Ardors: 14 years of economic development; these organizations were formed to create jobs in rural Alaska. Some fall short of their original goal, but all work toward economic development throughout the state.

Author:Schmitz, Richard F.
Position:Alaska Regional Development Organizations

Each year, when the Alaska Legislature ponders the billion or so dollars that comprise the state's budget, a few minutes--in some office or committee room--are set aside to consider the fate of the $660,000 line item to continue funding of ARDORs.

Each year, it seems, it takes just a little more convincing to hold the red pencil at bay.

ARDORs--Alaska Regional Development Organizations--came into the world in 1988 with great promise. Fourteen years later, ARDORs could be compared to a teenager growing up in a large, extended family: seen by some as failing to live up to expectations, yet seen by others as having great promise.

And like a teenager who never gives a straight answer to the question: "What did you learn today?," ARDORs have a hard time answering the budget-writer's question "What specific jobs have you created through developing new business?"

In any case, ARDORs of 2002 bear only some resemblance to what was envisioned by legislators--particularly former State Sen. Arliss Sturgelewski--who worked to get the program off the ground in the first place.

"You can call me the Mother of ARDORs, but I'm not sure if that's good or bad," said Sturgelewski, former gubernatorial candidate and statewide political leader.

The original idea was to form grassroots organizations in rural Alaska that would work to create jobs through local initiative. Today, some of the state's most successful ARDORs are based in urban areas such as Kenai and Juneau.

In addition, it's difficult to pin down specific jobs that an ARDOR has single-handedly brought into being. On the other hand, ARDORs-in concert with other economic-development agencies--have worked to leverage large sums of money for mega-projects or for large-scale business development. An example of this is the electrical intertie between Ketchikan, Wrangell, Petersburg and other communities--a project that is a priority of the Southeast Conference. Meanwhile, other ARDORs have taken on educational programs to help prepare local high school students for new opportunities, particularly in tourism.

ARDOR legislation grew out of a trip through rural Alaska, Sturgelewski said. "If you could look at a map of economic activity in Alaska, there would be these huge swaths with little or nothing going on. The only economic structure there is is from government activity or pass-through funding. In most cases, corporations or businesses are not located in Alaska's small communities," Sturgelewski said.

"I've always been interested...

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