Economic sustainability key to city’s growth

City council meets to discuss Cordova’s economic sustainability goals during strategic planning sessions

Strategic planning to promote economic stability in Cordova is picking up speed.

In the wake of two meetings held earlier this month, a third strategic planning session is set for Jan. 26, at 6 p.m. in city council chambers at the Cordova Center.

Cordova Mayor Clay Koplin said city officials have planned a total of six two-hour meetings to finalize strategic planning, before moving toward a comprehensive plan.

Cordova City Manager Alan Lanning has facilitated the meetings.

“The first meeting (Jan. 5) was to determine the very high level of where we want to be, and the conclusion was financial sustainability,” Koplin said. “This is different from financial prosperity, which might prioritize a booming economy over quality of life concerns.”

Koplin said that he, Lanning, and council members identified 11 subcategories that need to be addressed to achieve economic sustainability, including healthcare, education, services, utilities, and infrastructure.

“The next step is for city manager Lanning to coordinate the 11 subcategories into five or six that are manageable, and start populating them with sub-sub categories; for example, economic development, one of the categories, might include tourism, fisheries, and others,” Koplin said.

“The importance of this type of strategic plan is to get everything out on the table for consideration, then narrow (that) to the most important points and tasks,” Lanning said. “Yearly updating is very important. It’s also a type of evaluation tool, helping us to understand collectively how to evaluate and address issues,” Lanning said.

Councilman/vice mayor Tom Bailer and city manager Alan Lanning discuss priorities for Cordova’s long-term future during a recess at the strategic planning session Jan. 11, in the Cordova Center. Councilman David Allison observed the exchange of ideas. Photo by Cinthia Gibbens-Stimson/The Cordova Times

Increasing incoming revenue streams year around is one major point addressed in the brainstorming sessions.

While commercial and sport fishing, and tourism, are large seasonal revenue sources in Cordova, the council and city manager are seeking other ways to boost local economy year-round.

“Obviously, fishing is our key industry, but I think there are opportunities for event driven economic opportunities,” Lanning said. “Revenue streams translates into sales tax, and there is the potential to increase that revenue stream, and I think, in a significant way – not by raising the tax necessarily, but by increasing the base,” he said.

“We have an estimated $500,000,000 in fishing infrastructure invested in the fishing fleet, the harbors, the utilities and roads, and (in) the processing plants that produce seafood, our export product,” Koplin said. “Unfortunately, they only operate for three months a year. Expanding fishing into winter seafood catching, delivery and processing, is our greatest opportunity and upgrading the south harbor is an important element.

“Our visitor industry is growing in the off-season. We have been successful with our skiing, with Points North Heli-Adventures and Sheridan Ski Club. Now, the Cordova Center is bringing conventions into town that are keeping restaurant doors open and more rooms filled during off-peak times. We also have opportunities to grow our educational and science community. Some of our unique assets, including the science center, Copper River Watershed Project, and our world class telephone and electric cooperatives, as well as a strong school district, might also attract tech companies to locate in Cordova,” he said.

“I’m thankful the council is getting this process underway,” said R.J. Kopchak, a local commercial fisherman and one of five original incorporators of the Prince William Sound Science Center in 1989. Kopchak addressed the council at its Jan. 11 meeting. “This is a great time to think about future growth. We’ve heard all the talk about fishing, that may be there, but we should look elsewhere. We may miss other opportunities – we need to concentrate on opportunities outside of our mainstay,” he said.

“We’re trying to develop a plan for moving forward in a methodical and logical manner,” Lanning said, who encouraged residents to attend meetings, send emails, make phone calls and talk with himself and council members.

The goal is to have the strategic plan drafted by the end of February.

City officials met recently with the Prince William Sound Science Center, the Native Village of Eyak, Cordova Electric Cooperative, Cordova Telephone Cooperative, the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Coast Guard, and the Cordova School District, to discuss how these organizations can help to meet the city’s strategic goals.

Koplin said he believes that everyone in the community recognizes that they must do their part.

“We can’t support community services on the backs of retail businesses, nor can we balance it on the backs of young families trying to make ends meet,” he said. “The council and organizations understand this, and are working hard to develop and find new income streams, and business opportunities, that will benefit the community, not start a downward spiral of declining business and population.”

“The strength of Cordova is the people and their vision. Just the fact that we are conducting strategic planning and that organizations, businesses, and the public, have been willing to take risks, and testify and contribute to the process – even if it draws some criticism for their perspective, helps make balanced decisions,” Koplin said.

“From the harbors to seafood processing, to the Cordova Center, to renewable energy, to world class communications and data, to world class schools and two health services, to the Coast Guard, U.S. Forest Service, science center and Prince William Sound Aquaculture Corporation –

we have some very strong infrastructure and organizations in Cordova,” Koplin said. “In the past, Cordova has proven that when we put our heads together, we can accomplish great things. Right now, upgrading the harbor is an important piece, but mostly we need to work together to keep the bills paid and adjust our economy to the collapse of the state’s economy.”

The time is right to create a solid strategic plan, Koplin said. “Once we have a decent draft to consider, we’ll be soliciting more public input, so that the planning doesn’t happen in a vacuum.”

Right now, Koplin would like to see residents give some thought to what the ideal Cordova would look like and what community priorities are important to them.

“A strong strategic plan makes budgeting and planning a lot more straightforward, he said.

“It should be noted that several in the audience discussed strategic planning vs. comprehensive planning, but they are two difference processes,” Koplin said. “The strategic plan answers the ‘what’ of what Cordova wants to be, while the comprehensive plan addresses the ‘how’ to get there, by creating a structure through planning that achieves the strategic goals.”

For more information, visit the City of Cordova online at http://cityofcordova.net/ or call the city offices at 424-6200.

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Cinthia Gibbens-Stimson is a staff writer and photographer for The Cordova Times. She has been writing in one form or another for 30-plus years and has had a longstanding relationship with The Cordova Times starting in 1989. She’s been an Alaskan since 1976 and first moved to Cordova in 1978. She’s lived in various West Texas towns; in Denver, Colorado; in McGrath, Cordova, Galena, Kodiak, Wasilla, Anchorage and Fairbanks, Alaska and in Bangalore, India. She has two children and three grandchildren. She can be reached at cgibbens-stimson@thecordovatimes.com or follow her on Instagram @alaskatoindia.