Tourists walk on the cruise ship dock towards Haines' Fort Seward. (Emily Files)

Tourists walk on the cruise ship dock towards Haines’ Fort Seward. (Emily Files)

On Tuesday, the Haines Assembly gave the green light to a new, $95,000 approach to economic development. In a 5-1 vote, the assembly approved an agreement with the private, nonprofit Haines Economic Development Corporation.

Much of the discussion about whether the borough should put its faith and funding in the HEDC happened in the spring, during budget talks. The $95,000 payment was given preliminary approval at that time. Accepting the written agreement was the final step.

Borough Manager Debra Schnabel supports the new strategy to economic growth.

“We need someone to get up every day and think about economic development in the community,” Schnabel said. “We don’t have anyone right now that gets up every day and that’s their job.”

Haines has a one percent sales tax dedicated to tourism and economic development. That money has been underutilized in recent years, and most of what is spent goes to tourism. The borough’s attempts to hire a staff economic development director haven’t lasted long.

“Economic development, boy, it’s a toughie,” Schnabel said. “It’s not like math, it’s not like English, it’s not like a subject that has agreement among all people who practice economic development about what it is. It’s a very elusive thing…but at least we have somebody that’s interested in doing that as a job.”

The economic development corporation, or HEDC, is directed by a board made up of local business owners and leaders. They include Kyle Gray, Doug Olerud, Heather Shade, Jessica Edwards, Sean Gaffney, Mike Ward and Greg Schlachter. The Haines mayor and planner and the president of the Chilkoot Indian Association will be ex-officio members.

The board plans to use the borough funding to hire an economic development director and compile baseline economic data on Haines.

Assembly member Heather Lende said she initially questioned giving $95,000 to a nonprofit that hasn’t yet proven itself.

“But at the same time, if you believe, as I do, that you get a lot more bang for your buck for nonprofits in this community and people who are committed to working on something, and the money is there, it’s been designated for economic development…so I think the same logic that says we fund HARK or some of these things, this is something that could be a great thing for the community and I think we should give it a try,” Lende said.

Other assembly members had concerns. Ron Jackson questioned whether the HEDC would be asking the borough for this much money in future years. Tom Morphet said public input should be central to the corporation’s plan from the start.

But Assemblyman Sean Maidy was the only member to vote against the agreement.

“Instead of having a development council study what the economy needs, we can look towards other places like us in Alaska and take their ideas that are already there and put money directly toward those programs,” Maidy said. “I mean there places like Kodiak, they started a nonprofit energy co-op and now they’re completely reliant on their own energy.”

Lende responded, saying the HEDC is exactly the kind of organization that could research and form business plans for those kinds of ideas.

The HEDC will report its progress to the borough and public every few months. By next August, the group will have its initial one-year and five-year economic development action plans.

Funding for future years of the HEDC’s operation will be contingent on future assemblies.

For more information about the Haines Economic Development Corporation, you can listen to our Lynn Canal Voice program on the topic