Movers and shakers from around the central peninsula gathered for the annual industry outlook forum Wednesday in Soldotna.
The event is put on by the Kenai Peninsula Economic Development District, and featured speakers from about every business sector you’ll find on the Kenai. And providing an overview of all this was Alyssa Rodrigues from the state Division of Economic Development. She says job losses of recent years have tailed off, but new job creation will likely be minimal in 2018.
“My unofficial forecast for the Kenai borough in terms of job growth for 2018 is somewhere between zero percent and a half percent decline. I think it’s a little bit too early to be expecting growth in terms of total average annual jobs. I would be hopeful that jobs might start, on a monthly basis, be higher than the prior year. Maybe toward the third quarter of 2018. But I don’t think (taking) the year as a whole, we’ll be seeing much job growth.”
Major cutbacks in oil and gas activity that started in 2015 are the main culprit. Rodrigues says the Kenai, perhaps more so than other areas around the state, is trying to break out of those boom and bust cycles, and create a more diversified economic portfolio.
“ (In my presentation) I talked about the comprehensive economic development strategy for the state. And that’s the first one the state has ever had. I think that’s part of trying to figure out how to get everyone together and find ways to strengthen these different industries that we already have, but we need to work on ways to strengthen and diversify by growing the other sectors.
And to that end, Rodrigues says she’s keeping an eye on businesses helping replace imports with local products that are working to maximize their value; selling peanut butter instead of just the peanuts.
“We import so many things. We import food, we import goods. And that’s a very important part of what we do and we’re going to keep doing it. But how much more could we be doing for ourselves? What products could we produce in state instead of importing. And then, the value-added side of that; when we export, we export very raw products. What can we do to really add value to those and then just extract more value from the things we’re already doing? How can we do what we’re doing better?”
The forum had more than a dozen speakers, and we’ll have those presentations available online later in the week. We’ll also be following up on a few things in the coming weeks during a new segment for KDLL, Econ 919. Starting this Friday, we’ll bring you a weekly economic report as we track the numbers around the borough and spotlight new trends. Listen live every Friday at 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.