it could be mining, tourism, fishing, etc.”
Gray says an economic development organization would be able to do things that the Chamber of Commerce is not able to. Gray explains the difference between a Chamber.
“Which is a membership organization, it allows for political lobbying,” says Gray. “It allows us to be the voice of a business community. And it is powerful to have that in a community.”
And a development corporation.
“We elected the 501c3 nonprofit status because it’s a lot more wide open on grant obtainability. That is the model that we’ve commonly seen,” says Gray.
Communities fund development corporations in different ways, often with help from the municipality.
“When you have a separate organization that’s funded by the borough for economic development, but is steered by community leaders and business owners it looks a lot different. And it’s not necessarily weighed down by politics. It’s influenced by business and by commerce which is the best way for economic development,” says Gray.
In Haines, they’re still looking at different options. Gray says he’s not sure yet what funding would look like. He’s clear that the corporation is still in its early stages, and nothing is set in stone.