“Heaven on Earth” – it’s the popular sentiment of residents living in Southeast Alaska. If you’ve ever taken an Alaskan cruise no doubt it was through the Southeast Panhandle where miles of wild beauty delights the eye.
It’s no wonder Southeast Alaska is a premier destination for U.S. and international travelers. With that in mind, it may come as a surprise this singularly picturesque region has endured an economic hardship that continues to loom over its residents. Since the downturn of the once thriving timber industry the majority of rural communities in Southeast have experienced a downturn in their local economy along with declining populations, fewer job opportunities and increasing energy costs.
Enter a unique, collaborative team of USDA agencies, including the Farm Service Agency, Forest Service, Rural Development and the U.S. Economic Development Administration in partnership to revitalize these communities and restore public lands by supporting job creation in areas that offer growth potential in fisheries and mariculture; healthcare; forest management; recreation and tourism; renewable energy and transportation.
All four agencies convened with the Juneau Economic Development Council (JEDC) for a press conference in Juneau on December 12th and to attend the JEDC’s Economic Development Cluster Summit on the 13th which drew enough attention to garner two days of front page news in the Juneau Empire newspaper.
Through a collaboration with the four federal agencies, we implemented the “USDA Investment Strategy for Jobs and Healthy Communities in Southeast Alaska” initiative. Our agencies are striving to revitalize Southeast Alaska communities and restore public lands by: creating quality jobs and sustainable economic growth; promoting small business creation, expansion, and retention; improving access to capital and promoting job training and educational opportunities.
Over the last three years, all four agencies have invested more than $153 million in loans, grants and service to communities, businesses, and non-profits in Southeast Alaska. Of these funds, more than $74 million was directly in support of initiatives similar to the JEDC’s “Southeast Cluster Development Initiative”, with industry cluster groups including Forest Products, Visitor Products, Ocean Products, Renewable Energy and Community Facilities.
One example of our SE investment is Rural Development direct loan of $24,700,000 for hospital replacement of Wrangell Medical Center.
Echoing the need to rise to the occasion were Senators Mark Begich and Lisa Murkowski who joined Summit participants via live video teleconference from Washington, DC.
We continue to support the JEDC’s efforts and are charting a new path forward through collaborative commitment in the region to forge solid public-private partnerships to create jobs and healthy communities in Southeast Alaska.