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The far north: North Slope & Northwest Arctic boroughs.

Economic development -- specifically, how to provide increased job opportunities in some of Alaska's most isolated villages -- is of significant concern to residents of both the North Slope and Northwest Arctic boroughs. So important is the issue that, as 1991 drew to a close, both boroughs held boroughwide conferences to address the issue, and both charged certain individuals with the task of testing and implementing some of the plans discussed there.

"It was a super conference, a very positive conference," says Bill Spencer, director of economic development for the Northwest Arctic Borough and director of the area's regional economic development commission. Some 200 people from throughout the borough, as well as representatives from state and federal agencies, met in Kotzebue for three days in December 1991 to address topics ranging from education to health and social services to economic development.

Spencer, who oversaw the economic development task force, says specific ideas tailored to the needs of borough residents were discussed. Everyone agreed that employee training is a priority, thereby allowing young people to find gainful employment within the region.

If training in appliance and small-engine repair was available, for example, not only would jobs be created, but the cost of living would be reduced, explains Spencer. As it is now, when a snowmachine breaks down in rural Alaska, an owner often junks it and buys a new one, because no one is trained to make less costly repairs.

Conference attendees suggested ideas specific to their areas, says Spencer. Villagers in Noatak and Shungnak, for example, would like to increase the marketing of locally produced arts and crafts, while those in Kobuk are eager to open a community store and secure training in small-engine and appliance repair.

Participants at an economic development conference on the North Slope also generated several ideas during two days in Barrow. Ideas ranged from building a facility in Nuiqsut for snowmachine sales and repairs to expanding an existing home-based grocery in Point Hope. Villagers in Point Hope also have talked about starting a cab service, and several North Slope villages are interested in waste management and in exploring tourism possibilities.

"The people in the villages and in Barrow are very excited and very motivated," says Larry Meadows, executive director of the Arctic Development Council, sponsor of the North Slope conference. "I think the people here on the North Slope have needed a very active organization like ours. It's been very easy for me to work with the people," he adds.

HISTORY

This region has for centuries been home to Eskimos. What is now the North Slope Borough has been occupied for at least 5,000 years, and some of the oldest inhabited places in North America lie within the Cape Krusenstern National Monument north of Kotzebue.

In 1778, Capt. James Cook became the first European to examine Alaska's arctic coast. Numerous expeditions followed, led by men named Barrow, Beechey, Franklin and Rasmussen. The first commercial whaling ship arrived in 1848, marking a dramatic change in the lives of local residents.

Major oil reserves were discovered on the North Slope in 1968, and the trans-Alaska pipeline was completed nine years later. The North Slope Borough was incorporated July 2, 1972; the Northwest Arctic Borough, June 2, 1986.

GEOGRAPHY

The two boroughs combined cover approximately 129,000 square miles of Alaska's northernmost regions. The area is separated from the rest of the state by an invisible line that runs west along the crest of the Brooks Range, dips south to the Arctic Circle, and then resumes its westerly course to the Chukchi Sea.

The terrain, particularly to the west, is varied and includes forests of spruce and birch, but to the north is vast coastal plain, or treeless tundra, choked by knee-high tussocks and laced with mighty, meandering rivers. Major rivers of the region, including the Colville, Noatak and Kobuk, are among the state's 10 longest.

Permafrost, extending to 2,000 feet below the earth's surface, covers much of the Arctic and prevents adequate soil drainage. As a result, thousands of shallow lakes and ponds dot the land. But there also are geologic surprises, such as the Great Kobuk Sand Dunes on the southern flanks of the Kobuk River.

In the far northeast corner is the 17-million-acre Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The refuge's Coastal Plain is thought to contain the nation's most promising reserves of onshore oil.

CLIMATE

Outsiders often think of Alaska as a land where winters are long and cold, and summers are over before the boots and block heaters are stowed. Along the North Slope, that image is not far from true. Conditions in Alaska's TABULAR DATA OMITTED Arctic are characterized by strong winds, long, cold winters and desert-like precipitation. Summers are short and cool with near constant daylight.

Other conditions in Barrow, North America's northernmost city, include:

* Average winter temperature range is -20 degrees to -15 degrees F.

* Average summer temperature range is 30 degrees to 40 degrees F.

* Average annual precipitation is five inches (29 inches of snow).

* Beaufort and Chukchi seas are ice-covered nine months of the year.

* The sun sets in Barrow Nov. 18 and does not rise again until Jan. 24, resulting in 67 days of darkness.

* From May 10 to Aug. 2 the sun does not set in Barrow, resulting in 84 days of daylight.

Kotzebue and other communities along the western coast rest in a transitional weather zone characterized by long, cold winters and cool summers. Parts of the Northwest Arctic Borough experience the more extreme temperatures of the continental weather zone, where temperatures may reach 92 degrees in summer but plunge to -65 degrees in winter. In addition:

* Kotzebue's average winter temperature range is -13 degrees to 4 degrees F.

* Kotzebue's average summer temperature range is 37 degrees to 59 degrees F.

* Annual precipitation in Kotzebue is nine inches (47 inches of snow).

ECONOMY & EMPLOYMENT

The economies of both boroughs are based on a mixture of subsistence and cash incomes. And although wages there seem high -- a secretary in Barrow may make $19 an hour -- so is the cost of living. Two pounds of cheese may cost nearly $10.

In both regions, federal, state and Native corporation payments, including dividends and welfare, are the only sources of income for many people. Bartering and sharing among family members also are common. Both boroughs are striving to strengthen and diversify their economies while maintaining traditional values and lifestyles.

North Slope Borough. There are two sets of figures bandied about when discussing North Slope employment: those that include Prudhoe Bay workers and those that don't. Alaska Department of Labor statistics for 1990 show a borough labor force of 9,180, with some 5,000 workers in mining and oil production.

Borough officials say less than 10 percent of oil-related jobs are held by borough residents. With Prudhoe Bay workers removed from the picture, the Department of Labor estimates the work force at 2,950, with 4.4 percent listed as unemployed. After mining, local government provides the majority of borough jobs, followed by the services, transportation and construction industries.

Outside of Barrow, cash jobs are more difficult to find. To supplement their subsistence lifestyles, villagers rely largely on jobs with the school district, the regional corporation or from seasonal construction. Village development commissions are being organized to help residents identify small-business opportunities. Business possibilities include taxicab companies, snowmachine sales and repair, and tourism-related services.

Northwest Arctic Borough. The Northwest Arctic Borough had a 1990 labor force of 2,180, with 12.3 percent listed as unemployed. Again, local government and the services industry provide most jobs.

The Red Dog Mine north of Kotzebue employs an estimated 300 people and, according to a borough official, is the region's only real viable industry. About half of the jobs are held by Alaska Natives, with the percentage expected to rise.

Kotzebue offers the greatest job possibilities, with village residents relying on jobs in schools, small stores, government offices or on seasonal projects. Spencer believes, however, that the region has tremendous potential as a controlled tourist destination for backpackers, wildlife photographers and other ecologically minded visitors. Other possibilities include increased marketing of traditional arts and crafts, and the formation of an aquaculture association.

COMMERCE

Barrow and Kotzebue, respectively, serve as the commercial and administrative centers of the North Slope and Northwest Arctic boroughs. Each serves as the seat of borough government and as the home of each area's regional Native corporation. Both also contain state and federal offices, regional hospitals, supply outlets and regional airports. As a result, each community offers services and employment not found in smaller villages.

DEMOGRAPHICS

Alaska's northern and northwest regions traditionally have been home to Inupiat Eskimos. According to census figures, some communities are made up entirely of Natives, while others have Native populations of 70 percent or more.

Representing Natives of the North Slope Borough are the Arctic Slope Regional Corp., based in Barrow, and the Barrow village corporation, Ukpeagvik Inupiat Corp. Their counterparts in the Northwest Arctic Borough are NANA Regional Corp. of Kotzebue and the Kotzebue village corporation, Kikiktagnuk Corp.

According to the 1990 census, the population of both boroughs has increased since 1980. Demographers predict that Kotzebue could double its population within the next 15 years. Housing shortages are common in many villages.

Census figures for 1990 give a snapshot of the region's demographics:

North Slope Borough

* Population: 5,979 (1980: 4,199) * Barrow's population: 3,469 * Inupiat Eskimos represent 72 percent of the population. * Median age: 27 years * Portion of population under age 18: 37 percent * Median value of a home: $80,700 * Per capita income: $22,219 (1989)

Northwest Arctic Borough

* Population: 6,113 (1980: 4,831) * Kotzebue's population: 2,751 * Eskimos, Aleuts and American Indians represent 85 percent of the population. * Median age: 23 years * Portion of population under age 18: 43 percent * Median value of a home: $62,800 * Per capita income: $14,711 (1989)

LIFESTYLES

Perhaps nowhere else in Alaska are contrasting lifestyles as obvious as they are on the North Slope. Native elders who lead a subsistence lifestyle and speak little or no English stand in line at the post office with college-educated professionals who earn good salaries. Glass office buildings sit beside homes made from scrap materials. Buildings have electricity, but not all have running water, even in Barrow.

It is estimated that 88 percent of the North Slope's Inupiat adults engage in subsistence activities and that some 45 percent of borough households obtain at least half of their food from these activities. As a result, muktuk, seal and walrus are found on the dinner table, along with store-bought canned peaches, white bread and soda pop.

During spring and fall whaling seasons, Native hunters who straddle both the traditional and modern worlds leave their offices to hunt for bowhead whales. In the Northwest Arctic Borough, some 4.5 million pounds, representing 100 different plant, fish and mammal species, are harvested annually through subsistence activities. Fish is said to account for 30 percent of local residents' diets.

Social life in Alaska's north and northwest revolves largely around extended families, often making it difficult for newcomers to adjust. League sports, especially basketball, draw crowds on winter nights, as do special dances and other community events. Barrow's school and community center provide a swimming pool, weight room, wood and metal shops, and other facilities. Kotzebue's community center is closed for lack of funds. A handful of restaurants and video rental outlets also are available in both towns.

TRANSPORTATION & COMMUNICATION

Although no roads lead to Barrow, Kotzebue or to any of the other scattered communities in the North Slope and Northwest Arctic boroughs, North Slope officials talk about the need for roads between villages. Summer travel is primarily by boat and small plane; winter travel by plane and snowmachine. Planes and supply barges deliver food, equipment and household goods.

Daily jet service is available to Kotzebue and Barrow from Anchorage and Fairbanks, with commuter air service (cargo and passenger) available in outlying villages. Air travel is expensive, however, with a round-trip ticket from Barrow to Point Hope costing $600 and one from Barrow to Anaktuvuk Pass about $720 in late 1991.

Barrow and Kotzebue also have cab service, as do some other villages. Dog teams are used mostly for recreation.

Villages receive selected television transmissions over the Rural Alaska Television Network (RATNET). Some have cable television. Both Barrow and Kotzebue have their own public radio stations and newspapers. Newspapers from other communities often are available.

TOURISM

The north and northwest regions are not traditional tourist destinations, although a growing number of visitors is spending the time and money to see this part of the state. Package trips are available to Prudhoe Bay and Barrow, as well as trips for wildlife and bird viewing.

International interest in ANWR has resulted in a marked increase in the number of visitors to that area. Like most of ANWR, millions of acres in the north and northwest are protected, resulting in vast parks, preserves and monuments. Among these are Noatak National Preserve, Kobuk Valley National Park, Cape Krusenstern National Monument, Bering Land Bridge National Preserve and Gates of the Arctic National Park. Most do not have visitor facilities, requiring backpackers to come well prepared.

The NANA Museum of the Arctic in Kotzebue and the city museum are both popular attractions. Kotzebue's Fourth of July celebration features a muktuk-eating contest and other traditional events, and the Arctic Trade Fair the following week draws dozens of artists and onlookers.

LOCAL GOVERNMENT & TAXES

Following is a breakdown of government entities and tax rates for the North Slope and Northwest Arctic boroughs and for communities within each.

North Slope Borough

* North Slope Borough: Home-rule borough; mayor-assembly form of government; property tax rate: 18.21 mil; no sales tax anywhere in the borough; no additional village property taxes

* Anaktuvuk Pass: Second-class city; mayor-council government

* Atqasuk: Second-class city; mayor-council government; administrator

* Barrow: First-class city; mayor council government

* Kaktovik: Second-class city; mayor-council government

* Nuiqsut: Second-class city; mayor-council government

* Point Hope: Second-class city; mayor-council government; administrator

* Point Lay: Unincorporated tribal village; mayor-council government

* Wainwright: Second-class city; mayor-council government

Northwest Arctic Borough

* Northwest Arctic Borough: Homerule borough; mayor-assembly government; no boroughwide property or sales tax

* Ambler: Second--class city; mayor-council government; administrator; 2 percent sales tax

* Buckland: Second-class city; mayor-council government; administrator; 2 percent sales tax

* Deering: Second-class city; mayor-council government; administrator; 3 percent sales tax

* Kiana: Second-class city; mayor-council government; administrator; 2 percent sales tax

* Kivalina: Second-class city; mayor-council government; administrator; 2 percent sales tax

* Kobuk: Second-class city; mayor-council government; administrator; no sales tax

* Kotzebue: Second-class city; mayor-council government; manager; 4 percent sales tax

* Noatak: Unincorporated, tribal village; council-president government; 2 percent sales tax

* Noorvik: Second-class city; mayor-council government; administrator; 3 percent sales tax

* Selawik: Second-class city; mayor-council government; administrator; 3 percent sales tax

* Shungnak: Second-class city; mayor-council government; administrator; 2 percent sales tax

LAND OWNERSHIP

North Slope Borough. Approximately 70.5 million acres of the borough's total 83 million acres belong to the federal government. Approximately 7 million acres belong to the state, and 5.5 million acres are owned by private landowners or regional and village corporations.

Northwest Arctic Borough. Borough officials estimate that between 10 percent and 11 percent of the land is owned by NANA Regional Corp., with the remaining acreage owned by state and federal governments. The borough is in the process of selecting 285,000 acres from the state to claim as its own.

CONTACTS

NORTH SLOPE BOROUGH, P.O. Box 69, Barrow, AK 99723; (907) 852-2611

Arctic Development Council, P.O. Box 1353, Barrow, AK 99723; (907) 852-4146

Arctic Slope Regional Corp., P.O. Box 129, Barrow, AK 99723; (907) 852-8533

Ukpeagvik Inupiat Corp., P.O. Box 427, Barrow, AK 99723; (907) 852-4460

Anaktuvuk Pass, P.O. Box 21030, Anaktuvuk Pass, AK 99721; (907) 661-3612

Atqasuk, General Delivery, Atqasuk, AK 99791; (907) 633-6811

Barrow, P.O. Box 629, Barrow, AK 99723; (907) 852-5211

Kaktovik, P.O. Box 27, Kaktovik, AK 99747; (907) 640-6313

Nuiqsut, P.O. Box 148, Nuiqsut, AK 99789; (907) 480-6727

Point Hope, P.O. Box 69, Point Hope, AK 99766; (907) 368-2537

Point Lay, General Delivery, Point Lay, AK 99759; no phone listing

Wainwright, P.O. Box 9, Wainwright, AK 99782; (907) 763-2815

NORTHWEST ARCTIC BOROUGH, P.O. Box 1110, Kotzebue, AK 99752; (907) 442-2500

Northwest Arctic Borough Economic Development Commission, P.O. Box 1110, Kotzebue 99752; (907) 442-2500

NANA Regional Corp., P.O. Box 49, Kotzebue, AK 99752; (907) 442-3301

Kikiktagnuk Native Corp., P.O. Box 1050, Kotzebue, AK 99752; (907) 442-3165

Maniilaq Association, P.O. Box 256, Kotzebue, AK 99752; (907) 442-3311

Kotzebue Chamber of Commerce, P.O. Box 46, Kotzebue, AK 99752; (907) 442-3401

Ambler, P.O. Box 9, Ambler, AK 99786; (907) 445-2122

Buckland, P.O. Box 49, Buckland, AK 99727; (907) 494-2121

Deering, P.O. Box 36049, Deering, AK 99736-0049; (907) 363-2136

Kiana, P.O. Box 150, Kiana, AK 99749; (907) 475-2136

Kivalina, P.O. Box 50079, Kivalina, AK 99750; (907) 645-2137

Kobuk, P.O. Box 20, Kobuk, AK 99751; (907) 948-2217

Kotzebue, P.O. Box 46, Kotzebue, AK 99752; (907) 442-3401

Noatak, P.O. Box 89, Noatak, AK 99761; (907) 485-2173

Noorvik, P.O. Box 146, Noorvik, AK 99763; (907) 636-2100

Selawik, P.O. Box 49, Selawik, AK 99770; (907) 484-2132

Shungnak, P.O. Box 59; Shungnak, AK 99773; (907) 473-2161
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Author:Hill, Robin Mackey
Publication:Alaska Business Monthly
Date:Feb 1, 1992
Words:2891
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