Gov.-elect Mike Dunleavy has named the head of a construction-industry group as Alaska’s next transportation commissioner, tasking him with taking on improvements to Alaska infrastructure.

Speaking Wednesday at the Wasilla Chamber of Commerce, Dunleavy named Associated General Contractors of Alaska executive director John MacKinnon to the post.

MacKinnon will replace outgoing commissioner Marc Luiek who worked for Sean Parnell and returned during Gov. Bill Walker’s term.

“He’s a smart guy, [in] my experience dealing with him,” Dunleavy said, citing “his experience in Southeast dealing with ferries and road issues.”

MacKinnon, the husband of retiring Eagle River state Sen. Anna MacKinnon, said that his 25 years of contracting work has led him to view major state infrastructure projects as public-private partnerships.

For MacKinnon, it’s a return to DOT. He held a five-year term as deputy commissioner beginning in 2003, where he oversaw the state’s highway program while handling budget and policy issues.

MacKinnon must balance diverse — and sometimes competing — transportation needs throughout the state: safety corridors and proposed Knik Arm bridge in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough; growth at the Ted Stevens International Airport and the Port of Alaska in Anchorage and the Alaska State Marine Highway System, often maligned state lawmakers in recent years.

“There's regional priorities; there's local priorities, too,” MacKinnon said. “The balance is difficult. You're not going not be able to please everyone but we've got to look at the bigger picture of things.

That “bigger picture,” MacKinnon said is the economy, and emerging from the years-long recession Alaska has endured.

“My view always has been if you have a healthy economy, you can afford to take care of all of your needs,” MacKinnon said. “If you don't have a healthy economy, taking care of those needs is a challenge.”

DOT is among several state agencies whose employees were asked to submit resignation letters while declaring if they wish to remain with the state, including Anchorage airport executive director Jim Szczesniak.

Dunleavy took questions on the letters, insisting the decision to cast a wider net among executive employees rests with him.

“The airport director as well as others will be looked at here very quickly to see if they fit into the agenda that we are going to be moving forward,” Dunleavy said. “You've got to remember the election occurred on Nov. 6. We ran on a platform talking about public safety, growing Alaska. We've got to make sure that some of these folks, especially in these key areas, are part of that agenda and can support that to move this along.”

MacKinnon becomes the third commissioner appointment. Dunleavy appointed Corri Feige to the Department of Natural Resources Commissioner and Tamika Ledbetter to head the Department of Labor.

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