Benjamin Franklin said, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.” Whether you’re making life decisions or running a city, the same common sense applies. We need a business plan to move Fairbanks forward. This is one of the main reasons I’m running for Fairbanks city mayor, and as the mayor, developing and implementing a business plan will be my top priority.
The city is currently developing its budget and working to balance services to revenues. The state budget cuts have shifted costs for necessary services onto our community, which will impact both the city’s budget and the services our nonprofit partners provide to community members.
We’re fortunate that past city leaders invested in a permanent fund that helps fund general government and capital projects. In this context, the priority of the incoming mayor must be to work with the City Council and departments to find efficiencies and maintain essential services. Developing and institutionalizing a long-term business planning process for the city should be the next item on the mayor’s agenda. It’s simple: We need to know where we’re going, how we plan to get there, and how we’ll pay for it.
The key ingredients of such a plan are also simple. We can begin by exploring the city’s strengths, opportunities, weaknesses and threats. This will help us identify what challenges and opportunities we need to highlight in our plan and work on in the next 20 years.
We will ask about how demand for services might change over time: Will they grow, shrink, change? What new challenges are likely to arise? When will upgrades, replacements, and expansions be required? What new opportunities — such as the Polaris Building or a Community Arts Center — should we pursue? Are there opportunities to revitalize downtown? What can we do to facilitate that?
Finally, are there industries we have not traditionally considered as important parts of our economy or that we can develop more fully? What brought the successful entrepreneurs we have downtown and what helped them succeed? What can the city do to expand on that? Armed with insights like this, business owners, citizens and policy makers are better equipped to make good decisions.
While we may feel like we have little to no control of the state political and economic environment, we can influence our local environment. To be effective, a business plan for Fairbanks must be led by a broad community partnership and have input from an even broader community partnership.
Having led economic development initiatives at the borough for many years, I am aware of the power of collaboration and synergy. Each stage of the plan must involve partnership with local interest groups and industry, entrepreneurs, the military, the University of Alaska Fairbanks, nonprofits, and local government.
Working together, we can build a strong plan for where we are going. Our plan will help guide budget and investment decisions and result in a stronger economy for all of us.
Furthermore, resources for an initiative like this could come from many sources: from within our community, from federal and philanthropic grants and from labor force development programs. Key to its success will be ensuring broad community involvement so that the plan finds a home in which it can weather the political seasons of our town.
We need a plan to guide us and grow with us over the next 20 years, not just the next three years. That’s the kind of plan that will help us move Fairbanks forward.
Kathryn Dodge is a former Fairbanks North Star Borough Assembly member and is a candidate for Fairbanks city mayor.