Field Notes is a series of TIP Strategies interviews with leaders across the country exploring pressing economic, workforce, and community development issues.
In January 2023, TIP participated in the well-attended rollout of Choose Anchorage: A Framework For Revitalization (Choose Anchorage), a multi-stakeholder planning effort conducted for the Anchorage Economic Development Corporation (AEDC). Funded with a grant from the US Economic Development Administration, the year-long planning process sought to connect the region’s primary industry clusters to its workforce needs and address structural issues influencing Anchorage’s long-term prosperity. We invited AEDC vice president Jenna Wright to share an update on the plan’s implementation.
Q1. How are you implementing the Choose Anchorage economic development strategic plan? How did you decide where to concentrate your efforts?
We quickly realized that the holistic approach embodied by the Choose Anchorage strategic plan meant that AEDC’s four-person team wouldn’t have sufficient capacity to independently spearhead the plan’s execution, nor did we possess complete authority in all facets. For that reason, we embraced collaboration with an array of community partners. Our initial step involved the establishment of an 11-member leadership committee from Anchorage’s business community that was instrumental in providing comprehensive guidance and ensuring accountability. Next, we focused on establishing specialized management working groups, each dedicated to the plan’s four foundational pillars: Talent, Business Vitality, Quality of Place, and Infrastructure.
A pivotal juncture arose when we confronted the need to prioritize pillars, recognizing that we had internal constraints of just two program-associated team members, each with the capacity to engage with one pillar. The plan acknowledges that Anchorage’s paramount economic challenge revolved around the dwindling number of working-age adults and that our future success would be directly tied to our ability to attract and retain a younger demographic. In today’s environment of nationwide workforce competition, we know that people tend to relocate to places they’re eager to live in, and then choose a job from there. This realization underscored the necessity of transforming Anchorage into an enticing choice, facilitated by investments in the quality of living standards that would render our city an exceptional place to live, work and play. Consequently, our energies were channeled into forming management working groups centered around the Quality of Place and Talent pillars.
Q2. Have you been able to achieve any early wins or progress on any of the strategies from Choose Anchorage that you would like to share?
Yes, we are thrilled with some of the immediate impacts the Choose Anchorage plan has had! One of the largest realizations of the research within the Choose Anchorage plan was that Anchorage needed to retain and attract working age adults for our economy to grow. Understanding that cities across the country are facing this same challenge, AEDC is laser-focused on ways to make Anchorage worth choosing over another US city.
A noteworthy achievement related to the Business Development pillar is our partnership with local startup experts to establish a comprehensive online resource center. This repository, accessible on AEDC’s website, provides entrepreneurs with crucial business coaching resources, financing avenues, networking opportunities, and more—a valuable asset for both aspiring and established business proprietors.
Transitioning to the Talent pillar, we’re proud to have orchestrated a successful social media campaign led by a local Alaskan influencer. Leveraging her platform of over 50K followers, she highlighted her love for Anchorage and encouraged others to relocate, garnering more than 100K impressions so far. Concurrently, AEDC collaborated with the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce Young Professionals Group to conduct a survey that offers insights into the preferences of young professionals. This knowledge aids employers in enhancing employee satisfaction and expanding our workforce.
Understanding that the talent we seek requires a city with strong quality of life elements, we’ve been heavily focused on the Quality of Place pillar. Among the initial milestones was the Great Streets Façade Program launched by the Anchorage Community Development Authority, a municipal corporation. This program seeks to revitalize downtown and surrounding neighborhoods by enhancing the storefronts of local businesses and moving us closer to our aesthetic goals, creating a more vibrant and inviting environment for residents and visitors alike.
Infrastructure, the final pillar, has seen significant advancements as well. The Port of Alaska, a vital source of goods for 90 percent of Alaskans, is undergoing substantial revitalization efforts, ensuring its essential role in commerce and food security remains intact. Similarly, the Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport has achieved a momentous feat of earning the rank of the world’s third busiest cargo airport, a testament to our global significance and strategic position.
These initial accomplishments only mark the start of our journey with the Choose Anchorage plan. At AEDC, we find inspiration and motivation in these achievements, emblematic of our city’s steadfast commitment to progress, innovation, and economic advancement.
Q3. How are you engaging the greater Anchorage community to support Choose Anchorage implementation efforts?
We’ve established a comprehensive online platform as a means to actively engage individuals with all four fundamental pillars of the plan. Additionally, we leverage AEDC’s biannual luncheons, attended by up to 1,500 influential business leaders, to provide the community with progress updates. These gatherings also serve as an avenue to introduce keynote speakers who underscore the significance of the strategies embedded within the Choose Anchorage plan.
To roll out the plan in January of 2023, we organized an informative session featuring TIP consultants Jeff Marcell and Alex Cooke. Their presentation explained the research methodology applied in the development of the plan and outlined the actionable strategies within the plan. In August of 2023, we organized a keynote address by Mick Cornett, four-time mayor of Oklahoma City (OKC). His insights reinforced the importance of the plan and highlighted the remarkable economic renaissance that occurred in OKC from the 1990s to the present day, a transformation primarily spurred by the city’s resolute decision to take their future into their own hands by investing in themselves.
Q4. What impact has the Choose Anchorage economic development strategic plan had on the Anchorage Assembly and future policy making?
A number of recent citywide initiatives can be traced back to the roots of the Choose Anchorage plan. As previously discussed, the Anchorage Community Development Authority has placed significant emphasis on the revitalization of storefronts which relates to the Quality of Place pillar. Concurrently, the Anchorage Assembly, working in tandem with the Mayoral Administration, has undertaken strategic measures to mitigate housing barriers and stimulate economically viable expansion within the urban landscape of downtown. The Municipality of Anchorage has also made significant policy changes that appear to have been influenced, if not directly driven, by insights gained during the Choose Anchorage process. The most notable of these include a ban on new surface parking lots downtown and the removal of minimum off-site parking requirements for developments citywide. These actions address the pressing challenge of underutilized surface parking while bolstering economic growth and promoting innovative urban planning practices.
As AEDC’s Vice President, Jenna Wright is responsible for managing and supporting the successful deployment of strategies, programs, and initiatives that promote the growth of the Anchorage economy. She works in collaboration with the AEDC President & CEO, staff, and Board of Directors to accomplish initiatives and projects including business retention and expansion, workforce development, economic research, so that by 2030, Anchorage becomes the #1 mid-sized city in America to live, work and play. Jenna holds bachelor’s degrees in Marketing and Investment Finance and a Master’s of Business Administration from the University of Alaska Anchorage. She is an avid outdoorswoman who has trained for and participated in historic Alaskan races like Seward’s Mt. Marathon and Anchorage’s Golden Nugget Triathlon, in addition to many other road running and mountain races across Alaska. Jenna lives in Anchorage with her husband Dana and their three dogs