Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy

Prepared for the United States Department of Commerce Economic Development Administration

Executive Summary


The strength of Southwest Alaska Municipal Conference (SWAMC) is its ability to organize data and networks into actionable information at a large regional level with shared interests. The purpose of the Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy (CEDS) is engagement with stakeholders: local governments, businesses, associations, membership organizations, tribes, and State and Federal agencies to implement the collective best practices for the improvement of the regional economy. The CEDS is to be an evolving, guiding document for SWAMC, providing direction that supports economic development in the region backed by quantifiable data and the insight of our leadership. The CEDS analyzes strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats and lays out actionable strategies that enhance the potential of Southwest Alaska.


The CEDS is a living plan for the development of Southwest Alaska built upon data and community outreach that encompasses diverse opinions from hundreds of individuals and entities driving the regional economic engine. All of this community engagement yielded insights into projects and actions that support economic development and can insulate the region from shocks. The CEDS highlights the region’s internal Strengths & Weaknesses, and external Opportunities & Threats and proposes strategies around three key areas: resources, infrastructure, and people. SWAMC uses the CEDS plan to facilitate economic development networking to leverage the potential of the region.

SWAMC is recognized by the Federal Economic Development Administration (EDA) as the region’s Economic Development District (EDD) Organization, and by the State of Alaska as an Alaska Regional Development Organization (ARDOR). As such, the CEDS helps facilitate the funding of economic development projects through the EDA. This five-year plan from 2020-2024 builds on previous CEDS planning efforts and will guide SWAMC’s activities. The CEDS also provides the SWAMC Board with the background and direction for prioritizing resources.

The Southwest Alaska Municipal Conference

SWAMC is a 501(c)(4) non-profit regional economic development organization representing the three sub-regions of the Aleut Corporation, Bristol Bay Native Corporation, and Koniag Inc. As a regional membership organization, SWAMC advocates for the collective interests of Southwest Alaska people, businesses, and communities. The 11-member Board is comprised of two municipal and one associate member from each of the three sub-regions, plus two regional at-large seats. The Board serves as the regional CEDS committee.

SWAMC corresponds to the incorporated boundaries of the Aleutians East Borough, the Bristol Bay Borough, the Kodiak Island Borough, the Lake and Peninsula Borough, as well as two federally designated census areas – the Aleutians West Census Area and the Dillingham Census Area. The SWAMC membership includes municipal members such as cities and boroughs, and associate members, representing businesses, village and tribal councils, and nonprofit organizations. SWAMC provides an important link between the public and private sector with a coalition of local government, business, and non-profit members, all with an interest in Southwest Alaska.


A special thanks to:

The People of Southwest Alaska, SWAMC Municipal and Associate Members

Shirley Kelly, Economic Development Administration

SWAMC Board of Directors and CEDS Committee:

        Mary Swain, Board President

        Paul Gronholdt, Board Vice President

        Rebecca Skinner, Board Treasurer

        Glen Gardner, Jr., Board Member

        Dennis Robinson, Board Member

        Myra Olsen, Board Member

        Alice Ruby, Board Member

        Terry Haines, Board Member

        Darren Muller, Board Member

        Frank Kelty, Board Member

        Laura Delgado, Board Member 

SWOT Analysis

Regional Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats

The SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats) quantifies the subjective voice of the region and publicly available datasets to accurately assess positive and negative potentials in the region. The SWOT Analysis is organized by three key topics that have emerged through stakeholder outreach and data collection to capture the varied components of economic development relevant to the SWAMC region: 1) Resources, 2) Infrastructure, and 3) People & Partnerships.

Resources – Southwest Alaska has an abundance of natural resources. The region has world-class fish stocks and rich mineral deposits. The SWAMC region also has scenic natural landscapes and other intrinsic and cultural values that generate interest in the region, supporting the basic sector economy. Responsibly managed resources provide for multiple generations of non-renewable resource development and conceivably perpetual value from renewable resources to grow regional wealth for Southwest Alaska. There is tension between the development of large non-renewable resources and renewable fishery resources.

Figure 1: Resources SWOT

Infrastructure – The large expanse of the Southwest Alaska region versus its small population increases costs for all aspects of life. Energy is expensive due to the cost of developing and maintaining infrastructure and low population density resulting in the inability to achieve the economies of scale necessary to reduce costs. Utilization of renewable energy has the potential to offset high costs of energy but resources remain largely stranded given current technology and the costs of harnessing and delivering renewable energy. The region has substantial infrastructure devoted to ports, airfields, communities and fisheries, providing support for transportation, homes, businesses, energy, and, primarily, the fishing industry. 

While the infrastructure is substantial relative to its remoteness, like any rural community, it lacks amenities provided by large cities. The lack of reliable and affordable broadband internet throughout most of the region creates a significant hole in critical infrastructure. Ongoing efforts to deliver communications connectivity, primarily through a fiber backbone or new satellite technology, have stalled until now but there may be solutions on the horizon.

Figure 2: Infrastructure SWOT

People – Businesses; local, state and federal government; Alaska Native entities; regional non-profits; and communities all contribute to employment opportunities for people in Southwest Alaska. SWAMC supports existing local and regional economic development efforts to identify new partnerships that can affect positive growth in employment opportunities and build regional wealth. Given the unique challenges facing Southwest Alaska, SWAMC advocates for linking critical social networks and data to achieve strategic development in employment opportunities.

Figure 3: People SWOT

SWAMC Goals, Objectives, and Strategies: FY2020-2024

1) GOAL: Resources Management Advocacy

Objective 1: Fisheries Development – Promote fisheries issues that provide a sustainable income base to the communities, businesses, and residents of Southwest Alaska.

Objective 2: Tourism Development – Promote investment in new and existing tourism opportunities that grow and retain regional wealth by taking advantage of the region’s intrinsic ability to draw visitors to the region.

Objective 3: New Resource Development – Promote responsible resource development that does not threaten the sustainability of the regional economy.

Objective 4: Fisheries Access – Promote efforts to retain fisheries access rights for regional residents.

Strategies – Programs, Projects, Activities

           1) Research, collect, and curate relevant data to showcase economic trends,                                                       provide support for grant applications, and demonstrate economic development needs in                       the SWAMC region.

           2) Attend regulatory and policy meetings and convey information and issue discussion from                      these meetings to the SWAMC board and membership.

           3) Advocate for adequate State funding to support regulatory and scientific agencies that                            oversee and study resources vital to the region’s economy and culture.

            4) Advocate for and facilitate public/private partnerships to develop, utilize, and market                             resources for the economic benefit of the region.

            5) Facilitate discussions with government and private sector to promote new business                                  development.

            6) Advocate for and seek private investment to help expand existing new businesses and to                        capitalize on new business opportunities.

            7) Maintain and update a regional strategic plan and social network to develop regional                                resources, infrastructure, and people.

            8) Seek, apply for, and administer grants to support natural resource development, value-                            added manufacturing businesses and activities, and new tourism opportunities.

            9) Partner with other organizations to leverage funding and staff to support natural resource                     development, value-added manufacturing, and new tourism opportunities. 

           10) Highlight natural resource development and value-added manufacturing opportunities at                   the annual Economic Summit and Membership Meeting.

2) GOAL: Infrastructure Development and Maintenance Advocacy

Objective 1: Energy Efficiency – Promote energy infrastructure to stabilize or reduce the long-term cost of power by increasing energy efficiency.

Objective 2: Ownership of Energy Systems– Promote local ownership of energy planning, decision-making, and project development.

Objective 3: Low-Cost Power – Promote infrastructure that supplies low-cost power.

Objective 4: Strategic Infrastructure Investments – Promote infrastructure that supports the region’s social, cultural, and economic development needs.

Objective 5: Community Planning – Promote long-term visions, goals, and plans for sustainable community development.

Objective 6: Communication Infrastructure – Promote planning and deployment of broadband internet infrastructure. 

Strategies – Programs, Projects, Activities

           1) Advocate for regional and local public and private transportation projects and services that                  provide vital transportation services – ports, harbors, runways, air services, marine                                       transportation services, including the Alaska Marine Highway System.

           2) Advocate for and facilitate improvements and maintenance of telephone and broadband                        services throughout the SWAMC region.

           3) Provide assistance to communities wishing to access programs, grants, and loans to help                        improve community infrastructure.

           4) Review and facilitate updates to the State Transportation Improvement Plan to reflect the                      priorities of SWAMC communities for transportation infrastructure projects.

           5) Assist communities in energy planning and the pursuit of lower cost and renewable energy                    projects in collaboration with state, federal, and private industry partners.

           6) Share economic information from the SWAMC region with legislators, federal partners, and                    the private sector to demonstrate the benefit of constructing and maintaining the                                          infrastructure that supports economic activity.

           7) Research energy alternatives that reduce the cost of energy and increase energy efficiency to                lower business and residential energy costs.

            8) Collect and distribute energy data to local, state, and federal stakeholders and partners to                      inform energy planning and energy system development.

            9) Partner with regional nonprofit organizations, local governments, tribes, and businesses to                   maintain existing infrastructure and construct new infrastructure to support economic                               development.

           10) Highlight infrastructure and energy issues and opportunities at the annual Economic                              Summit and Membership Meeting.

           11) Seek, apply for, and administer grants to support infrastructure and energy development.

           12) Advocate for and promote programs that provide affordable housing in the SWAMC region.

           13) Collect and retain capital improvement priorities from municipalities to assist local                                  governments in grant requests to State and Federal agencies. 

3) GOAL: People and Partnerships Networking

Objective 1: Shared Benefit – Secure funding streams for local, regional, state, and federal entities for projects that benefit the region, communities, businesses, members, and other key stakeholders.

Objective 2: Training and Education – Promote professional development that matches employee’s available skillsets with employer’s needed skills.

Objective 3: Information Sharing – Promote the alignment of the needs of job creators with job trainers. Promote partner networks and organizational activities in the region.

Objective 4: Develop STEM Programs – Promote local, regional and federal activities to develop STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) programs that train future workers and meet the needs of growing employers. 

Objective 5: Regional Economic Planning – Promote the implementation of the Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy that aligns with sub-regional and local planning efforts.

Objective 6: Awareness – Promote the value of Southwest Alaska to external State and Federal partners with data that supports continued investment in the region.

Strategies – Programs, Projects, Activities

            1) Partner with Alaska Process Industry Career Consortium or other organization to update and                implement the “Alaska Maritime Workforce Development Plan.”

            2) Coordinate business workforce needs with colleges, job training institutions, and high                              school curriculums to prepare residents of the SWAMC region for good-paying employment                      opportunities.

            3) Support and conduct Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) programs                  to help prepare young persons for jobs that are technical and technology-driven.

            4) Advocate for SWAMC regional economic issues and interests before the Alaska Legislature                      and U.S. Congress.

            5) Host and promote events like the SWAMC Economic Summit and Membership Meeting to                        allow stakeholders from Southwest Alaska to network, learn, and share their positions on                        economic and political issues impacting the region.

            6) Engage with local, state, and federal agencies and institutions to support and advocate for                    programs and activities that support economic development.

            7) Coordinate and maintain open lines of communication between SWAMC members,                                    communities, businesses, and partner organizations to build an understanding of the                                  SWAMC region and find opportunities to bolster economic development.

            8) Increase SWAMC membership and participation to foster economic development in                                  Southwest Alaska.

            9) Assist communities in becoming more resilient by helping them prepare for disasters.

           10) Partner with other ARDORs and economic development organizations to promote mutually                beneficial projects that support economic development.

          11) Maintain a living and active Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy that is                                 updated annually and rewritten every five years.

4) GOAL: Quality of Life Initiatives

Objective 1: Collective Happiness – Promote access to valued: employment, housing, networks, culture, community, technology, and adventure. 

            1) Assist communities in planning and seeking funding to address substance abuse issues in                      the SWAMC region.

            2) Support efforts to spotlight and increase awareness of and opportunities for the sharing of                    cultural values.

            3) Support local schools and universities to maintain an array of educational opportunities for                  students from Southwest Alaska.  

Vibrant, connected, and sustainable communities for Southwest Alaska

- SWAMC Vision

Promote the shared economic interests of the Southwest Alaska region.

- SWAMC Mission

SWAMC Action Plan