Anchorage should consider its role as an innovation hub
Update: 2 hours ago Published: 2 hours ago
What do the following things have in common?
• A space exploration company that manufactures products for rocket launches.
• Technology that destroys toxic contaminants, such as PFAS, in drinking water, patent pending and licensed by the University of Alaska Fairbanks.
• A mobile app that allows air carriers and users to easily coordinate cargo shipments in rural Alaska.
• North America’s #1 backcountry ice skate brand, manufacturing products in Alaska from US-made steel and aluminum.
• Unmanned drones that could deliver cargo to some of the most remote places in the Arctic.
Answer: These are just a few examples of a technology and manufacturing renaissance that is bubbling beneath the surface in Anchorage right now – which, if nurtured, could become a wave of innovation and economic vitality in our city for decades to come.
This budding growth couldn’t come at a more opportune time. In June 2021, the bipartisan United States Innovation and Competition Act, or USICA, passed the United States Senate by a vote of 68 to 32. The legislation, an effort to spur innovation and make the United States more competitive with China, provides resources for advances in American science, technology and manufacturing. Senator Lisa Murkowski, who voted for the bill, said, “This legislation invests in the STEM workforce and capacity, invests in our national laboratories, recognizes the need for increased mineral production critics, supports American commerce, strengthens our national security and more. ”
The House version of the bill, known as the “Regional Innovation Act of 2021,” is currently at the House Science Committee. Although the details have yet to be worked out, the two bills direct the Department of Commerce to define regional technology hubs across the country and allocate billions of dollars, in the form of development grants and implementation of strategies at these poles. Meanwhile, the Biden administration also plans to allocate $1 billion from pandemic recovery funds to support “regional industrial clusters,” with a focus on technology.
I believe Anchorage should be designated as a regional hub worthy of these and other federal investments. It’s obvious when you consider what has already started organically, as well as other factors that make our city so unique. We are the only North American metropolis in the subarctic. We are on the front lines of climate change, and if current global warming trends continue, Anchorage could attract more visitors and residents as a climate paradise. We are a strategic military location and the future home of the Ted Stevens Center for Arctic Security Studies. We have the fourth busiest cargo airport in the world.
Our elected leaders at all levels should reflect on the fact that Anchorage is poised to become, and indeed already is, a hub of innovation. Now is the time to capitalize and invest in this momentum. At the municipal level, Anchorage can take several concrete steps to move the ball forward: 1. urban planning that improves quality of life, in an effort to attract and retain talent, 2. support and fund community incubators that provide educational and professional opportunities, and 3. aggressively leveraging all state and federal programs that might support these long-term goals.
As an example of how these planning and funding efforts can align, a growing conversation is already underway about incorporating a “Fairview Innovation Zone” with the Connection Redevelopment Project. between the Seward Freeway and the Glenn Freeway. Goals for the specially designated area include funding for a community fabrication lab, a greenway park, zoning for denser urban housing and mixed-use space, and a “neighborhood of the stadium” around the Sullivan Arena.
This type of forward thinking by a neighborhood recognizes the importance of creating an environment in our urban core that attracts new tech talent and provides future work opportunities for children growing up in Anchorage. Innovation-focused infrastructure can also include things like “complete streets” for walking and cycling, mixed-use developments with affordable ground floor space for small businesses and startups , and denser housing and commerce in well-defined urban areas. Careful synchronization between land use planning and transportation efforts will be key to making this vision a reality.
If we invest in creating a physical environment that drives innovation, we can help grow and diversify our economy, empower our inventors and creators, make Anchorage an attractive place to live and build businesses. , and using STEM to stem the “brain drain”.
Dr. Daniel Volland is a licensed optometric physician, small business owner, vice president of the South Addition Community Council, and candidate for Anchorage Assembly.
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