Haines businesses featured in a Chamber of Commerce report.

This spring, longer days aren’t the only thing preparing to shed new light in Lynn Canal. With a contract from the Haines Economic Development Corporation, an Alaska consulting company is embarking on a study of Haines’ economy.

Haines residents were introduced to the project this week — and heard strategies for making the most of it.

The Haines Economic Development Corporation hosted a pair of researchers from consulting firm McDowell Group, as they begin a six-month project to assess Haines’ economy.

HEDC is paying McDowell $49,500 to put together two related reports: one to show what the community’s economy looks like, and one on how to improve it.

“A community-driven, five-year economic development plan that really has a clear roadmap to help you understand what needs to be done, who will be leading it, and what are some of the ways you can measure progress towards it,” said McDowell’s Susan Bell. Bell is former Commissioner of Alaska’s Department of Commerce, and she’ll facilitate community engagement with McDowell’s research.

Over thirty people gathered at the Haines library to hear what exactly that would entail.

“To have a meaningful plan, first you need to understand the economy,” Bell said. “So a lot of what we’re doing now, and what we’re doing over the next month, is pulling together data.”

Besides relying on data they already have, Bell and her team plan to collect new data from the community.

“When we look at the metrics, maybe population, educational attainment, school enrollment, average income,” Bell said.

They’ll survey a sample of Haines residents by telephone, including cell phones, before opening the survey up online for anyone who wants to take it. They’ll take comments, organize community forums, do student outreach, and conduct individual and small group interviews.

One of the goals of the baseline study is to make sure that when McDowell recommends action items, it’s concentrating on areas that Haines wants to develop in, from job creation to resource extraction to fish tax revenue.

“There’s a lot of different ways to measure success. Part of what we can do is help the community decide how it wants to measure success, and then lay out goals, strategies, and objectives to get from here to there,” said Jim Calvin, McDowell’s senior economic analyst.

One of the biggest areas of curiosity from community members was about the study’s efficacy.

The Haines borough gave HEDC $95,000 in public funds last year, with which the corporation planned to hire an executive director who would do economic analysis. But when they didn’t get qualified applicants, the corporation hired a part-time director and contracted with McDowell instead.

So, residents wanted to know: how can Haines guarantee that these studies will actually change anything?

“There’s unlikely to be any silver bullets here,” Calvin said. “I think most of the concepts for economic development in Haines are on the table. What we can do, though, is just help people to understand where you can get the biggest bang for your buck.”

Calvin and Bell both said that consistent leadership and long-term commitment were the keys to make economic development happen.

“All we can do is give you the roadmap. Following the roadmap is up to the community, and that’s a key role that HEDC can play, but they can’t do it alone,” Calvin said.

Audience members asked questions about how data would be collected, and how different voices would be prioritized, noting as one audience member did, the “divisive nature of our community.”

Calvin took that question.

“The reason we do telephone survey research is to address that point exactly. Random sample survey research provides, with a statistical margin of error, a read on what the community thinks. There’s no opportunity to bias the results.”

According to their timeline, McDowell has already begun collecting data. They plan to hold a community forum around mid-April and present a draft plan by June 1. They plan to finalize the project by July 1.

After that, it will be up to the community to decide how to use the data and ideas McDowell provides.

A timeline and full overview of the project can be found here on the HEDC website.