What can Alaska learn from Seattle?
I grew up in Seattle in the '60s and '70s -- at a time when Seattle felt as isolated from the rest of the country as Alaska does today.
In ’71 and ’72, Boeing laid off 50,000 workers when the government killed the SST program and airlines stopped buying 747’s.
Unemployment hit 17 percent, and someone erected a billboard that said: “Will the last person leaving Seattle, turn out the lights.”
I bring it up because there’s hardly a day goes by we don’t wake up to another sign of Alaska’s faltering economy.
After the recession of the mid-'80s, we determined to diversify our economy, but we never did it.
I think there are lessons to be learned from our neighbor to the south.
I recently visited Seattle where there are nearly 60 cranes currently building new infrastructure downtown.
Amazon is putting 50,000 new employees in the heart of the city.
There are a lot of small reasons Seattle has succeeded where Alaska has not. One big one -- Seattleite’s invest in themselves.
Even when Boeing was the cornerstone of the economy, Seattle didn’t lean on the company to pick up the check for the entire city.
Seattleites pay a combined state and city sales tax of more than 10 percent on top of their property taxes.
The investments in education, parks and transportation made Seattle a desirable place in which to live and do business.
Seattle is home to Microsoft, Starbucks, and yes, even that airline with our name on it.
The result, a lot of traffic, sure, but also an economy in which the median cost of a home in Seattle rose over $100,000. Not over the past year, but over the course of a month.
When describing the Alaska spirit, Wally Hickel said Alaskans think we’re pioneers, think we’re independent. And he was right. That’s how we like to think of ourselves. And maybe that’s how we used to be. But that’s not who we really are anymore.
We are dependent on an oil industry with an uncertain future; a federal government we like to gripe about and a fishing industry largely controlled, well, by Seattle.
We have become the most dependent people in America, we just see ourselves as otherwise.
We focus on what we can cut, instead of what we can grow. And we grovel over a dividend check that will make our lives a little easier, rather than making investments that can be life changing.
As Hickel also once said, you can’t save yourself rich.
But I get it -- we’re Alaskans. We don’t do things the way they do them outside.
After all, who wants to deal with all that traffic.