News of SEFCanada’s “Clean Gold” challenge win resonated with me because of the intersection of cross-border Canadian-USA innovation, focus on local community benefits from their natural assets, resource development innovation, and challenge based innovation. (And as an aside, some recent interesting conversations on what is “clean”!)
Those who know me, are aware that I’m all-in on the value and role of creating more “pull” in our economic development approach and “linking and leveraging” the assets we have to encourage development of investable challenges; rather than relying on hope and future grants.
SEFCanada has been working for 25 years and in over 300 communities around the world building local capacity to lift themselves out of their economic challenges to create opportunity and sustainability by leveraging the resources and opportunities that already exist. There is a lot of their work that has inspired and parallels the work that has developed in to our new non profit, Alaska Version 3 (AKV3).
AKV3 is working to accelerate Alaska’s economic transformation for the benefit of our future communities and people. Its a broad initiative; and like SEFCanada, focused on local engagement and action. I believe there are a number of overlapping areas of potential work with SEFCanada and certainty I’ve been influenced by what I’ve learned from watching how SEFCanada works in communities and seeking opportunities to bring them to Alaska.
One of the themes that keeps surfacing in the AKV3 work is the value of the connections with Canada and I’m interested in making that an important element of our AKV3 strategy, that is, a northwest-arctic regional initiative of innovation based community and economic activity that works across Alaska, Yukon, Alberta and BC. Perhaps also the NW Territories, although I don’t have any connections with programs or people there yet.
After seeing this SEFCanada announcement, I was reminded that we are already doing some of this work including:
- Connections between Whitehorse and the Juneau Economic Development Council’s Innovation Summit startup ventures each year
- The University of Alaska led NSF “Navigating the New Arctic” projects exploring the impacts of climate change including the Yukon communities in the research
- The broader Arctic Economic Development Council collaborations across all eight circumpolar countries including a focus on broadband connectivity challenges
- The Alaska 2 Alberta (A2A) Rail connection project
- The MTA AlCan One fiber optics connection from Alaska through Canada.
- Transfer of Alberta Innovates, Innovate Calgary, Platform Calgary, and the Calgary Innovation Coalition ideas to our Alaska innovation ecosystem.
- Long standing Alaska connections to mining, oil and gas companies with offices and join activities in Vancouver, Edmonton and Calgary.
This list is only the tip of the arctic “ice berg” and doesn’t begin to capture the value from decades of people, ideas, opportunity and goods that have moved back and forth over the AlCAN Highway. There are also deep relationships between the natural resource development work in Alaska and the companies and work done in Calgary and Vancouver.
I don’t have any money for this economic development idea at the moment, but I’m working on a legislative innovation agenda for our next session this winter; and on our the JEDC winter Innovation Summit in Juneau that I’ve invited the folks from Whitehorse to participate in again, and the folks from Calgary to attend for the first time. I will continue to look for partnerships and funding opportunities to devote more time and energy to impact-innovation projects where NW Canada and Alaska can work together.
Issues like local First People’s autonomy and opportunity, transitions from extractive resource development to sustainable and innovation based economies, rural transporation cost reduction, climate change impacts (permafrost, wildfire, rain on ice), energy transitions; all seem to overlap in this NW arctic region of the continent and apply across the border.
I am not discounting the value of Alaska’s connection with the NW USA region including Washington, Oregon, and Idaho; however, I am suggesting we’ve not focused enough attention on our closer Canadian neighbors who may share more in common with us in the future than our NW US states. I’ll keep pondering this path, and would value any additional ideas or suggestions on how to advance a strategic alliance for NW arctic innovation based economic development.