Homer Alaska - News

Story last updated at 9:30 PM on Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Homer: Open for business?

Economic development strategy available as planning tool

By McKibben Jackinsky
Staff writer

After years of research, gathering public comments and weekly meetings, the Economic Development Commission unveiled the completed "Homer Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy" last week.

"This is a very positive document and I commend you for that," Homer Mayor James C. Hornaday told commission chair Shelly Erickson, commission member Michael Neece and Special Project Coordinator Anne Marie Holen, who presented the plan to the council Feb. 28.

City council member Bryan Zak, who also is the regional director of the South West Alaska Small Business Development Center on the Kenai Peninsula, described the implementation portion of the plan as "a good synopsis."

"The other thing that strikes me that makes this document so powerful, so good, is that after each section there was a list of items that affect those areas that you could move on and take action on," said Zak. "This is a document I could actually use."

Although different cities give them different names, Homer's Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy stands as the city's guideline for economic development, according to City Manager Walt Wrede. Documents such as this also are frequently used in grant applications.

"People have this image that Homer is against everything when it comes to economic development," said Wrede. "We know that's not true and it's incumbent upon us to get out there and tell people what we're for, what kinds of economic development and job creation would this community support."

Wrede said the report will be helpful when talking to legislators about projects for the area or when providing information to business owners considering Homer as a base of operations.

"If they want to know what the community's vision is for jobs and economy, here it is," said Wrede.

The document opens with two definitions:

• Economic development: a process to improve community well being through job creation, business growth and income growth, as well as improvements to a wider social and natural environment that strengthens the economy.

• Economy: a social system including production, exchange, distribution and consumption of goods and services of a given area.

What's being said about CEDS

"I was pleased to see the plan demonstrate the interconnectedness with quality of life."

- Megan Murphy, testifying before the city council

"I loved the economic development strategy. How often do you have someone say that? ... I really appreciate the fact that this actually talks about housing and food and not just about tourism and commercial fishing. That's in here, but you can't have community if you don't have housing and food."

- Kyra Wagoner of Sustainable Homer, testifying before the city council

"I loved this plan and the fact that it took action. Here's what we need to do, how to do it, here's who's in charge of making it happen. It's an excellent piece of work. It will be part of the chamber's plan for the future and we'll use it as a tool for that."

- Tina Day, acting director, Homer Chamber of Commerce

Borrowing from the Homer Comprehensive Plan adopted by the city council in April 2010, the economic development strategy offers a future vision of continued growth for marine trades, commercial fishing, tourism, education, arts and culture, with the quality of life preserved as the city benefits from more year-round, living-wage jobs. It also includes a picture of economic development that encompasses local government's policies and services, factors impacting the quality of life, affordable housing, creation of a skilled and educated workforce, assistance for business owners and impacts of the world beyond the southern peninsula.

The document divides Homer and the surrounding area into 11 economic sectors: commercial fishing and mariculture; other marine trades and development of the port and harbor; the tourism and visitor industry; arts; health, wellness and recreation; education; construction, manufacturing, retail and services; high tech and Internet; transportation and warehousing; agriculture; retirees and second-home residents; and government. Each of those 11 areas is complete with multiple recommendations.

A suggestion in the commercial fishing and mariculture area is that the city recognize and support the value of both commercial and sport fishing interests. "...(T)he emphasis should be on supporting state-federal regulatory measures that help ensure sustainable fisheries to protect this resource for current and future generations," according to the strategy.

Statistics in the tourism-visitor industry show that the Homer Visitor Center welcomed 8,550 guests in 2009, the Pratt Museum receives approximately 35,000 visitors from 47 different countries annually, and, according to the Alaska Department of Commerce, about one-fifth of the half million people visiting the Kenai Peninsula each year come to Homer. They are drawn here by the scenery, sportfishing and other outdoor recreation, and a combination of arts, culture, shopping and dining.

A permanent home for the Homer Farmer's Market is the No. 1 recommendation under agriculture. Other recommendations include establishment of a local food commission.

The role government plays in Homer is measured in several ways by the strategy. In terms of employment offered, according to the 2000 Census, 16.9 percent of those working in Homer were classified as "government workers." The presence of government in Homer also draws visitors. For instance, the Alaska Islands and Ocean Visitor Center attracts 70,000 visitors a year.

Homer's need for a "strong centralized downtown" was noted in the city's first comprehensive development plan, written in 1969. The CEDS points out the need stills exists. To strengthen that argument, the report refers to a 2003 study by Steve Colt of the Institute of Social and Economic Research stating a town center would result in 35 percent more revenue from property taxes in a five-year period and a 33 percent increase in direct employment.

An implementation plan at the end of the CEDS lists specific activities to be considered and the entities responsible for them.

The 50-page document is drawn from public input, research, the assistance of Carol Bevis of Volunteers In Service to America and weekly meetings of the commission. Final compilation of the data and format of the document were done by Anne Marie Holen, special projects coordinator for the city.

"We basically looked at what the old plan had and then looked at what it was missing," said Erickson, comparing the CEDS to an earlier, similar document.

Changing economics made the commission's work challenging.

"When we started, prices were going way up on land and at that point we were losing people because they couldn't afford to live in Homer," said Erickson. "Then oil prices went nuts and it wasn't affordable to live here. We needed to look at all those different scenarios and ask where do we need to be self-sufficient as a community? If we ever had to go off the grid, we had to make sure we had more in place than just tourism. Have we provided places for entrepreneurs and inventors and all those people to be able to foster a place where we could take care of ourselves?"

The CEDS has been accepted by the city council as a separate document, rather than being included in the city's comprehensive plan. That will allow a simpler process to amend the CEDS as needed in the future, according to Beth Wythe, council member.

"If amendments are required in order to keep the plan aligned with the growth and changes of the community, they can easily be made by the council, whereas the Comprehensive Plan is a document which becomes part of the larger (Kenai Peninsula Borough) plan and making modifications to that document becomes more difficult," said Wythe.

Holen supports the CEDS as a planning tool for the public.

"I would hope people would take a look at it. ... Folks from the community might see things in there they think should be pushed and, if they take initiative, it will increase the likelihood that we'll see something happen," said Holen.

The Homer Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy can be found on the Web at www.cityofhomer-ak.gov/economicdevelopment.