Juneau researcher Eric McDowell dies

Eric McDowell at the Alaska Folk Festival. (Photo by Brian Wallace)

Eric McDowell, long-time Juneau resident and founder of the research firm McDowell Group has died at the age of 69.

McDowell died Monday in a Seattle hospital of complications from a staph infection.

He established McDowell Group 40 years ago in 1972. It now has offices in Anchorage and Bellingham, Washington.

He was known for pioneering research on a number of Alaska topics, including cost of living, the seafood industry, and the Alaska Visitors Statistics Program. McDowell Group managing principal Jim Calvin says McDowell’s tourism research techniques are still used today and are “really some of the most complex research conducted in the country to gauge visitor industry activity in destinations such as Alaska.”

McDowell conducted the first geographical differential study of the state in 1985, which has since been replicated. Calvin says McDowell “probably had the broadest understanding of socio-economic, cultural conditions in Alaska than anyone else, really. He was just a wealth of knowledge and experience. Alaska’s a very different place from the rest of the country and it takes very different research and analysis techniques to really understand what all of the economic and other factors are at work and drive the cost of living in our varied communities across the state.”

Alaska Commerce, Community and Economic Development Commissioner Susan Bell was hired by Eric McDowell in 2001. She worked on both the visitor industry and cost of living studies.

“As I’ve come to work for the state of Alaska I see that they are still landmark projects,” she says.

Calvin says McDowell was most passionate about McDowell Group studies done for Alaska Native organizations. And while the company is well-known for its survey research on a wide variety of topics, Eric McDowell always refused to conduct political party and candidate surveys.

On a personal level, McDowell was passionate about basketball, and still played nationally in senior games. He was a singer, songwriter and guitarist, who performed regularly at the Alaska Folk Festival. He also was a commercial salmon troller. Bell calls him the “quintessential fisherman.”

Eric McDowell and Bruce Weyhrauch share a hug at the 2011 Blessing of the Fleet at the Fishermen’s Memorial on the Juneau waterfront. Photo by Casey Kelly.

“It’s something he did throughout his life; it’s something his family participated in. He was very proud of Alaska seafood. He worked with organizations like ASMI on the marketing programs; he worked with a lot of corporations throughout the state on their marketing and their product development, and on ice processing machines and in other ways,” Bell says. “I think that was something that was a thread throughout his whole life. It was meaningful and he was first and foremost a fisherman.”

Eric McDowell was born in Juneau and raised in Haines. He had bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of Alaska Fairbanks, and a Masters of Business Administration and Marketing Research from the University of Oregon. He also was a certified and practicing alcohol recovery counselor.

Services are pending.

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