SENIOR WALK – Sitka High School seniors walk through the halls of Xoots Elementary School wearing their graduation attire this morning as they are congratulated by students. The seniors walked through the halls of both elementary schools and the middle school this morning. Seventy-four seniors will be graduating in the ceremony which begins 7 p.m. tonight in the school gym. (Sentinel Photo by James Poulson)

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Daily Sitka Sentinel

Sitka All Set for SE Conference Meeting

By SHANNON HAUGLAND

Sentinel Staff Writer

The Southeast Conference annual meeting kicks off here Tuesday with some 300 business and government representatives signed up to hear from industry experts on regional economic topics.

Rachel Roy, executive director of the Chamber of Commerce, said the three-day event will include 70 speakers addressing such issues as tourism, fishing, energy, housing and health care.

The theme is “Be the Compass, Lead the Way,” and all events are at Harrigan Centennial Hall. 

Last year the Sitka Chamber and Visit Sitka submitted the successful bid to host this year’s conference of the economic development nonprofit representing municipalities, tribal governments, and businesses.

The agenda includes updates from Sitka’s congressional delegation, with U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan slated to address the group virtually Thursday morning. 

Roy said the conference is a good opportunity for networking, and for businesses and elected officials to connect over shared concerns. She said she’s been looking forward to Sitka’s hosting again since 2019, when the event was last held here.

“I’m excited for all of the connections that will be made this week and to be able to share Sitka with our region,” she said. “Because there are legislators and commissioners attending, they get to see some of the things first hand.”

Roy said that could lead to a favorable reception at the state level to requests for economic assistance. Among the officials expected to attend are representatives from the Department of Natural Resources, Department of Labor and Department of Revenue. Federal representatives also are slated to speak on economic development-related issues.

This will be the 16th year at the annual gathering for Garry White, director of the Sitka Economic Development Association. White says it’s an essential part of his work.

“It’s a great networking opportunity,” he said. “A lot of times another community is dealing with the same issues that we are, like with housing. And it’s good to see the tools other communities are using to solve the problem.”

Registration for the conference is available at southeastconference.org

Tuesday

The gathering begins Tuesday morning with an opening ceremony and a welcome panel that includes Mayor Steven Eisenbeisz, Sitka Tribe of Alaska Tribal Chairman Woody Widmark, and Richard Peterson, president of Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska. 

Meilani Schijvens of Rain Coast Data will give her annual economic update at 8:45 a.m., with a review of 2022, job figures by industry and forecasts for 2024.

Other presentations and panels Tuesday are on natural resources, the visitor industry, and transportation. A legislative forum will be held in the afternoon to cover state policies, programs and regional needs.

Wednesday

Wednesday topics will be about investing in Southeast rural communities, mariculture and fisheries, energy, and the maritime industry. Larry Persily, longtime Alaska journalist and commentator, and current owner of the Wrangell Sentinel, will speak on the topic “Legislative Prognostication: Almost Solved?’’ 

Also Wednesday, University of Alaska Southeast Chancellor Aparna Palmer will update the group on the status of UA activities in Southeast.

Thursday

Thursday’s schedule includes an update on federal issues by U.S. Senator Dan Sullivan at 8:05 a.m. Panel discussions for the day are related to broadband initiatives, housing challenges, and “emerging opportunities in the outdoors.”

Randy Hughey, executive director of the Sitka Community Land Trust, is among those to speak on housing challenges, at 10:45 a.m. Thursday. He said today he will cover Sitka’s progress with the housing trust model, and talk about the organization’s plans for creating affordable housing for 14 families on the trust property on HPR.

In Southeast, only Juneau and Sitka have housing trusts, but others are in the works elsewhere in the state, Hughey said.

Under the broadband topic, Chris Cropley, director of Tidal Network, a department within the Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska, said he plans to discuss the ongoing work to bring internet service to different communities, and how Tidal Network will be partnering with industry. The tribal government has received $49.8 million in federal funding to expand internet access to rural areas in Southeast. 

Tlingit & Haida is also partnering with Sitka Tribe on using the tribe’s wireless spectrum in Sitka.

“Tlingit and Haida continues to partner with other entities to improve broadband for all of Southeast, navigating all of the required environmental and other regulations too,” said Cropley, a former Sitkan now living in Anchorage.

The conference will wrap up Thursday afternoon with Southeast Alaska Sustainable Strategy stakeholders workshop. The program will include a report on year-one economic impacts and showcases by Southeast Conference on Prince of Wales mariculture processing; by Tlingit & Haida on food security; and by Spruce Root on capacity building.

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20 YEARS AGO

May 2004

Dr. Arthur Cleveland, a former dean at Columbus State University in Georgia, was named the new president of Sheldon Jackson College, SJC officials announced today. He will be replacing C. Carlyle Haaland, who has held the position for four years.


50 YEARS AGO

May 1974

Coaching and managing the Little League teams this year are John Abbott and John Calhoun, ANB; Dale and DeWayne Vilandre, Alaska Federal; Walt Barker, Elks; Frank Simmons and Frank Vilandre, Lions; Leo Bacon, Pat Ness, Cliff Robards and Bob Edenso, Moose; and Everett Webb, Sportsmen. Head umpire is Carl Karpstein.

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