"The Team: Brookings Seminar Tackles the Challenge that Alaska Is"

by Stephen Brent, Daily News Staff Writer

Anchorage Daily News, November 11, 1969, p.1

More than 100 prominent Alaskans began groping toward conclusions Monday that in final form will almost certainly affect the lives of every Alaskan in the years and decades ahead.

The occasion was a 13-hour day of conferences and lectures on Alaska’s future, sponsored by the Legislative Council and conducted by the Brookings Institution.

And during the session both speakers and participants challenged such basic assumptions as that work, growth, and economic development promote the general welfare and are desirable ends.

If the discussion was following paths seldom trod in Alaska before, it was largely the result of four speakers — Arlon R. Tussing, Wilbur Thompson, Joseph L. Fisher, and John Dyckman — all economists — who addressed the entire group together first at 8:30 a.m. and then after lunch. After these plenary sessions, the committees went to work, as they did without a plenary session after supper.

The lectures differed in approach among themselves; indeed their goals seemed to conflict on some points. But their object was as much to stimulate discussion as influence conclusions.

Tussing was the most radical — or stimulating — depending on one’s viewpoint. Shaggy haired and modishly dressed, the Federal Field Committee economist came to his point immediately.

"A prominent Alaskan once made himself nationally famous by speaking out against conservation for conservation’s sake," he said. "In this seminar I want to raise some doubts in your mind about economic development for economic development’s sake . . .

"There is a philosophy of development for development’s sake and almost everybody at this seminar shares that philosophy to one degree or another. But this is a set of attitudes peculiar to certain classes of people — businessmen, politicians, and upper civil servants, economists and the like — exactly the kinds of people invited to these seminars and interested in the questions to which it is addressed. The majority of Alaskan may not be for development for development’s sake; most villages are not, nor are oil workers on the slope, or fishermen, nor — peculiarly . . . are most Alaska homesteaders. I even suspect that most of the 15-20 year old children of the people here have little use for the development philosophy."

Tussing, whose many articles on Alaska business and commerce are widely respected, is no opponent of development so long as it benefits Alaskans here today. But citing the growth of government jobs in Juneau and forestry jobs in Southeastern Alaska, he said the pattern of development typically creates jobs for new people which it attracts and has virtually no effect on the area’s unemployment rates.

Turning to the oil industry, which he said employed only 4 per cent as many Alaskans as government, Tussing said: "For the unemployed Alaskan and the employed Alaskan who is not an entrepreneur, it is not at all clear that the . . . oil . . . will help them in any way."

He cautioned against "harassing" the petroleum industry to hire Alaskans, since by its nature it creates so few jobs anyway. More important, Tussing said, was a state policy to maximize its petroleum revenues and spend them for the benefit of its people. He calculated that "the state could begin in 1970 spending $300 million a year on new programs and keep this rate up indefinitely on the bases of the present leases alone."

Fisher, president of Resources of the Future, a research firm, characterized Alaska’s economic position as a result of the North Slope and September’s $900 million lease sale of its land, as one unique among the 50 states and possibly unique in the world. "It dwarfs anything that has happened in the union thus far in history," he said.

He suggested that Alaska set up one or many trusts or foundations to provide Alaskans with progressive programs in education, health, business development, or culture, with the foundations boards either elected or appointed by the legislature or the governor — or any combination of the three.

"My hope is that the idea of trusts could be appropriately allowed to develop into an imaginative and creative response to the unique situation here in Alaska," he said.

All of the speakers voiced some fear that the quality of Alaskan life could suffer from the sheer impact of development.

Thompson of Wayne State University in Detroit, for instance, said that as educational opportunities widen, Alaskan youths will be likely to pursue careers that will make many likely to leave Alaska for better opportunities in bigger population centers.

"You will have a brain drain from Alaska," he said, "but you can make up with it with a brain gain," Thompson said, adding that Alaska will hold and attract educated young men and women here in proportion to the career opportunities and life style available here.

On balance Thompson found substantial population into urban so-called clusters — a nationwide trend — healthy in that it offers career possibilities not available in small towns.

And Dyckman, a professor of regional planning at the University of California, discussed the need to develop a supporting structure of roads, communications, schools and the like for Alaska’s growth. This infrastructure, necessary to growth and to some extent self-generating, must be planned with care and strike a balance between urban and rural areas, he said.

This morning the group gathers at 8 o’clock for 131/2 hours more of the same, though moving from the Anchorage Westward to the Captain Cook Hotel. This first of four such seminars concludes Wednesday with a final two-hour meeting.

Brookings, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit research center, is attempting to assist the participants — leaders from all over the state — toward a consensus on Alaska’s future, which in turn would be translated into legislation next year under the Legislative Council’s plan.

And progress is being made, according to John Osman of Brookings’ senior staff.

"It’s kind of like getting a group of people and trying to make a football or basketball team," he said Monday night. "You have to work with people who have individual interests to bring them together."

A one-time football coach at Presbyterian College in South Carolina, Osman said that a team consciousness was beginning to emerge after only one day.

But he also said that the participants were still thinking too much in terms of programs rather than in the conceptual framework of policies that the Brookings approach is designed to develop.

"I think some of them are beginning to deal with the major issues in greater depth," he added. "By the time we've gone through a couple of seminars these fellows will be a pretty good team."

In this first seminar the Alaskans are supposed to confine themselves to discussion financing the future Alaska.

They meet again Nov. 23-26 to take up human resources, and Dec. 7-10 on environmental quality. The $60,000 program ends Dec. 14-17 to evolve a comprehensive policy system.

Monday morning the conference groups attempted to define or identify the problems in Alaska. In the afternoon they began to explore them, taking up such matters as education in cities and the bush, job training, conservation as it affects state finances, and the like.

Meanwhile, the discussion leaders, who Brookings call its faculty, tried to steer the discussion back to fundamentals, likely and unlikely. "I am surprised that none of you challenged a basic assumption here," said one touching of a lively interchange, "that it is good to work."

At night one of the groups determined that as a policy the state ought to have a drastically expanded Planning Department, and asked former Federal Field Committee member Joseph Fitzgerald to draw up a plan for it. This same group all but threw out Fisher’s idea about foundations, determining that the present government framework can do the job. Another group got bogged down in whether the state should spend any of its $900 million September windfall.

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