Southeast leaders consider region’s maritime industry

he Ketchikan Shipyard is a big part of the region’s maritime industry, which will be discussed at this year’s Southeast Conference meeting. (Ed Schoenfeld/CoastAlaska News)

About 250 Panhandle business, government and nonprofit leaders will gather in Sitka Sept. 17-19. It’s the annual meeting of the Southeast Conference, one of the region’s larger organizations.

This year’s meeting will look toward the sea.

That’s according to Shelly Wright, executive director of the Southeast Conference, which is headquartered in Juneau.

“We’re really focusing on the maritime industry in Southeast Alaska, the seafood industry, some of the transportation industry pieces (and) workforce development,” she says. “(We’re) trying to get back to the small business and how we can grow as a region by growing our businesses.”

The organization has been in the middle of a number of efforts to reinvigorate the region’s logging and wood-processing industry.

They include the many-membered Tongass Futures Roundtable and Gov. Sean Parnell’s Alaska Timber Task Force.

Wright says the conference will announce plans at the meeting for its own effort.

“To try to manage the Tongass in the way that’s going to create a universal strategy for habitat as well as resource development.”

Q: “And isn’t that something that the Forest Service is already doing?”

A: “We would like to show them a better way.”

The Southeast Conference meeting will include the release of their annual economic roundup at the meeting. (Click to read the conference agenda.)

And a variety of speakers and panelists will talk about mining, transportation and vocational training.

“It really is a one-stop shopping event where you have access to leadership throughout the region and state,” says Robert Venables of Haines, the organization’s energy coordinator.

“We have agency participation and the communities all have an opportunity just to do lessons learned and share experiences of what they’ve been accomplishing, what they hope to accomplish and how we’re doing,” he says.

Yakutat, for example, is trying to be the first Alaska community to use wave power to generate electricity. The conference will get an update from Columbia Power Technologies, a Lower-48 company working on the project.

Venables says a variety of speakers will provide updates on hydropower, biomass and other energy projects throughout the region.

(We have so much surrounding us with wave, water, wood and wind. Those are the technologies that we really need to tap into,” he says.

Conference attendees will tour the Blue Lake Dam expansion project, Sitka’s brewery and the shipbuilding company Allen Marine.

Wright says a panel will also showcase locals.

“We’ve got some entrepreneurs in Sitka that are going to be presenting their business, how they started and how they succeeded in Sitka,” Wright  says.

The Southeast Conference will also hold its annual board election. Six of 13 seats are up for grabs.

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