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

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

Haines is heading toward a new approach to economic development. With assembly approval, the borough may dedicate $95,000 to the newly-formed Haines Economic Development Corporation. It would follow in the footsteps of communities like Skagway and Juneau, which use a private-public partnership to spur economic growth.

HEDC board members say public-private collaboration may be the best way to realize economic development goals in Haines. A couple years ago, the borough hired an economic development director. But that position was short-lived. The employee resigned less than six months into the job.

Doug Olerud is a local business owner and HEDC board member. He spoke at a recent assembly commerce committee meeting.

“The borough never really did a good job of developing much for economic development, beyond tourism,” Olerud said. “And I think to get some balance into that…our board has got a lot of experience with business and business development in Haines, and I think we’ve got a lot to offer the borough.”

The HEDC says it would work on things like business recruitment, business retention and expansion and workforce training.  Olerud gave examples of growth the corporation would try to promote.

“Port Chilkoot Distillery, who would have thought that there’d be a distillery in Haines that’s shipping their product around the state? Seaotter Woodworks, sending stuff around the world,” Olerud said. “What can we do to help create a basis and a reason for somebody to develop another business like one of those? Where they’re using labor in Haines, products from Haines, putting some value to it, and shipping it wherever — bringing those dollars back to Haines.”

The borough currently collects a one percent sales tax dedicated to tourism and economic development. The HEDC proposes using some of that revenue to fund the corporation on an annual basis. The board asked the borough for $95,000 in seed funding to start. That would pay for recruiting a director and beginning the corporation’s work.

“It is a lot of money,” said board member Sean Gaffney. “It’s something we take as seriously as possible. We’re dead set on making sure the borough sees a return on investment for these funds.”

The two commerce committee members present, Tresham Gregg and Margaret Friedenauer, were split on the idea. Gregg questioned how the private corporation would be accountable to the general public. HEDC proponents said future board members would be appointed by the assembly, which is elected by the public. And the borough funding would be subject to assembly approval each year.

Friedenauer was supportive of the new strategy to economic development. She pointed to the board, which is made up of Olerud, Gaffney, Kyle Gray, Heather Shade, Mike Ward, and Jessica Edwards. Most are business owners. Gray is the local bank manager and Edwards runs the Southeast Alaska State Fair.

“A lot of this, my support of this, lies in the people that have put it together,” Friedenauer said. “I feel a lot of trust in the individuals who have brought it together and come this far and are asking for funding.”

She said this could also ease some of the dissatisfaction with the one percent tourism and economic development tax. Some residents object to that tax supporting one sector of the economy – tourism – over others.

Friedenauer recommended interim manager Brad Ryan include funding for the HEDC in his proposed borough budget, which is due April 1. Then, the assembly can decide during budget discussions whether it wants to dedicate $95,000 to this new corporation.