Building Bridges to the Future

By Joel Cladouhos Originally Published in the Anchorage Daily News on July 21, 2022 and reposted here with permission.

Former Governor Bill Walker wrote an op-ed titled “We need leaders who can transform our economy and rebuild Alaska” published April 24.  His commentary focused on the “transformational opportunity” of the federal infrastructure bill knocking on our door. The potential billions of dollars is an opportunity for Alaska, but to be transformational it must go beyond the status quo.  Simply increasing the flow of federal funds is not going to transform our economy and rebuild Alaska.  In the upcoming elections I strongly urge Alaskans to vote for leaders who will use the opportunities that exist today to be truly transformational – to build bridges to the future! 

Alaska is familiar with the booms and busts of an economy and state government that is heavily reliant on extracting natural resources. A boom in the form of federal stimulus like the infrastructure bill is no different. What happens after the money is spent? What if Alaskan leaders currently holding or running for public office would look beyond the length of their own term? What would it take for leaders in the public, private or social sector to see the transformational opportunity of the infrastructure bill? 

The infrastructure bill is a very timely opportunity for Alaskans to construct and implement a strategic vision for our collective future. The federal funding could allow us to design a re-imagined model that is stable and relatively certain rather than cyclical and unpredictable.  The stimulus could help build an onramp to a new, upgraded operating system for the 49th state, one in which Alaskans are engaged in building a self-sustaining economy where individuals are healthy and resilient, communities are vibrant and thriving, and natural ecosystems are renewed and protected. 

Leaders must not only acknowledge but take action to enact policy and deploy funding and nonmonetary resources to support the next generation(s) of Alaskans. The future is to take responsibility for our own health, education, safety, housing and other vital services to a healthy and prosperous society and environment. We must use unique opportunities such as the infrastructure bill to come together, listen to our core values, determine our shared priorities, align on a vision of the future, set goals and targets, implement plans, and measure progress.  It is simple, but it is not easy because it requires a shift in mindset.  It requires listening, respecting all views, building trust, and growing collaborative partnerships. 

Further, we must shift our lens to see Planet Earth not just for the market value of its commodities but as a source of shared renewal, connection and restoration. Alaska could lead the world in taking collective action to address the climate emergency and pursuing healthy green growth strategies.  Alaska has a unique opportunity to transform our state and in doing so, show the world what is possible when people work together toward a common vision.  It is possible to improve the health and well-being of all our citizens, communities, and natural ecosystems, while adhering to our indigenous heritage.  The next step is to elect public officials who will use opportunities such as the infrastructure bill to be truly transformational.  We have the opportunity right now to build bridges to the future!