A few thoughts about Dunleavy, Dubai and Doogan

Mike Doogan once wrote a column in which he said that large parts of a speech Jack Coghill gave “sounded like they'd been lifted whole from a 1955 speech to the Nenana Chamber of Commerce.”

I thought of that line while listening to a recording of the speech Gov. Mike Dunleavy gave to the Alaska State Home Builders Association Thursday in Homer. Public radio station KBBI posted the audio.

In a 41-minute speech and Q&A session, Dunleavy gave a head-spinning rundown on the laundry list of economic opportunities open to Alaskans: timber cutting in Southeast, timber cutting in the Interior, manufacturing engineered wood for export to Asia, mining in Southeast and elsewhere, air cargo transportation, the Susitna hydro project, tidal power, wind, biomass, geothermal, data farms, military projects, a power line from the North Slope gas fields to the Railbelt, ANWR oil leases, other North Slope oil and gas projects, gas exports directly off the North Slope by tankers, and a $13 billion to $15 billion railroad to Alberta.

Lists of that sort are familiar to generations of Alaskans accustomed to hearing about the next big thing. It’s impossible to tell what is real and what isn’t. Or what is within reach and what isn’t. The only guarantee is that nothing is as easy as it sounds.

Dunleavy keeps mentioning the $13 billion to $15 billion rail extension from Alberta to Alaska as a project on which investors are close to putting up the money. The idea is that a new rail line would transport oil made from tar sands in Alberta to near Anchorage, while tankers would export the oil to Asia.

This is founded on the assumption that objections in Canada to expanding pipeline connections from Alberta to British Columbia will prevail. The theory is that limited access to the B.C. coast might make a costly railroad to Alaska profitable.

That’s a $15 billion unanswered question, even with energy exports from B.C. becoming an issue in the national election in Canada. A pipeline expansion project for exports is already in the works. Some people in Canada see an energy boom if more pipelines are extended to the Pacific, while others want the tar sands development stopped. The competing interests create uncertainty.

As he expounded on Alaska’s unlimited potential, Dunleavy highlighted the work of the new industry development team, which Clark Penney, the grandson of big Dunleavy donor Bob Penney, has been hired to promote under a no-bid contract with the state. That group has been looking at everything from gambling to drones.

Dunleavy said he wants to attract new businesses that will bring more residents to Alaska, which would lead to more business for the home builders gathered at the Land’s End Resort. Investors around the world are looking for opportunities and Alaska has resources and an ideal location, he said.

He mentioned how Dubai, with few resources, was transformed into a major international city and business center because it adopted policies to attract business.

“It’s been growing by leaps and bounds because of their policies,” he said of Dubai. “So if Alaska can put into place policies and if we can all get behind going out and getting some of this investment, in which right now there’s a lot of this investment because of how well the stock market has done and how investments have gone down south and worldwide, I think we can get some of these industries up here that are non-traditional.”

“And that’s where you’re going to get families and bodies and people that are going to demand homes and cars and roads and restaurants. So that’s what we’re looking at,” he said.

“We’re looking at everything from data farms to manufacturing to see how we can support our military complex with secondary businesses,” he said.

Hearing about Dubai reminded me of another long-ago column from Doogan, one in which he imagined a press conference at which Gov. Frank Murkowski announced the ultimate plan to spur economic development and attract new businesses to Alaska.

Doogan began this way:

Gov. Frank Murkowski said Thursday that he plans to build a road to Mars.

"I'm told Mars is going to be as close as it has been to Alaska in 60,000 years," Murkowski said at a press conference. "What better time to build a road there?"

Murkowski said the road to Mars would create resource development opportunities on the Red Planet, which in turn would enhance the state's revenues and help close the budget gap.

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