Alaska economic development agency to pay for independent review after critical report

Sep. 30—An Alaska agency focused on economic development in the state said Thursday it plans to hire an entity to independently review the organization's financial performance, after a conservation group this week released an unflattering report about the agency.

Alan Weitzner, executive director of Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority, asserted the report commissioned by SalmonState contains erroneous data in an attempt to paint an inaccurate picture of the agency.

Weitzner said the agency plans to soon publish a call for bids for an entity to review the agency. He said the projected cost of the report is not yet known. It should be completed by year's end, he said.

"This is to get someone independently to evaluate and look at AIDEA's financial statements, get the information on the jobs that have been created, and provide a credible report on our performance," Weitzner said.

The agency has drawn opposition from conservation groups in part because of its acquisition of oil and gas leases for possible future drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Weitzner on Thursday said SalmonState opposes the work the agency is doing to create jobs in Alaska and improve the economy. The conservation group is campaigning against the agency's proposed 100-mile West Susitna Access road between Point MacKenzie and the Yentna Mining District, amid concerns over wildlife and hunting and fishing.

The 130-page SalmonState report, authored by Alaska economists Gregg Erickson and Milt Barker, asserted that the agency has positive but subpar financial returns. They say it has made poor investment decisions over the last four decades.

Weitzner, at a press conference on Thursday, said errors in the report include significantly overstating the state's financial contribution to the agency. He and other agency officials said the report ignored traditional accounting and financial analysis, and overlooked benefits such as efforts that created more than 20,000 jobs, and participation in successful projects such as the FedEx facility at the Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport.

Mary Catharine Martin, SalmonState communications director, said the report was accurately completed by extremely experienced economists. She said the report recommends an independent audit focused on areas such as subsidy costs, rates of return, and job creation.

"We are trying to ensure Alaskan money is spent responsibly on things that benefit Alaskans," she said.