I can’t help but wonder how Alaskans will think back on the summer of 2019. Among heat waves, forest fires, rapidly changing climate, and too many inexplicably stranded marine mammals, the “bad” list is long. But at the top of that list is sure to be our dysfunctional State government, which is somehow oblivious to its impact on Alaska’s economy – and to its responsibility to take care of people.
How will we reflect back on this? Economists predict a recession similar to 2015. If the worst happens with this veto package and core services are slashed, I fear that this moment in our history will become ‘before the vetoes of 2019 and after.’
We’ve internalized these ‘before and after’ historical points of reference before. I was born and raised in a commercial fishing family in Cordova, Alaska. Back home in Cordova, folks’ note ‘before and after’ to reference the pivotal moments in which their lives changed. I grew up hearing about before and after the 1964 earthquake and before and after the 1989 Exxon Valdez Oil Spill, and so on. Depending on which region of Alaska you call home, we come to the table with different experiences. Experiences that often influence our politics, our economics, our professions, our favorite subsistence foods, and our internalized ‘before and after’ points of reference. But if there is one ‘before and after’ that we are all about to have in common, it is ‘before and after the vetoes of 2019.’
I am writing this from an Alaska Airlines jet en route to Dallas. I am flying there to attend a conference that I believe will help me grow my company and give back to the clients, communities, and causes that I believe in. This is not uncommon thinking among Alaskan entrepreneurs I know. We are all trying to grow our companies. We are all striving to give back to our state and the causes we believe in. We balance our budgets or else our companies would cease to exist. We innovate in new ways and search for common ground in order to build up our networks, hustle new business, and strategize to get just one step closer to the ultimate vision we hold for our businesses.
Alaska has an incredible entrepreneurial spirit and a rapidly growing startup sector. New companies cover everything from politics to renewable energy innovation, space technology and Alaskan food brands. I am proud to work amongst a number of them at our co-working space Downtown Anchorage.
Many of us – in this young, small state – have known the entrepreneurs and leaders who helped Alaska step up to the plate since the beginning. Today, we remember their efforts when we see their names on legislation, buildings, bridges, and airports. They include pioneers of political autonomy and political strength such as Elizabeth Peratrovich and Ted Stevens. Perhaps because my Dad was a helicopter pilot, I love knowing about Carl Brady, Sr. who brought the first helicopter to Alaska and whose flying license was signed by helicopter Inventor Igor Sikorsky. I’ve heard stories of our fabled bankers like National Bank of Alaska’s Elmer Rasmuson, and Warren and Lucy Cuddy who built up First National Bank of Alaska and its statewide development efforts. This year, we celebrate the 100th birthday of our second Governor, Wally Hickel, whose fight for more Alaska land and the opening of Prudhoe Bay made all the difference in giving us the wealth for a Permanent Fund. Eat king crab and remember Lowell Wakefield, who led the charge in turning our delicious crustaceans into a globally sought commodity.
For the few I named here, there are many more. We stand on their shoulders, trusted with continuing to build this great State.
Going against the grain is nothing strange to Alaskans. In many ways, this state raises us to be up to the challenge. It’s that gritty attitude that prompted me to start my own firm two years out of law school. It’s that can-do gumption that motivates many of my friends and colleagues to continue to build up and push forward despite the odds. In times like these, we can all benefit from taking a page out of the book of those early entrepreneurs and political leaders who had a vision for Alaska and chased after it without hesitation.
For the next wave of Alaskan businesses to continue to build and push, we need stronger leadership. Without a healthy economy, many of us will be dead in the water. We are counting on a proactive legislature and administration that recognizes opportunities, attracts investment, and maintains important services for a high quality of life statewide.
Alaskans deserve better. It is reasonable to expect our children to be educated in competitive and healthy public schools and universities. It is reasonable to expect the Governor to compromise, the legislature to meet in one location, and for all of our leaders to put the health of our state and economy ahead of politics. Lives and businesses are literally at risk.
Anything less than finding a solution for Alaskans is eroding at the very morale and trust remaining in our state. Anything less could result in an exodus of the young inspired doers seeking bold opportunities to build their careers. If the legislature and the Governor truly dig deep into the consciousness of our state and the leaders that came before them, they can surely reach the correct solutions this summer. As history shows us, we’ve been up against worse before and have come out victorious.
Let’s avoid marking the summer of 2019 as a ‘before and after.’ Let’s remember the summer of 2019 as a critical moment in time when Alaskans came together, crossed the aisle, and found a solution that protected the PFD while preserving quality of life for the youth, the elders, and everyone in between. This is Alaska. Anything is possible.
Rachel Kallander is an Alaskan business owner based in Anchorage and Cordova. Kallander is Managing Partner of Kallander & Associates LLC, a consulting firm serving political, policy, and business sectors statewide. She is also Founder & Executive Director of the Arctic Encounter, the largest annual Arctic policy conference in the U.S. with policy convenings and partnerships worldwide.