From the Editor

When Alaska was petitioning for statehood in the ‘50s, there were several concerns at the federal level. One was national security: in the midst of tensions with Russia (a now recurring theme), a massive, largely unpopulated area a metaphorical stone’s throw away from our western neighbor seemed like a risk. Another significant concern was that Alaska would be a drain on the country financially. In June 1958, then-Secretary of the Interior Fred Seaton submitted a letter to then-President Dwight D. Eisenhower, in which Seaton stated: “Because of some questions which have been raised concerning Alaska’s population, income, per capita general revenue, and the costs of statehood, this letter is attached to a memorandum on these subjects. In my sincere opinion, these facts again demonstrate that Alaskans are ready for statehood.”

Amongst those facts:

  • The statewide population was estimated at 220,000 people.
  • In 1957, the gross product from Alaska’s natural resources was approximately $162 million, an 18 percent increase over 1956. “Of this 1957 income, approximately $92.9 million was derived from fisheries; $34.3 million from timber; $24.6 million from minerals; and $1.5 million from the fur industry, exclusive of the Pribilof fur seal production. The Pribilof production amounted to $5.2 million,” Seaton reported.
  • Alaskans paid about $65 million in federal taxes in 1957; $45 million of that was from residents and the remainder from nonresidents doing business here.
  • Per capita general revenue for Alaska in 1957 was higher than thirty-nine of the existing states. This statistic is accompanied by a handwritten, unattributed note on the scanned letter that says, “I don’t believe it.”
  • Alaska had the only government in the forty-eight states, Hawaii, and Puerto Rico which had no outstanding debt at the close of fiscal year 1957.

It’s clear from the letter that Alaska’s natural resources—and its ability to generate revenue through them—were a significant factor in establishing its value as a state.

Sixty-plus years later, Alaska’s relationship with the federal government has changed. Instead of expecting natural resource development to grow as a boon for the entire country, support for natural resource development waxes and wanes with various administrations, and even worse, that see-sawing of support has led to uncertain and often chaotic policy decision making.

What hasn’t changed is Alaska’s vast resource potential. In fact, that has expanded as additional resources have been identified. Joining Alaska’s roster of natural resources are its trails and tourism opportunities; renewable energy sources like wind, geothermal, tidal, and solar; minerals and elements that have applications today that weren’t even conceived in the ‘50s; and instead of seeing Alaska’s position on the globe as a liability, it is viewed as asset to national security.

Much like in the late ‘50s, Alaskans know our state’s potential. We’ve cycled back to a position in which we need to educate the rest of the country about our incredible value—if we are allowed the opportunity to unlock it. I’m optimistic we can do it again.

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Tasha Anderson
Managing Editor, Alaska Business