By Heidi Zemach for SCN
A group of young Seward business people has begun meeting together, learning more about one another, and thinking about ways to move the town forward. Thirty of them met at the Seward Resort Tuesday, Nov. 13, for the second meeting of Y.E.S., an acronym for “Young Entrepreneurs of Seward.”
Some 25-30 had showed up for the first meeting at Chinook’s last month, among them local folks who run restaurants, an alehouse, a coffee shop, sled-dog kennel, welding business, a realtor, dental business, fish processor, and other marine-related businesses. They had invited Assistant City Manager Ron Long along to give them an update on the city’s development plans to date for Seward Municipal Industrial Center, SMIC, and the home-porting requirements of the Coastal Villages CDQ fleet, which has potential to draw additional marine-based businesses and jobs to town. Some hoped for a shot at making that happen.
The group also wanted to learn more about the city’s plans for the Seward Resort Army Recreation Camp, which closed down this summer, leaving behind some prime acres of land along the Seward Highway in town. The military’s plans for selling the campground property has not been finalized, and the city has not made plans for what to do with it either, Long told them.
Y.E.S. participants also felt that confusing list of city building permit requirements should be made more clear, and easier for the business community to deal with, and that city codes should be made more consistent, said Allen King, one of the group’s organizers. They also want Seward to provide better recreation facilities to attract and keep young families. Some had questions about the Seward Resort that remains, and why civilian residents are excluded from certain special events that it holds, such as a popular Murder Mystery. As a result, they decided to hold their next meeting at the Resort, and to invite its business manager Scott Bartlett to educate the group about how it operates.
The meeting Tuesday night included a host of newcomers as well as returning members, King said. The discussion was wide-ranging again, and Elliott Jackson, owner of the Railway Cantina and Chattermark Restaurant suggested that they take charge, get better organized and create agendas in advance of their next meetings. Nicole Lawrence, who works at Integrity Realty, suggested that they create a mission statement or business plan. Others said they should establish a social media presence, which they subsequently did on FaceBook. They also suggested sending a representative to City Council meetings to keep both bodies better informed.
Prior to its next meeting, the group plans a social gathering at the Railway Cantina, to get to know one another informally, exchange business cards, and to begin hashing out their mission statement, King said.
A variety of other ideas floated included listing Seward’s winter activities on a website and continuing the winter business treasure hunt. King suggested creating a permanent fund-style investment for local salmon fisheries enhancement projects from salmon derby profits, or fish taxes, with only the fund’s interest spent on buying smolt and fisheries education. He also suggested interested consumers invite the Anchorage-based credit union Alaska U.S.A. to establish a presence in Seward, even if it’s only a kiosk inside another established business.
One person speaking out, can’t make a change, but many people doing so together, with a unified goal, can, King said, whether it means encouraging a new business to move to town, or advocating that the city council enact a particular policy.
Bartlett, from the Seward Resort gave a very informative presentation on what the Seward Resort is, does, and how it benefits Seward economically. Its purpose is for military to have an affordable place for troops and their families’ “MWR”, or Moral, Welfare and Recreation. The resort is interested in working with as many Seward businesses as possible in order to promote Seward’s economy, he said. Already, it brings in some 400 people to the town per day from all over the U.S. Its clients pre-book more tickets to the Alaska SeaLife Center than any other organization, and also provides customers to other businesses such as Major Marine Tours, Kenai Fjords Tours, Bardy’s Trail rides, and others.
The concept for the Y.E.S. group came about when some local leaders and business people met for an ongoing series of facilitated economic development planning workshops for Seward. King, who owns One Stop Photography with his wife Tina; Dan Butts, who owns Chinook’s Waterfront Restaurant, and Tom Tougas, who owns Hertz Rentals and Major Marine Tours were together in a sub-group, focusing on exploring alternative forms of energy and conservation. They noticed with disappointment that while most of the attendees at the workshop were familiar movers and shakers, most were in their upper 50s and beyond, or nearing retirement or retired. They thought it would be a good idea to get a more youthful interest in Seward’s future and development through education and involvement. Mostly, they hoped to give the group a kick start, and then let its own leaders emerge and take it wherever they wanted. “Everything is either growing or its dying,” said King. “As a community we’re going to continue to grow, or we’re going to die. It’s not going to stay the same for long.”
For the first time in a decade, the new city administration under City Manager Jim Hunt, Long, and Harbormaster Mack Funk appears more amenable to working closely with the business community to obtain common goals, Tougas said. He hopes and believes that the city also will be more amenable to selling, or leasing land at SMIC uplands area to private developers. To date, private businesses have not wanted to spend money to build businesses there because the city would not sell them the land, thus there were no guarantees that their leases would last, he said.