Alicia Siira Portrait
Alicia Siira
Executive Director
The Associated General Contractors of Alaska logo
Paving a Path to Recovery
By Alicia Siira

elieve it or not, we’re already a quarter into the new year. And with respect to the pandemic, things are finally beginning to look up. Not only are we seeing daily case numbers continue to fall, Alaska is leading the country in vaccination rates. The implications these factors have on our state’s economy can’t be understated—especially if the recently released 2021 Construction Spending Forecast is anything to go by.

The blow COVID-19 dealt Alaska’s economy in 2020 was always going to mean lower construction spending in 2021. But the report prepared by McKinley Research Group holds a variety of reasons to remain optimistic. The estimated $4.3 billion in total spending is shared almost equally between private and public construction projects. This shows that both our government and local businesses recognize the importance of this essential industry.

On the private side of things, utility investment is one of the few categories anticipated to outperform the previous year, with an expectation it will exceed $300 million in total spending. Much of this is thanks to some utility infrastructure and system updates, along with continued investment in 5G wireless expansion from GCI and Alaska Communications.

For public projects, investment in education is also looking particularly bright. These projects include renovations to schools in rural communities like Bristol Bay and Aniak, as well as repairs due to earthquake damage in Southcentral schools such as Gruening and Eagle River Elementary.

Granted these are still projections, but this much is certain: the construction industry continues to offer Alaska a clear pathway to economic recovery.

Findings from another McKinley Research Group report—their economic impact assessment—support this notion, with a few more concrete observations:

1 in 20
jobs in Alaska’s economy belong to the construction sector
statewide construction-related jobs exist in Alaska (including multiplier effects)
construction industry employers serve Alaska
And here’s one final statistic: the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development anticipates an 8.6 percent growth in construction trade occupations between 2018 and 2028—even after accounting for the effects of COVID-19.

Watching this data roll in, especially during a time of hardship, is a such great reminder for all of us at Associated General Contractors of Alaska of why we do what we do: To advocate, to educate, and to promote the essential importance of the construction industry—perhaps the only industry to reach every single city, village, and borough in the state of Alaska. And some exciting projects are on the horizon.

On February 10, the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority approved and signed a 50-50 cost-share agreement with Ambler Metals, a joint venture of Trilogy Metals. The agreement authorizes up to $70 million for pre-development spending on the Ambler access road until a final investment decision, or FID, is made by Ambler Metals and AIDEA, anticipated in early 2024.

Though there’s plenty of work before Ambler becomes a reality, AIDEA’s $35 million investment represents a major victory for responsible resource development in Alaska. To echo the sentiments of AIDEA chairman Dana Pruhs:

“Projects like the Ambler Access Project help to create the tangible economic opportunities Alaskans need and deserve, especially for neighboring communities. No one does resource development better than Alaska.”

Speaking of economic opportunities that Alaskans deserve, I’d like to bring the recently resurrected Protecting the Right to Organize Act (PRO Act) to the attention of our members—this is not a good piece of legislation for our industry.

This federal bill makes an unprecedented attempt to fundamentally change dozens of well-established labor laws to assist organized labor without regard to its detrimental impact on workers, employers—union and open-shop—and the economy. This latest development would be a step backward for construction workers and AGC of America’s CEO Steve Sandherr has described the act as “anti-worker, anti-privacy, and anti-recovery.” Please join me in urging our elected officials to oppose this bill.

To close, I’d like to end with a positive. As you’ll notice in his letter, Board President Gary Klebs challenged his colleagues to come up with a few ways that the COVID-19 pandemic has changed our industry for the better. And I’ll leave you with mine:

Apart from redefining safety, apart from the time saved in meetings and the money on travel, what has been most striking to me is AGC of Alaska’s renewed commitment to our mission. For me, personally, advocating for the essential nature of our industry has never felt more natural. The men and women of Alaska’s construction industry are carrying a heavy load—but they can be sure we’ll be there to support them every step of the way.