Dermot Cole

One of the enduring mysteries of the Dunleavy administration is the so-called “Alaska Development Team,” an effort that appears to have grown out of a 2018 campaign promise to recruit “distressed gun manufacturers” to build factories in Alaska.

“You bring up an outfit like a Ruger, or a Springfield or Remington to the state of Alaska, you’ll have jobs for generations,” candidate Mike Dunleavy told a gun-loving crowd in Fairbanks in October that year. 

“There are distressed gun manufacturers, for example, on the East Coast. Some of them are looking for a new home. Under my administration we’ll send a team out to those industries and say, ‘What would it take for you to come to Alaska? Tell us what would it take.’”

No one knows what it would take. The Alaska Development Team has yet to attract a distressed gun manufacturer or even create a website, the latter project announced in spring 2019 by Clark Penney.

Penney, grandson of a big Dunleavy benefactor, was hired under a no-bid state contract to be managing director of the team, promoting everything from gambling to the Alberta railroad. He said he had “Conversations with the Governor on Vision” at the start of his $8,000-per-month gig.

Dunleavy administration officials would only say that Bob Penney’s grandson was picked for the job by the “appropriate” officials. The governor’s office refused to acknowledge its central role in setting up the contract.

Penney is now long gone and while Dunleavy promised a “deep dive” and a law department review of how exactly Penney became team leader, the deep dive was deep-sixed. The governor wanted and trusted Penney, blessed by GOP cheerleader Suzanne Downing as a “rainmaker” who didn’t really need state money.

A year ago, the Dunleavy administration said “The ‘Alaska Development Team’ has been created to bring special focus to the administration’s efforts to attract new businesses and economic investment to our state.”

The team was a reworked version of the state’s economic development office with a new name. One of the alleged differences was that the team wouldn’t subsidize “desirable but unprofitable activities.”

The team continues to miss the basics of helping businesses, however. A state document on “Establishing a Business in Alaska,” last updated in 2009, makes no mention of the Alaska Development Team. Perhaps a team member should have revised the text.

There is no team website, just an ineffective sales pitch on the state website and the names of three team members: “The Alaska Development Team is ready to discuss your existing growth oriented business, your business that desires to enter and expand in Alaska, and your investment ready commercial and industrial projects.”

It’s possible the team is on the way out. The governor plans to eliminate one team vacancy  and transfer two state jobs to the governor’s office.

Dunleavy has proposed eliminating a vacant “development associate” team position established in 2019, but never filled, while transferring  a “development officer” and a “development manager” to the governor’s office to “manage economic development activities at the statewide level.”

That’s what the Alaska Development Team, headed by Penney, was supposed to do. Not anymore.

“This realignment will allow cabinet-level focus on engaging the business community and outreach, as well as direct coordination with the governor’s office and the governor on the economic impact of policies across departments,” the proposed state budget says.

Maybe the Alaska Development Team won’t need to have its own website after all.

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