Anchorage: A Modern Day Gold Rush
Anchorage Economic Development Corporation (AEDC) has been one of the driving forces behind the gradual economic and social growth of Anchorage, located in the northwest state of Alaska. With constant support from organizations such as AEDC, Anchorage has been deemed by the likes of Forbes.com as one of the best cities for employment. Even in the midst of a recession, the city managed to maintain an average unemployment rate of 5.6 percent. The President and CEO of AEDC, Bill Popp explains, “Anchorage was founded 98 years ago, and started off as a railroad camp during the building of the Alaska Railroad. With significant leaps and bounds and a few difficulties it is what it is today.”
Popp, who has been working for AEDC since 2007 plays a vital role in setting up the strategies behind marketing the city and Alaska to global businesses and at the same time he supports local business growth within the state. “We support companies popping up and as a result we see growth in the business and professional sectors such as engineering, permitting, legal and architectural fields,” says Popp. Therefore AEDC services are meant to connect businesses to information and opportunities, support business growth across industries and magnify development and opportunities available in the Alaska.
The Anchorage appeal
One of the most attractive aspects of Anchorage is its stable environment with low unemployment and constant economic growth. “Since 1989, Anchorage has experienced continuous 2 percent job growth with the only exception being 2009.” Popp goes on to add, “2009 was a self-inflicted wound. Our business people and community being cautious by nature were seeing the national news and were pulling back in the anticipation of potential effects in Alaska which never manifested. The fundamentals in Alaska are very strong and we did not have certain elements of our economy at risk like many other parts of the United States and the world. Therefore we rode out 2009 and 2010 very solidly.” As a result, in the following years Anchorage experienced a 2.5 percent job growth with an expected growth of also 2.5 percent in 2012.
Another appeal of Anchorage is the presence of strong industries which support the economy such as its energy base, raw materials and resource extraction and air cargo. According to Popp, “the really unique environment in which we do business creates, I believe, a more robust business professional sector. This is because we are constantly dealing with challenges and it also means we can never rest on our laurels. We are always looking for new innovation and ideas and executing them. Such practices have led to our success and the success of businesses in our industries.” Examples of such industries which have experienced expansion in Anchorage over the recent years are the restaurant and retail industry, especially since the city has one of the highest per capita spending in the United States.
Besides the unique industries of Anchorage, the diverse population of the city is another one of its most attractive features. Ninety-one different languages are spoken in Anchorage schools. The city is also rated high on tolerance indexes, including Richard Florida’s Creative Vitality index and amongst other national rankings, hence promoting a welcoming community environment. Along with diversity comes the city’s vibrant arts and culture scene. As Popp highlights, “we are very open to different paths of the arts such as Broadway shows, innovative art presentations and a music scene which is growing leaps and bounds. Our setting provides the fabric that young professionals are looking for in terms of a community that they want to plant their roots in and prosper in both professionally and personally.”
Challenges yet to conquer
Anchorage however faces a few challenges ahead. There is still a lack of available workforce needed to support the increasing economic growth of the city. According to the Business Confidence Index Survey carried out annually by AEDC, the number one barrier for businesses to grow is the lack of professional skilled labor. At number four is the lack of semi-skilled labor and at number six is the poor quality of entry level workforce. Nevertheless with training initiatives in place and other programs carried out by organizations such as AEDC, Popp is hopefully that the tides will turn. “The quality of our current workforce is phenomenal and we have been promoting our unique professional environment through recruitment videos on our website. These feature young professionals within industries such as IT and health where we lack workforce and is meant to make young professional aware in the other parts of the country of the amazing opportunities available here.”
The road ahead
The future of Anchorage seems bright with sea food, energy and the international air cargo industries becoming globally acknowledged. Anchorage and AEDC is also highly supportive of internet based businesses and helping startups to launch themselves in the city. Furthermore, within the retail industry, businesses such as Bass Pro Shops have chosen Anchorage to build their 76,000 square foot facility and test the market. Lockheed Martin has also taken a keen interest in the Anchorage launch facility, therefore allowing the city an opening into the aerospace sector. Popp adds, “the energy sector has also seen a renaissance due to activity in Alaska’s North Slope and Cook Inlet. It was third in terms of job growth with the creation of 650 new jobs. There have also been massive investments in healthcare. It has been very rewarding to see these different innovations that have been entering our market.”
For more information, please visit their website at: Anchorage Economic Development Corporation
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