Remember this couple of minutes of awesome?
Brian Dollarhide’s “Stuff” video was the winner of a contest put on by the Anchorage Economic Development Corporation, in partnership with the group’s advertisement campaign: “Live. Work. Play.”
As the AEDC explained it:
In 2008, the available workforce in Anchorage was tight. Many of our investors were finding it difficult to hire skilled, qualified and experienced workers in the city. Because of this, many businesses were looking outside of Anchorage to hire young professionals in the lower 48 and bring them up to Alaska. The challenge for these businesses was dispelling the myth of Alaska as being only cold and dark.
And thus an ad campaign was born, and a goal was articulated: AEDC’s president and CEO Bill Popp declared that by 2025, Anchorage would be “the #1 city in America to Live. Work. and Play.”
2011 brought us the first report, and first optimistic rankings among US cities.
Live: #10. Work: #1. Play: #9.
On January 30 of this year, the AEDC hosted their annual Economic Forecast Luncheon and revealed our progress. Live: #8. Work: #3. Play: #11.
We slipped in two out of the three categories.
Anchorage, by AEDC’s metrics, is becoming less desirable. Popp opined about the cause of the decline: “I think any number of the business people can tell the personal stories of how difficult it is to find qualified workers to fill the jobs that they have available right now and in the future.”
Richard Florida was the keynote speaker at the annual AEDC luncheon. An urban theorist and national best selling author, Florida has dedicated his life to understanding what makes cities great. And, from Abu Dhabi to Anchorage, he’s recognized certain steps or missteps that translate directly to the fate of any given locale.
When the AEDC picked the “Live. Work. Play.” moniker, he took notice.
Live, work, and play. That’s been the mantra of my work for more than a decade…. In economic development, we think about keeping our business climate strong; making sure companies have the right set of incentives; making sure our real estate prices are in order; making sure our business environment is competitive. But what we’ve learned over the past couple of decades is even if you do all of those things right, you can still fall behind if you don’t have the kind of community that people want to live in.
Florida made no qualms about how the uniqueness of our geography served as a barrier towards the AEDC’s goal. He called us a community of flux – a new evolution of American society that departs from the structural solidity in cosmopolitan staples such as New York and Pittsburgh and Boston; cities with centuries of infrastructure, history, and rooted ancestry. We don’t even have consistent bus schedules. Our circles of friends change with the prime time lineup on television.
The “work” part of the “Live. Work. Play.” dynamic is our bedrock; what the municipality does best. How we become the best city in America is weighted heavily on our retention of high quality workers and the jobs available to them. Flipping burgers does not grant a city a workforce rated between #1 and #3 in the country.
Those not-McJobs illustrate one of Florida’s key findings about what makes a city work:
You’ve got to have good basic services. If your roads are terrible, if your infrastructure doesn’t work, if the lights go out and flicker all the time, if your schools are bad, if people don’t feel safe and secure on the streets, if there’s a crime ridden place, you can’t go anywhere.
After giving a brief presentation on his Education Summit, Mayor Dan Sullivan listened as Bill Popp delivered the economic forecast. He saw our rankings slipping under his tenure. He shared the stage with Richard Florida and presumably sat in the audience during the keynote speech.
The message of the night was fairly clear: Don’t piss off your workers. Those workers can take their ball home, somewhere else and to our collective detriment.
Mayor Sullivan managed to take that message and ignore it entirely. Two weeks later, he insulted our city workers with Ordinance 37.
Under the mayor’s proposal, disagreements between the administration and labor require unions to pay half of the costs of mediation. The added financial burden is combined with a new provision that avoids arbitration by awarding the final say in contract disputes to the Assembly, who would be vested with a brand new power to “impose the last best offer of one of the parties.”
Upon any contract deliberations, if the administration decides not to budge, it simply has to dig in its heels and continue not to budge until it’s gone through the mediation process (which labor now has to pay for) and has arrived back in the chambers of the Loussac. Once back before the body, the administration’s original offer can be chosen. As long as the administration holds the majority of votes on the body, negotiations can take place, at expense to the union, without any negotiating on the part of the municipality.
And, just in case the labor unions getting hosed in the process object to the process, the bill includes a ban on strikes, work stoppages, and slowdowns without exception.
Work. Live. Play. But don’t expect much, especially not a say in the matter.
We provide opportunity for Americans coming from states who tax them out of their shoes or frack them out of their drinking water. So long as they’re willing to work hard, we call them neighbor. Union households call them family. That’s what we do. That’s who we are.
Anchorage has a strong workforce supported by the jobs we secure for them. That workforce secures us a safe place to live our lives; raise a family. And the formula works. The AEDC found that Anchorage has the highest household income among cities. We’re ranked third in per capita personal income. And we are the least taxed city (as a percentage of income) in the United States.
We pay a very little amount to make sure we don’t have to pay an immeasurable lot when a big storm hits or your house catches fire.
The cornerstone of Richard Florida’s work suggests that “flux” cities depend on talent recruitment and thrive on talent retention.
James Dokken is one of hundreds who have spoken out against Ordinance 37. Monday night very likely will be the last opportunity to do so. Dokken spoke about what Ordinance 37 means to that retention rate; to this community that has prospered so much from the mere presence of people like him:
I came to Anchorage as an infantrymen in the Army in 2003. My plan was to get some experience in the army and then become a peace officer in my home state of Washington. However, after spending several years in this community and coming to know it better, I decided to apply for the Anchorage Police Department, and was fortunate enough to make it through the application process….
My daily contact with firefighters, EMS, and other servants… revealed a mirror image of my department’s goal to make this city the best place in this country to live and work. I wear this pin on my lapel to signify the pride I am filled with to serve the people of this great city for five years. I am filled with sadness and frustration that the proposed law changes which will force my family and me to leave public service in this city. If I were to weather the pay and benefit cuts that my union representatives have advised me that this ordinance would impose on my family, I would not be able to maintain my current living arrangements. Also, as I have read myself, it would not stop there….
I think maybe the reason you would consider these drastic changes is because you haven’t had the unfortunate pleasure of experiencing the emergency services this city has to offer. Maybe you haven’t experienced the compassion these people show above and beyond the task they are given of keeping you safe, treating your wound, and saving your home. But then I remember all of the services this city provides so well other than that. Power outages are few and well contained even in the harshest of storms. Last year, our employees removed enough snow from Anchorage roads to fill five acres of property several hundred feet high in an all time record snowfall. I’m in this city every week. I see the work your employees provide and am constantly amazed at the level of service they don’t have to give but do. You will lose these people if you pass this ordinance….
If these changes are passed, I will take what little I have in my 401k, my training, my experience, and my skills to another state.
Live. Work. Play. And do it better than any other state by 2025.
Under AO37, I ask: How?