Barrow: top of the world.

Author:Bohi, Heidi
Position::Towns in Transition


It is late April in Barrow and the spring whaling season has begun in the farthest north city in North America. Crews are heading out to at-sea ice openings and it is the talk of the town, both on the streets and over the air.

For 2,000 years, whalers have participated in hunts twice each year in pursuit of the bowhead whale that migrate near Barrow in the spring and fall. Without these harvests, locals--most who are Inupiat Eskimo--cannot survive in one of the harshest climates in the world. But today, in the world's largest Inupiat Eskimo settlement, traditional culture and modern life are blended. It is not uncommon for locals to be away from the office for weeks at a time while they work on one of about 35 crews hoping to land a whale.


Barrow is the economic hub of the North Slope Borough, the city's primary employer, many businesses provide support services to the oil patch, and State and federal agencies provide local jobs. As the borough and the local population of 4,500 continues to grow, along with more visitors being attracted to the area year-round, the city finds itself faced with short-term and long-term needs that range from needing to provide more recreational opportunities for youth and adults, to creating more jobs, and solving the escalating housing shortage. At the same time, the cost of living is double that of Anchorage: milk is $9 a gallon and bread is $6 a loaf.

As the city began searching for grant funding, it quickly realized that most sources require having a comprehensive economic development strategy (CEDS) in place, says Barrow Mayor Bob Harcharek. Working with the U.S. Department of Commerce Economic Development Administration (EDA), federally recognized tribe, the Native Village of Barrow, which is the lead on the project, brought several local groups together to begin the process including the city and borough, Ukpeagvik Inupiat Corp. (UIC), Arctic Slope Native Association, Inupiat Community of the Arctic Slope and Ilisagvik College.

"When we're done with this process, it will give us some good ideas of what can be developed in the community that will be self-sustaining," Harcharek says of the efforts to find ways to create an economic base for Barrow.


To guide the economic growth of the region, the CEDS will be a continuing economic development planning process that includes background and history of the economic development situation of the...

To continue reading