Alaska’s sales pitch: Vast resources and a melting Arctic

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Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy and Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon speak at a panel discussion at the International Forum of Sovereign Wealth Funds. (KTOO image from video)

Juneau is home to the Alaska Permanent Fund Corp. And this week, the capital city was also home to the International Forum of Sovereign Wealth Funds.

It was the first time the annual meeting has been held in the United States, and it offered a unique chance for the state to pitch itself as a great investment opportunity to wealth managers from across the globe.

The International Forum of Sovereign Wealth Funds isn’t a conference you can easily crash. There are several security guards posted by the entryways. It would be a tough feat to sneak into the buffet line.

In two days of closed sessions, attendees traded info on best practices for investing billions of dollars on behalf of nations or states. But Thursday was open to the media and broadcast to the public.

At a morning panel discussion, the conversation turned to the Arctic.

“Is a warming Arctic the next gold rush?” asked a representative from the Kuwait Investment Authority, a sovereign wealth fund with assets of more than $500 billion.

He posed the question to Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy. Dunleavy stopped short of comparing the melting of Arctic sea ice to the Alaska gold rush. But he encouraged the audience to consider the investment potential in the state.

Dunleavy suggested Alaska is uniquely positioned to benefit from a new trade route in the Arctic.

“That’s something people in this room and this world should think about,” Dunleavy said. “Because we need to build infrastructure in that area. We need to start to develop that area in anticipation of what’s going to happen.”

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Earlier in the discussion, Dunleavy mentioned there are vast resources in Alaska “barely being touched.”

He added that the Trump Administration has been very pro-development.

“I’d say, take a look at Alaska for a whole host of reasons. We have our traditional resources. We’re a new state,” Dunleavy said. “So imagine America, in some respects, 100 years ago.”

A big topic of conversation at the forum this week was digital disruption: machine learning and the use of personal data.

It’s something sovereign wealth funds try to key into: How will this disruption shape the market, and what are the investment opportunities?

In Alaska, you could say the climate is being disrupted. The Arctic is warming twice as fast as the rest of the world.

“At the same time, retreating glaciers leave behind access to great mineral wealth and the potential for new resource development,” said Angela Rodell, the CEO of the Alaska Permanent Fund Corp., speaking on the panel.

After the session, Rodell said this forum is one of the ways sovereign funds get ideas for where to invest.

“Being on the ground, talking to the people who live and work in a region, nothing beats that for creating a sense of happening, possibility, opportunity, trust,” Rodell said.

Next year, the Alaska Permanent Fund Corp. will have a 5,000-mile-plus commute to attend the conference.

It’s happening in Baku, the capital city of Azerbaijan.

Editor’s note: KTOO is under contract with the Alaska Permanent Fund Corp. to produce video coverage for this event.

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