If you blinked, you might have missed it. Representatives from the Pacific Northwest Economic Region – or PNWER – breezed through Ketchikan on their way to the group’s annual conference, which was in Anchorage this year.

PNWER members who visited Ketchikan included politicians from the Lower 48 and Alaska, and a number of federal and state officials, along with business leaders throughout the region. The visitors toured the Ketchikan Shipyard and held a meet-and-greet at The Landing.

PNWER, which is a nonprofit consortium of states and Canadian provinces in the Northwest, is dedicated to advancing regional economic interests. And while the conference this year might be in Anchorage, talk of Ketchikan’s future as a maritime construction center was high on the list.

Washington State Sen. Maralyn Chase was one of the attendees at the social function at The Landing. She says that Ketchikan is poised to reap profits from the city’s expanding shipyard.

“What I was impressed with about Ketchikan, I think you have a gold mine over here with this shipbuilding outfit,” she said. “This maritime industry is just exploding.”

Doug Ward, director of business development at Ketchikan’s Alaska Ship and Drydock, briefly spoke during the event. He expressed optimism over Ketchikan’s future as a shipping construction and repair hub, especially with growing maritime opportunities in the far north. He told the delegation that “the Arctic starts here.”

Keith Smith, executive director of the Ketchikan Chamber of Commerce, helped facilitate and host the PNWER delegation in Ketchikan.

He says that much of the talk about Ketchikan’s future within the group rests on its strategic location as a year-round, ice-free port with a shipping repair facility. He also recognizes that Prince Rupert, which is slated to become Canada’s second-largest port within 10 years, is turning into a powerful regional player.

But, Smith notes, the maritime border between Prince Rupert and American ports still exists, despite the North American Free Trade Agreement having been in place since 1994.

“There’s a lot of conversation still that the international boundary between Canada and the United States which PNWER is doing a lot to overcome that imaginary boundary, because NAFTA essentially made it an imaginary boundary, but it’s still a fairly big one in our heads,” he said.

The conference in Anchorage ended Thursday. The group has planned an economic leadership forum in Canada in November.

For more information about the group, go to www.pnwer.org.