Matanuska-Susitna Borough (AK) – Economic Development Strategic Plan

ChallengeSituated in South Central Alaska, Mat-Su Borough covers an expansive area totaling nearly 25,000 square miles. Its geographic diversity includes mountain ranges, rolling lowlands, river valleys, forests, and wetlands. To the south, the Borough borders Anchorage’s northern suburbs. Since 1970, Mat-Su has experienced explosive population growth. Much of Mat-Su’s growth has been sustained by Anchorage residents seeking more affordable housing options and the Borough’s appealing lifestyle. Such rapid population growth, however, has not come without costs. Mat-Su’s exploding population fueled a boom in residential construction, culminating in a significant market correction in 2005-2006. The residential construction surge also resulted in haphazard growth patterns and conflicting land uses. The Mat-Su economic base remains undiversified and largely dependent on external factors, including federal and state fiscal policy, the health of the Anchorage economy, and the price of oil. Mat-Su’s competitiveness for export-oriented industrial development is limited by the state’s remoteness relative to high growth markets, as well as high transportation, labor, and energy costs. Finally, the Borough has traditionally lacked a common vision for growth and development and its image regionally has suffered. With these challenges in mind, Mat-Su commissioned TIP Strategies to develop a Borough-wide economic development strategic plan.

ApproachThe purpose of the plan was to provide a blueprint for positioning Mat-Su for sustainable economic growth and prosperity. Input for the plan was gathered over a 10-month process incorporating input and ideas from key stakeholders throughout the Borough. The information for the planning effort was provided primarily by four stakeholder committees and seven focus groups of business people, as well as representatives of public entities (cities, utilities, state agencies, etc.) and workforce development representatives. In addition, individual interviews and discussions were conducted with business representatives throughout the Borough. Over 180 people – 80 percent of whom are from the region’s business community – participated in plan committees, focus groups, and interviews.

OutcomeThe plan was presented to the Borough’s stakeholders and approved by the assembly in April 2009. Among the highest priority strategies included establishing a university-medical district, creating a new economic development partnership, and building greater awareness of Mat-Su among employers in Anchorage.

TIP Contact Jon Roberts

Courtesy of Cecil Sanders

Photo credit Frank K.