Alaska Ocean Cluster Initiative

The mission of the Alaska Ocean Cluster Initiative (AOCI) is to maximize Alaska’s blue economy by uniting industry, academia, non-profit and government toward a shared blue growth strategy.

Our vision is that by 2040 Alaska’s blue economy will grow by 50,000 jobs and $3 billion in wages, approximately equal to the oil and gas industry today.

The biggest economic storm in state history is brewing over The Last Frontier. “A recession in Alaska is unfolding of similar severity to what the nation endured after the 2008 financial crisis, but with a critical difference – the U.S. economy recovered” said Jonathan King, Vice President of Northern Economics in a recent article[1] in the Alaska Dispatch News (ADN). The total value of all the goods and services Alaska produces has dropped for the last five years and the unemployment is at 6.7%, two percentage points above the national average. The Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development reports[2] 6,800 lost jobs in 2016 and expects an additional 7,500 jobs lost in 2017. As a result of closing the $3.8 billion budget deficit another 30,000 job losses are anticipated. “I don’t think there is any doubt that we are headed for the deepest recession in Alaska’s history as a state” per economist Gregg Erickson with GCI President and CEO, Ron Duncan, also quoted in the same ADN article[3] saying “We’re looking at an absolute economic cataclysm.”

Decline in oil prices and production are usually cited as the cause of Alaska’s economic crisis. However, oil is neither the problem or solution. The real problem is Alaska’s business model. Since the United States purchased Alaska in 1867 the approach has been to harvest or extract our natural resources, including fish, timber, minerals, oil and gas, and systematically export the raw materials out of the state. For 150 years Alaska has experienced boom and bust cycles created by our commodity-driven extraction economy. The solution is not more oil production or higher prices, as this would only be yet another ‘Band-Aid’ to a systemic problem. The solution is to build a new economy that will meet the needs of the next 20 generations of Alaskans. The new economy must be based on business model that creates value from our natural resources in a way that is socially, environmentally and economically sustainable.

The sustainable ocean economy, also known as the blue economy, is a global frontier and if strategically developed would provide the foundation for a new economy in Alaska. A ‘blue growth’ strategy, if fully supported by Alaska’s leaders, would lead the shift to a new economic paradigm. The blue economy is an amalgamation of several existing sectors that conduct business in or around the ocean, such as fish harvesting and processing, coastal tourism and marine transportation, along with emerging sectors such as marine biotechnology and ocean technology. In terms of economic potential, Alaska is at the tip of the iceberg. Relative to the United States, Alaska comprises over half the coastline, almost two-thirds of the annual seafood harvest, and about one-third of Exclusive Economic Zone, yet Alaska’s economic output from our vast ocean resources is very small. 2010 data from the National Ocean Economics Program show that Alaska’s contribution represents approximately 4% of the United States ocean economy.[4]


[1] Economists say recession will last three more years, followed by a smaller, poorer Alaska. Author: Charles Wohlforth, Published January 20

[2] 2016 was bad for the Alaska job market. 2017 might be worse. Author: Annie Zak, Updated: January 6, Published January 5

[3] Job losses predicted in new study would rival Alaska’s worst ever. Author: Charles Wohlforth, Updated: July 1, 2016, Published March 7, 2016 

[4] National Ocean Economics Program and the Center for the Blue Economy