Dermot Cole

It didn’t get much attention at the time, but as a candidate for governor last year, Mike Dunleavy said he saw plenty of potential in establishing gun manufacturing as a new industry 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,” said Dunleavy.

“We’re a gun-friendly state. We have the third busiest cargo airport out of Anchorage. We have a railroad coming from here to the Anchorage area. You could ship this stuff out,” he said.

He shared this fantasy with a gun-loving crowd in Fairbanks in mid-October. I wrote at the time that he sounded like a candidate for governor of the Alaska gun club. The gun talk went over well with a crowd whose members mentioned George Soros, “social engineering” in schools and complained about liberal judges.

Dunleavy said if only energy and health care were cheaper, the state could attract new industries to replace oil as the mainstay of the economy. If only.

If we don’t get other industries, he said, “we’re going to ride this one horse called oil into the ground. And then once we don’t have other industries come up here, we’ll have nothing for our kids and grandkids.”

The industry for our kids and grandkids that popped into his mind that day? Guns. He had been to a gun show, prompting him to go on at length about getting shooting iron factories in Alaska.

“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.’”

“They might say, ‘You’ve got to lower your health care costs.’ Or ‘You’ve got to lower your energy costs.’ But at least we know and we can start changing the things we do to bring those jobs up here.”

We haven’t heard if Dunleavy has tried to court distressed gun manufacturers to a state with high health care costs, high energy costs, little manufacturing and a limited potential workforce, but Dunleavy never grows tired of saying “Alaska is open for business,” a line that every governor claims to have invented.

The so-called “Alaska Development Team” doesn’t have much of a public presence yet. There is this late night cable TV infomercial-like sales pitch on the state commerce department website: “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.”

In the one new business so far, the state issued a no-bid contract to Clark Penney, 34, to play a consulting role in promoting new businesses, at a potential cost of up to $441,000 by mid-2022. Penney’s grandfather, Bob Penney, contributed $350,000 to the Dunleavy for Alaska shadow campaign last year.

The Anchorage Daily News had a good update on the Penney contract in early August and I hope the newspaper continues to look into the process under which the contract came to be and how it is being carried out. This should have gone to a competitive bid.

Some of the documents the newspaper obtained listed some businesses the team is trying to promote—drone manufacturing, recreation, timber, fiber optic cable, the proposed rail link with Alberta—lots of projects that may or may not be practical.

The business idea that popped out at me, under the heading of “New and Existing Industry Growth,” was “gaming/gambling/Sports Betting Initial Conversations.”

Current law allows bingo, pull-tabs, raffles, and lotteries, such as the Nenana Ice Classic. People have talked about the pros and cons of gambling in Alaska since long before Penney was born.

The “initial conversations” on gaming/gambling/Sports Betting ought to include public discussion to find out what Alaskans and Alaska legislators think about relaxing the anti-gambling laws that have long been on the books.

The state would be better off if the governor focused on improvements to education, both K-12 and the university, to try to better prepare young Alaskans to compete for the demanding jobs of the future, which won’t be in gun factories or casinos.

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