Economic development officials launch campaign against Anchorage’s ‘talent crisis’

Construction workers walk down a city street.
Construction workers walk down Fifth Avenue between D and E streets in downtown Anchorage in 2021. Fat Ptarmigan closed earlier this winter. (Jeff Chen/Alaska Public Media)

The Anchorage Economic Development Corporation unveiled a new action plan Wednesday to revitalize the economy of Alaska’s biggest city. 

The corporation hired consultants with TIP Strategies to put it together. They’re calling the campaign Choose Anchorage. The wide-ranging, five-year plan calls on leaders from diverse fields and backgrounds to collaborate on four areas: fostering business vitality, building up the workforce, improving quality of life and investing in critical public infrastructure. 

Some of the dozens of specific action items in the 50-page plan include creating youth entrepreneurship and information technology education programs, creating a regional workforce development board, expanding permanent supportive housing and advocating for the reconstruction of dock facilities at the Port of Alaska. 

The action plan dovetails with the takeaways from AEDC’s economic forecast for 2023. CEO Bill Popp presented it at his organization’s annual economic forecast luncheon on Wednesday. 

Bill Popp speaks at Dena'ina Center
Anchorage Economic Development Corp. CEO Bill Popp delivers his organization’s 2023 economic forecast at the Dena’ina Center in Anchorage on Wednesday. (Jeremy Hsieh/Alaska Public Media)

He shared a lot of statistics outlining the big picture trends and industry overviews, then boiled it down: “A good year ahead, but not necessarily a great year like 2022 was.” 

Over and over again, he highlighted one issue holding back economic growth. 

“Lack of availability of workers with the skills local employers need to fill thousands of vacant job positions is the simple answer as to why our city won’t see more jobs added in 2023,” he said. “And there are no quick fixes to this situation. Almost all the likely solutions will take both time and resources to deploy.” 

That’s where Popp said the Choose Anchorage campaign comes in. Jeff Marcell is one of the consultants who worked on the plan. He called the situation a “talent crisis.” If nothing changes, he said Anchorage “is not going to be the kind of community that you want to have.”

He said following through with the plan will take investment, both in dollars and sweat equity. 

Alex Cooke and Jeff Marcell of TIP Strategies
Alex Cooke, a consultant with TIP Strategies, discusses the Choose Anchorage action plan for revitalizing Anchorage’s economy at the Anchorage Economic Development Corp.’s 2023 economic forecast luncheon at the Dena’ina Center in Anchorage on Wednesday. Also pictured, his colleague Jeff Marcell. (Jeremy Hsieh/Alaska Public Media)

“This is a crisis,” Marcell said. “And you can’t bury your head in sand for a crisis. We’ve gotten to know the leaders here, we know that you’re not going to do that. You have to face this crisis and deal with it. And there are solutions out there. But you have to, once again, come together to address those.”

Popp told the audience that AEDC will be accountable on the progress, or a lack thereof, with regular updates. 

“We are a great city, with great assets with great people,” he said. “We just have to come together, make one decision: Choose Anchorage. So join us in choosing Anchorage.” 

The consultants said other communities had success with similar plans when business leaders drove the collaborative process, and when those leaders acted boldly and transparently to build trust.

Editor’s note: Bill Popp is a member of Alaska Public Media’s Board of Directors.

Jeremy Hsieh has worked in journalism since high school as a reporter, editor and television producer. He lived in Juneau from 2008 to 2022 and now lives in Anchorage.

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