Cordova, Alaska. (Nov. 16, 2020) Photo by Zachary Snowdon Smith / The Cordova Times
Cordova’s economy has improved significantly over the past year despite the pandemic, largely thanks to a strong pink salmon and demersal season in Prince William Sound and strong prices for canned salmon, Mayor Clay Koplin said.
“The visitor industry has not fully recovered, but has recovered remarkably over the past year,” said Koplin on Tuesday, October 4th.
Traffic availability, which is also vital to the economy, has also been greatly improved, he said.
The ferry service was exceptional as the Aurora was arriving all summer. The Aurora is now in layup for maintenance and will be back in service in December. The availability of this state ferry has been a huge economic and psychological boost, he said.
In addition to Alaska Airlines’ scheduled flights to Cordova, Midnight Sun Aviation, ACE Air Cargo and the charter service Arctic on Demand serve the city, he said.
Still, the community continues to face major challenges in terms of the availability of manpower to fill, housing and space to grow the economy, especially in waterfront areas, said the mayor in a phone interview from Washington DC with the US Department of Energy on energy projects to work together, but Koplin was also present with tribal officials who advocated “updating our outdated medical facilities and waterfront infrastructure,” he said.
The group also received a warm welcome from the state’s congressional delegation and many good suggestions, he said, adding, “You are impressed that Cordova is working together.”
Waterfront needs include replacing the south port, developing more upland space for business, and helping fisheries, he said. Other infrastructure needs include more space in the harbor and a ramp to get to the water to get things from boats, more cranes to lift cargo from boats, and more space in the shipyard.
“We really haven’t modernized the port in over 50 years,” he said.
Cordova has made very smart infrastructure decisions in the past and has received a lot of support from state and federal partners, including the Coast Guard, based on past successes, he said. In addition, the Native Village of Eyak and the Eyak and Chugach Alaska companies have been strong partners, he said.
Since the novel coronavirus pandemic is dragging on for a second year, it still restricts some of Cordova’s business activities in individual cases. While there are no community-wide mandates, some companies have their own protocols, some of which are very strict and some of which are very relaxed. For example, a popular attraction in the visitor industry requires staff to be masked and customers to be vaccinated.
At the time of the interview, Koplin said there were no new cases in town and only one active case, status he attributes to “a top medical team” and good testing. Most of the population is either vaccinated or has the virus in them and has recovered. Masking is not required, but most people still use masks in companies, he said.
The overall economy is clearly significantly better than a year ago, with a very strong tourist-sport fishing season in late summer, through August and September. People made reservations, some of them rebooked from the 2020 season.
“All I know is that they showed up and the fish did show up, so everyone was happy,” he said. “The B & Bs and hotels definitely did better, some better than others.”
Meanwhile, everyone is struggling to find enough workers to fill jobs. Many businesses tried to reopen and couldn’t find enough workers, from fish processing plants to public utilities to restaurants.
But Koplin remains optimistic and points to the Electrify Alaska live conference October 25-28, which is expected to host 100-150 people. The hotels and boarding houses are filling up and a group from Fairbanks is coming by sailboat from Valdez, he said.