Southeast Conference’s five-year Economic Development Strategy is being revised. The entity is the State of Alaska’s economic development organization for Southeast Alaska.

Chelsea Goucher is the Executive Director of the Greater Ketchikan Chamber of Commerce and also serves on the board of Southeast Conference. Goucher gave an overview of the organization at last week’s (a recent) chamber luncheon.

She says Southeast Conference formed in 1958, primarily to address issues related to the Alaska Marine Highway. Since then its mission has expanded to address economic development for a variety of industries. Goucher says the organization is different from other groups because of its diverse make up.

“You’ll find legislators. You’ll find municipal, elected officials. You’ll find business leaders. You’ll find representatives from different Native corporations. It’s a really unique conference of very diverse individuals. And I think that diversity is very relevant for it being an economic development organization not, say, a chamber or a regional chamber of commerce.”

She says because so many groups and individuals are represented, a variety of differing opinions are shared.

Every five years, Southeast Conference prepares a comprehensive economic development plan for the region. The plan is updated annually. Currently, the organization is gathering information, meeting and holding workshops on the 2016-2020 fiscal year plan. The final draft is scheduled for completion by March 2016. It will then be submitted to the Economic Development Administration in June 2016. If approved, the plan would go into effect July 2016.

Goucher says focus for Southeast Conference has primarily been on transportation, affordable energy, and the timber industry and now something new, food security.

“It’s something that a lot of people don’t think about. Obviously almost all of our food comes from the lower 48, it’s barged up. So food security is an area that Southeast Conference has delved into because there is a lot of interest around about organic gardening and locally-grown things and supporting local agriculture.”

Goucher mentioned that Juneau has a program that brings locally-caught fish into the schools and says other communities are looking into similar programs.

This year, Southeast Conference will hold its annual meeting in Prince Rupert, British Columbia in September.

“Prince Rupert is super interested in how things are going to turn out with the Marine Highway System. And I think that we are all interested in going down there and leaning a story of economic development done right.”

Goucher says panel discussions on transboundary mining and energy issues are planned, along with industry tours. More information on the annual meeting and draft plan is available on the Southeast Conference website.