Story last updated at 1:13 p.m. Thursday, June 6, 2002

Homer can't grow business by living in past
by Doug Stark
Can you envision a vibrant community with a thriving small-business sector, jobs for young breadwinners with families, causing a growing school population, a booming tourism and sport/commercial fishing industry and citizens with a cooperative can-do attitude? I can, but we're sure not there now. The city that prides itself as being "the city that works" has a reputation as a haven for anti-growth individuals (whether justified or not).

At the present time, jobs are so scarce that many heads of families have to go to Anchorage or the North Slope to earn a decent wage. The result is economic stagnation and a decline in school enrollment. Those expensive new homes being built (mostly outside the city) are mostly owned by wealthy Anchorage residents planning to retire here.

Assuming we want the community envisioned in the first paragraph, some of the things we can do are as follows:

Adjust our attitude (each of us) to be more cooperative, caring and outward looking.

Adjust our city politics to encourage responsible, environmentally friendly growth. We can't expect proposed developments to go through a subjective process without laid-out standards. Particularly with our "anti" reputation, the requirements must be spelled out by ordinance.

The cost for landowners to join the city now is a tax rate of 2.75 mills ($2.75 per thousand dollars assessed property value.) We should adjust our revenue structure to reduce that to a mill or less, and we need to have plans for sewer, water and road extensions so that a landowner has a reason to voluntarily join the city. At this time we don't even provide city services to a large number of our citizens. Newly annexed citizens don't get any tangible services they didn't already have.

Our branch campus, a growing college of the University of Alaska, is a great asset. We should continue to concentrate on providing in Homer skill training for jobs, as well as the first two years of a four-year program of education, and opportunities for lifelong learning.

The Homer Spit is one of our greatest assets. It provides an industrial area separate from homes. We should encourage the owners to make it attractive for tourists, particularly around the deep-water dock where cruise ships deliver tourists for our many thriving gift shops and art galleries. We should be greeting each tour ship with a band and greeting committee. The harbor, an integral part of the Spit, is a great asset, along with our marine services and airport, to fly out fish and to fly in workers and tourists.

We'll find, when the Marine Science Center is completed, that it will be a great draw for day trippers, tour buses and overnighters. When these people see what Homer has to offer they will move here and invest in, Homer.

A major real-estate agent has predicted to me that 20 years from now we'll see a multitude of executive jets parked at the airport.

The result of growth will be lower prices from competition, and jobs so that our young people do not have to leave Homer to make a living. All of us will benefit.

There are people who resist change and want Homer to be as it was 50 years ago. That's not only difficult to achieve, but it would come with a great cost. The rest of us prefer a dynamic community with opportunities and a better way of life for all.

We can do it!

<> Doug Stark, a Homer resident, is a retired manager of government and private organizations, including ownership of Alaska Engineering and Management Services, a development and surveying business on the Kenai Peninsula.