Anchorage, Alaska: You know you are in Alaska when tax income from marihuana sales is the highlight of a rather gloomy presentation of the economy in the American state. The same industry also accounts for the relatively largest job growth in Alaska. – But I do not know anything about this market, said economist Neil Fried before he hurriedly moved on to the next slide in his power point presentation.
As a kind of Erlend Bullvåg, the Dean behind Index Nordland, or Petter Høiseth, the bank manager behind the economic trend barometer for Northern Norway, Neal Fried hurried through the statistics for the state that qualifies the USA to a seat at the Arctic Council table.
Before getting to the slide showing the importance of cannabis for Alaska’s economy, still rather modest, yet growing strongly, he had tried to create enthusiasm for figures showing decreasing population figures and reduced investments in the state.
Keep the money in the High North
In some ways, I could be attending a show with Bullvåg or Høiseth.
Instead, I was in a giant conference hall at Dena’lna Center in Anchorage, Alaska.
Along with partners in the USA, the High North Center for Business and Governance at Nord University is looking for synergies between the two northern economies. One of the meeting places this time was the annual conference of Alaska Resource Development Center.
- We must keep the money in the Arctic, was one of the messages of Alaska Nor Project Manager Andreas Rasputnik; a message hitting home in a state that but for one exception – Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964 – has voted Republican in every election.
During the last election, Donald Trump crushed Hillary Clinton, who only received 36.5 percent of the votes in a state that does not even border on the USA, only Canada. In 1867, Russia sold Alaska to the USA for 7.2 million dollars.
Northern Norway and Alaska
There are many similarities between Northern Norway and Alaska, not at least are their strategic locations significant, as are the fisheries – or the so-called blue economy – and the distance to their respective capitals, Oslo and Washington D.C.
However, their differences are also significant.
Alaska is the largest state in the USA by far, yet it is amongst the least populated ones. And with a completely different welfare model from that of Norway, the state depends largely on oil revenues, in particular its own. For the same reason, the opposition to mining and petroleum exploitation is completely absent at conferences of this kind.
There is rather a united cry for more of both.
Sustainability, so what?
The somewhat worn term 'sustainability' is barely mentioned in the Republican language spoken at conferences in Alaska. In this state, large areas are rather privatized in order to extract more oil and gas. However, this political development usually drowns in the noise following from Donald Trump’s Twitter account.
At a breakfast meeting I went to the other day, coal was even presented as a future industry, as valuable and desired as gold, if I understood them right.
I arrived in Anchorage following a visit to San Fransisco. In the Democratic state of California I was baffled over the fact that it was impossible to watch Fox News on the TV screen in my hotel room. I wanted to follow the impeachment hearings and corruption charges against Donald Trump, even at the TV channel that has abandoned all journalistic principles to become a propaganda machine for Trump.
But that could not be done. I had to settle for CNN.
Arriving safe and sound in Anchorage, the situation was opposite. Here, Fox News ruled the ground and CNN was subject to boycott.
A smelly business
Attending meetings in Alaska provides insight into how Donald Trump can continue as president even after being exposed as a corrupt liar. The hatred against the Democrats is deep in a people divided, and the American economy is booming. Jobs mean more than corruption. Or as one out of very few English-speaking cab drivers said to me the other day:
- He makes me puke, but I will nevertheless vote for him.
Leaving the conference hall, I walk through the exhibitions of several of the sponsors that are required to organize such conferences in the USA. In the abundance of constructors, entrepreneurs, oil corporations and digital suppliers, one stand is left rather empty.
Perhaps he is just out at the little boys’ room, the man who has made it a business idea to fight the environmental movement. A large, green banner says, ‘Fight Environmental Extremism’.
Or perhaps there is a limit even for Alaska’s inhabitants.
Back out on the street, I recognize the smell of the industry that according to economist Neal Fried has created 500 new jobs in a year and a half. This is how the use of fossil fuels is mixed with farming in a state that never stops fascinating me.
This op-ed was originally published in Norwegian and has been translated by HNN's Elisabeth Bergquist.