Haines, Alaska. (Bruce Barrett/Flickr Creative Commons)

Haines, Alaska. (Bruce Barrett/Flickr Creative Commons)

A new Haines organization aimed at strengthening the local business community is getting closer to becoming a reality. But one key factor is up in the air: borough buy-in.

The Haines Economic Development Corporation came together last year. It has a board made up of local business owners and community leaders.

“It’s a new non-profit, private corporation organized with the goals of realizing economic development through research, community engagement and strategic planning,” says the group’s president Kyle Gray.

At the latest assembly meeting, he asked the municipality for $95,000 to fund the organization for one year. He says that money would help hire an executive director and fund basic office infrastructure.

Gray points to similar organizations in the region as examples. Both the Skagway Economic Development Corporation and Juneau Economic Development Council receive different levels of funding from their local governments.

He says the goal in Haines is to receive funding from the borough from year to year, but to eventually become more self-sustainable.

“One of the functions that we intend to have the executive director do is focus on grant writing as a specific funding source for specific projects or long-term funding for the development corp,” says Gray.

Sean Gaffney is one of the development corporation’s board members. Here he is speaking to the assembly.

“One of our greatest concerns is showing not only the assembly but all of our community, that if we invest in this, that you’re going to get a good return,” said Gaffney.

What would the development corporation do exactly? They’ve laid out a number of goals.

“Business recruitment, business retention and expansion, research and publication of economic data, workforce inventory and training, those are all things that we can pretty well bet that the HEDC is going to be doing,” says Gray.

He says that could be carried out through workshops, trainings, or a general business resource center. Research and economic data is also a big component.

Gray says they’ve also identified parts of the Haines Comprehensive Plan that a development corporation could work on.

If some of these goals sound similar to those of the Chamber of Commerce, that’s not surprising. Gray is the Chamber’s vice president and was the president until a few weeks ago. He says the Chamber and the development corporation would work side-by-side.

“When you have two organizations that are in town, primarily for economic development and business promotion I can see a lot of overlap in types of initiatives that may exist,” says Gray.

One of the big differences between the two groups is what kind of non-profits they are. The Chamber has more of a political role and the development corporation has more opportunity to obtain grants.

Gray says the group would also have a close working relationship with the borough.

“Of course if we’re asking them for funding I’m assuming we’re going to have an elaborate reporting that we would do to them periodically to let them know exactly what we’re working on,” says Gray.

The development corporation has made room for a designated borough seat on the board which is currently unfilled. Gray says they envision the assembly having the ultimate authority on the makeup of the board.

Whether borough funding will come through is still uncertain. The municipality previously tried to take a direct role in economic development, with a community and economic development director, but that position no longer exists.

The development corporation has made its pitch and the ball is now in the assembly’s court to decide whether the borough should become as involved as the corporation hopes.

The assembly referred the issue to the commerce committee. It’s uncertain what would happen if borough funding fell through. Gray says the corporation would look to other funding sources, but he didn’t provide specifics on what that might look like.