As another year draws to a close, I’m reflecting yet again about how privileged we are to call Bristol Bay home. It’s a place of astounding beauty, abundant resources, rich history and tradition, and warm, welcoming communities. Our character is marked by our bountiful wild salmon population and by the melting pot of different cultures that live and work here. There’s really no place like it in the country, or the world. And I’ve always believed it’s a place more people should know about.
That’s why I, like many of you, was so excited by President Obama’s visit in September. It was a historic moment for our region. If you happened to meet, or even see, the President as he was whisked around Dillingham and other destinations—Anchorage, Seward, Kotzebue—you probably noticed that he seemed to really enjoy himself. The president danced with kids, shook hands with Elders, posed for photos, and drank in the natural beauty of the region. He got to meet the people and see the places that make this region so special.
It poured rain during Obama’s stop in Bristol Bay. Nevertheless, the people of Dillingham went out of their way to make sure the visit was seamless and went off without a hitch. The community came together—people were thoughtful, well prepared, and beyond hospitable. The preparation began a full month before the president arrived, before we knew for sure whether his visit would actually happen. Advance teams had boots on the ground for weeks, and the good people of Dillingham opened their homes to our guests from Washington DC, feeding them, putting them up, and introducing them to our way of life. Despite some stress and a few road bumps along the way, it came together beautifully and was a display of unity that made Dillingham stronger. My kudos.
Importantly, the Obama administration had already focused a lot of attention on the issues we face here—this president and other policy makers know more about Bristol Bay than any administration has before. During his visit, he himself said that Bristol Bay “represents not just a critical way of life that has to be preserved… [I]t also represents one of the most important natural resources that the United States has.” The President’s trip was a continuation of this focus, and provided an opportunity to put a human face on policy. And importantly, the trip helped put Bristol Bay on the map for a national audience.
Sharing our stories through art
While we’re talking about turning attention toward our region, I urge you to read the article in this issue about AlaskaNative.Life. This is BBNC’s new initiative to share Alaska Native art with visitors to Bristol Bay via the gift shop at Mission Lodge, and with the world via a website launched earlier this year. AlaskaNative.Life gives us a new platform to recognize and celebrate local artists and art forms. And it provides a whole new channel through which we can introduce people outside the region to our culture and traditions.
Ten years ago when we built our new corporate office in Anchorage, we set out to acquire Native shareholder art to deck the walls in the new building. We were surprised at the time by how challenging it was to find artists who were willing to sell or commission their artwork. Today, the artistic landscape is very different. Not only do we have an abundance of artists; they’re working in many different mediums. And that’s changed the way we’re able to share our stories. Native artists now have letterpress, metals, block printing, graphic design, found objects and much more to work with. That gives them more avenues through which to tell their stories and honor our past in beautiful, engaging, and compelling ways.
A look ahead
One more thing about the President’s visit: it came at a moment during which all Alaskans are thinking about, if not worrying about, our state’s fiscal situation. With the price of oil down significantly a ripple effect is spreading through the state’s economy, taking its toll on large business and small business alike, as well as on retail spending and politics in the state legislature. Six months into our fiscal year, BBNC is weathering the downturn. And the forecast for the rest of our fiscal year is solid. We’re expecting to hang tough—by remaining fiscally responsible, doing right by our customers, and staying focused on profitability. We’ll get through this, smartly and responsibly.
Nevertheless, in the next 90 days some major decisions will be made in Juneau that will touch the lives of Alaskans in every corner of the state. Dollars allocated to education, public safety, social services and much more are likely to be cut even further. These budget cuts will affect our shareholders and others in the Bristol Bay region. If legislators don’t hear from their constituents before or during the next session, they’ll make assumptions on our behalf. So I want to remind all shareholders that our voice matters. If ever there was a time to engage, to reach out to your legislators and let them know what’s important to you, that time is now.
As we approach 2016, we’re also nearing the end of our five-year strategic planning cycle. Sometime after February, we’ll unveil our new five-year plan and we’re very excited to talk with you about it when the time comes. I can tell you this much: our commitment to investing in the region is as strong as ever, so there are some compelling and exciting new opportunities in the pipeline. We’ll have more about that in the coming months.
As always, thanks to all of you for your continued support of BBNC. We wish all of you a warm and safe holiday with family and friends and a very happy new year.