Natural Resource Development
Alaska Metal Mines
Renamed council connects Alaskans with metals producers
By Alexandra Kay

fter more than thirty years of advocacy, the trade organization representing large metal mines in Alaska has a new name. The Council of Alaska Producers is now called Alaska Metal Mines.

Created in 1992, the group works to inspire Alaskans to realize a shared goal of safe and sustainable mineral production, providing economic and social benefits to the state and local communities. A new branding campaign will showcase how Alaska can play a greater role in providing metals and minerals that advance the human experience.

“Alaska’s approach to mining is world class, smart, and responsible, and our goal is to connect with Alaskans and share how our natural resources not only benefit our daily lives but make the impossible possible,” says Karen Matthias, executive director of Alaska Metal Mines. “Rebranding from Council of Alaska Producers to Alaska Metal Mines provides an opportunity to more clearly communicate our focus and who we are.”

Alaska Metal Mines (AKM) is the collective voice of Alaska’s metal mines. The association has twelve members, including Coeur Alaska, Hecla Mining, Kinross Alaska, Northern Star Resources, Teck Resources, Donlin Gold, NANA, NOVAGOLD, International Tower Hill Mines, Constantine Mining, Pebble Limited Partnership, and the nonprofit representing the broader mineral industry, the Alaska Miners Association. AKM advocates for responsible resource development in Alaska in partnership with its members and other natural resource, business, and community organizations. All twelve members are actively involved in prioritizing and guiding AKM’s outreach and advocacy efforts.

“Our focus is not company or project specific,” says Matthias. “Instead, Alaska Metal Mines promotes a comprehensive understanding of the importance of mining in Alaska and the associated benefits for the state, local communities, and Alaskans.”

Sharing Facts
AKM advocacy involves ongoing efforts focused on connecting Alaskans with accurate information about the state’s tremendous mining potential and sustainable approach to mining that is uniquely Alaska. Sharing this information with the public, policymakers, and other stakeholders helps to counter misinformation about mining and is essential to maximizing the benefit of Alaska’s resources for all Alaskans in a responsible manner.

AKM’s advocacy also provides the opportunity to show how mining is foundational to future technologies in transportation, medicine, infrastructure, renewable energies, and a green economy.

“From exploration to production and reclamation, mining projects in Alaska are held to the highest federal, state, and local standards,” says Matthias. “By sharing facts about what the industry is doing to meet or exceed those standards, Alaskans will see that responsible development is possible and sustainable.”

“Mining projects in Alaska are held to the highest federal, state, and local standards… By sharing facts about what the industry is doing to meet or exceed those standards, Alaskans will see that responsible development is possible and sustainable.”
Karen Matthias
Executive Director
Alaska Metal Mines
Additionally, AKM provides testimony and comments on legislative and regulatory actions. The association also advocates for the state to attract and retain skilled regulators to work efficiently and always uphold Alaska’s high standards for its mining industry.
Digging for Miners
The Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development counts about 4,000 people employed by the “Mining and Logging” industry sector, not including 7,400 workers in the Oil & Gas subcategory. Those mining employees include about 200 loader operators at underground mines, 140 dragline operators at surface mines, and 40 explosives experts, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.

In employment terms, the mining sector was relatively insulated from any downturn during the COVID-19 pandemic, in the view of the state’s senior labor economist Neal Fried. He told the Resource Development Council that Alaska came out of the pandemic in “generally pretty good” shape, with unemployment as low as ever while incomes continued to grow.

However, Alaska is taking longer than any other state to recover to its pre-COVID economy. Fried blames that lag on two main factors. One is a lack of momentum coming out of a statewide recession driven by the 2014 oil price crash. The second is a worker shortage most directly attributable to Alaska’s aging population.

Fried recalls that Alaska’s population swelled in ‘70s and ‘80s as Baby Boomers migrated to the state, and now that cohort is aging out of the workforce. They are taking their skills and experience with them, and younger people are not entering the industry fast enough to replace them.

Alaska’s population also shrank in recent years due to net out-migration. Fried notes that Alaska has the fastest population turnover of any state. The 10 percent moving in or out every year outpaces next-place Wyoming, Nevada, and Hawaii. Such a churn wouldn’t be much of a problem except that mobility is lower than ever nationwide; fewer people are choosing to move anywhere, so they’re not coming to Alaska.

Thus, even though the mining industry has plenty of work to be done, Matthias notes that bodies to fill those jobs are in short supply. “The problem is really bigger than any one industry,” she says. “People are leaving the state, and they’re not leaving because there are not good jobs available; they’re leaving because they want to live somewhere else.” Matthias suggests that communities should take action to make Alaskans want to stay.

Tomorrow’s Innovations
AKM recently launched a public awareness campaign during its annual Mining Day at the Alaska State Fair. It will be an ongoing effort that emphasizes how mining is foundational to future technologies. Metals and minerals like those found in Alaska play critical roles in these endeavors and will help to define the world of tomorrow.

“From autonomous, electric vehicles that make transportation more efficient to modern prosthetics that improve quality of life, metals make tomorrow’s innovations possible,” says Matthias. “We have so many examples that demonstrate the importance of mining in our daily lives, and we’re excited to share these with Alaskans.”

The campaign will also spotlight the role of metals in achieving a sustainable climate. Metals like copper, graphite, zinc, and silver are crucial for the development of renewable energy technologies, such as wind turbines, solar panels, and electric vehicle batteries. By providing these essential materials, Alaska can support the global transition to cleaner and more sustainable energy sources.

Alaska sets the global standard for responsible management of its lands and natural resources. A robust regulatory system ensures that appropriate environmental safeguards and responsible business practices are in place so that the benefits are realized while minimizing environmental impact.

“We are reaching out to Alaskans to listen to their ideas and concerns and provide accurate information about mining,” says Matthias. “Our hope is to strengthen public and community support for projects that will bring economic and social benefits while safeguarding the environment, workers, and local communities.”