Here are suggested priorities focused on rural Alaska for the next governor’s administration

Fisheries, local planning assistance and rural job centers are low-hanging fruit

November 19, 2022 5:59 am

The Alaska State Capitol on April 22, 2022, in Juneau, Alaska. (Photo by Rashah McChesney)

As the governor’s race settles, showing Gov. Mike Dunleavy was likely reelected, here are suggested priorities for the upcoming four-year term, focused on rural Alaska. Because his administration has been established the past four years, these suggestions should be low-hanging fruit, while also nudging fiscal and community engagement policies in a more fruitful direction. These views are my own and not on behalf of any association, affiliation or employer.

  • More cooperation and collaboration with Yukon and Kuskokwim river communities regarding the Chinook and chum salmon crashes.

The state of Chinook and chum fisheries on the Yukon and Kuskokwim rivers are and have been dire. The issue has been well publicized and state and federal public funding has been made available for yet more studies, sampling and reporting. But what has been particularly lacking is real, genuine engagement with actual fisherwomen and men on each river drainage. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) cannot rely only on western science and lab conditions to understand the true state and nature of the crashes. Each fisherwoman and -man has unique knowledge and past experiences, and ADF&G fisheries biologists can learn much more about salmon from local residents than sampling alone.

  • Beefing up funding for the Division of Community and Regional Affairs, under the Department of Commerce, Community, and Economic Development.

Whether or not the reelected administration supports the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act of 2021 or the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022, the federal funding is there and presents a once-in-a-generation opportunity to revitalize our rural communities, which far outnumber road system communities throughout the state.

I believe what our rural communities most need is an increased focus on basic community planning, and these types of services and technical assistance are provided by the Division of Community and Regional Affairs (DCRA). DCRA has a stated mission of “Helping Alaska’s communities build sustainable economies and a means of self-governance.” If the division were to receive more base funding to provide basic technical support to our rural communities, the ability for our rural communities to receive federal and matching funding would be improved. The end result would be local job opportunities from public infrastructure capital improvement projects.

  • Appointment of the DCRA Director to the state co-chairmanship of the Denali Commission.

The Denali Commission by law has a federal co-chair, appointed by the president after informal consultation with the Alaska delegation. Also by law, the governor appoints a state co-chair, who is usually a commissioner or deputy commissioner of either the Department of Commerce, Community, and Economic Development, or the Department of Labor and Workforce Development. Sometimes the commissioner of the Department of Transportation and Public Facilities is appointed to the state co-chairmanship. 

Because so many local community development projects involving the Denali Commission require local community planning, knowledge and expertise, it makes the most sense for the director of the Division of Community and Regional Affairs (DCRA) to be appointed for the next term. As state co-chair with a staff of local government specialists assigned to subregions around the state, Denali Commission program funding opportunities could be more efficiently appropriated and released according to the inherent working knowledge of the DCRA director. 

  • Reopen Department of Labor and Workforce Development job centers in rural hub communities.

In recent years several rural hub communities have seen Department of Labor and Workforce Development job centers close. As capital improvement opportunities and projects are funded and engaged, brick and mortar job centers provide a vital service connecting job providers and employees. Because many rural communities lack adequate internet bandwidth, having an actual job center for residents to go to seek jobs and training is invaluable. 

Not only would job centers benefit potential employees and trainees, they also benefit potential employers in building local labor pools and efficiently communicating their needs to residents who otherwise may not know or have heard about job opportunities. Job centers provide essential information regarding formal training opportunities on the road system. But if job centers gather enough of a pool of interested individuals and communicate this information to training institutions, then individual or small groups of trainers could economically travel to the rural villages instead of dozens of trainees leaving their homes for weeks or months at a time.

In an era of hyper-partisanship, these suggestions and available adjustments to state policies are within reach, regardless of whether it comes from the right, left or center. These are common-sense approaches to better meet the real needs of our rural communities, concerning local governance, responsibilities and successes. I wish the best of luck to the administration in serving all of Alaska.


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Freddie R. Olin IV
Freddie R. Olin IV

Freddie R. Olin IV is Koyukon Athabascan, born and raised in Anchorage, Alaska. With diverse experiences from working on oil rigs on the North Slope and wildland firefighting in both Alaska and the Lower 48 to staffing political offices in the Alaska State Capitol, his favorite is being a family man with his wife and their two children. He is currently employed by Gana-A'Yoo, Limited, an ANCSA village corporation based in Anchorage. His views and commentary do not reflect those of Gana-A'Yoo.