An “economic development summit” scheduled for Haines March 8 can’t come soon enough.
Shrinkage of state capital project spending in Haines, repeated anemic tour seasons and a slowdown in the real estate market are taking a toll on local stores and businesses. Documented declines in community and school populations will mean reduced funding to the town from state and federal grants that use population-based formulas.
Even without those declines, the outlook for state and federal spending was not promising.
New options for making money here need to be developed, and talk can help put ideas into motion. Attention should probably first be paid to how to help existing businesses. Several specialty products are manufactured here. Do manufacturers need help marketing their products to be successful? What’s available? Also, how can retail mom-and-pops compete with “big box” stores?
These questions have been tackled in other towns. What has worked?
There’s a precedent for an economic development summit in Haines. When the timber industry dried up here in the early 1980s, the Haines Chamber of Commerce hosted annual “Community Conferences” aimed at spreading ideas and generating discussion.
Not every idea mentioned at those conferences took flight, but important decisions were made in their wake, including dedication of a 1 percent sales tax to promote tourism. That money helped launch the industry here, and some of the visitors who came for a visit bought land and built houses, which boosted the real estate and construction sectors.
It’s time to put our heads together.
A Haines Borough Assembly vote against spending $6,500 in existing trails money for a sauna at the Haines swimming pool was unnecessarily miserly, but not surprising.
The borough has a history of resistance toward funding recreation and wellness, most recently evidenced by:
· A decision in 2011, never adequately explained, to tear down the old elementary gym, a sound building with a watertight roof;
· A token “open gym” program that is not promoted and held so late at night as to discourage participation;
· Absence of a formal Parks and Recreation Department, common in towns even smaller than Haines, that typically organize adult and youth recreation programs, and promote fitness and healthy living.
What’s remarkable is the vote against the sauna came the same week the assembly approved spending $10,000 on moving expenses for its new manager and discussed spending $500,000 to bury power lines along three blocks of Third Avenue.
The borough has its spending priorities, and recreation isn’t among them. That’s ironic, considering that the borough’s own tourism department markets the town as the “Adventure Capital of Alaska.”
No matter. The town eventually will have a sauna, because it’s an inexpensive, good idea. It may take formation of a “Friends of the Pool” group and a bunch of spaghetti dinners, but it will happen.
Visitors go gaga over a summer day in Haines, but winter is our dominant season. Weather-wise, it lasts about seven months. Amenities like swimming pools and saunas, which promote good health and alleviate stress, hold people in the North during winter, helping sustain year-round communities. That makes them an important, sound investment.
-- Tom Morphet