Cole Sonafrank's

Introductory Remarks
on Ordinance 98-053 Establishing the
Fairbanks North Star Borough's
Economic Development Commission
(of which I was the primary author)
December 17th 1998

Tonight seems like an appropriate night to remind folks of Governor Jay Hammond's quote posted on the wall as you enter these chambers. He says:

"Fairbanks is a town where ideas flourish, where debate, sometimes strident, searches for truth, regardless of how many sacred cows are milked dry or barbecued in the process."

Economic Development is a sacred cow we've dined on for years. I sincerely appreciate each and every suggestion that everyone over the last several months has contributed to members of the Assembly and Administration as we've worked on this Economic Development initiative. I appreciate the sometimes strident debate, but I am determined that this time it will yield more than one of our infamous barbecues.

That's the end of that metaphor, now for another one…

I know I'm in good company when I say that I love this community. I'm sure that everyone who's been involved with this initiative does.

No one can frustrate us as much as those we love. Yet nothing is more worthy of the patience and cooperation necessary to work through that frustration.

There is far more that is wonderful about where we live than things to complain about. But many of us are concerned about the future and see the need to improve our position in the global economy. In this regard, we are an adolescent community, if a very bright one. Our critical skills are at their peak. We know that we don't want to be like our parents in the lower 48, or like our sibling of Anchorage. But, let's face it, sometimes we're downright disagreeable while searching for what we want to be when we grow up. I don't pretend to know what that is. However, I can't say strongly enough that we'd better get on with figuring it out, or we'll end up an unemployed adult.

That's the whole point of this Economic Development Commission.

Drafting this ordinance has been quite a challenge for us all. Fairly early on we reached the point where almost any change, making it more to the liking of some vociferously expressed interest, made it less acceptable to some other. I'll repeat the metaphor I've been using for weeks: Economic Development is a motherhood and apple pie issue. The problem is, everybody loves their mother best and prefers their pie spiced just so. Some want a tablespoon of private sector with a just pinch of government. That's a taste others have grown tired of and want some new and different spices mixed in. I'm a glutton. I want a bigger, but healthier pie.

Other communities throughout our country have learned that baking bigger pies requires real effort through public and private partnerships. There are about 320 Economic Development Districts in the country with boards and commissions similar in size and makeup to what we have under consideration. There is a lot of variation, but local government participation is a requirement of the federal Economic Development Authority.

It is a most appropriate function for us to lead this effort at the local government level and overtly participate in the commission's activities. The Mayor and each of us are elected at-large to represent, to the best of our ability, everyone throughout our borough. This commission has several very significant responsibilities which it can only meet by being well led, well staffed, and well connected to the community as a whole, including government.

One of the functions of this Commission is to help local government do a better job facilitating private entrepreneurial activities. Another is to try and bring about infrastructure development that resolves serious problems such as inadequate access to and parking downtown. Its first task is to lead and be responsible for the creation of a community-wide Overall Economic Development Plan. This Plan will provide an official context, supported by our community, for coordinated efforts on the part of existing private and non-profit organizations to address real and existing needs which hinder our prosperity and threaten our quality of life.

The proposed makeup of this Commission is intended to be just broad enough to balance the absolute necessity for diverse leadership, without becoming too large to make decisions. Again, 15 or 16 voting members is not an unusual size to fulfil these functions. It will require strong leadership and some simple techniques for coming to closure. The notion that it can't function is simply wrong. I'll grant that perhaps it won't produce the same product as some folks might like. However, it can produce results that our community supports instead of fights. Indeed, my interest in promoting our creation of this commission is to enable our community to address needs that we have consistently failed to address using our traditional methods, which have milked the sacred cows dry before barbecuing them.

I urge my fellow Assembly members to make some minor adjustments to this ordinance without dramatically altering its membership, which for a variety of reasons, I firmly believe is designed for success as presented.

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