State website for 'Alaska Development Team' still missing in action

One of the little-covered Alaska stories of 2019 that deserves more attention in 2020 by Alaska reporters is the no-bid contract to Clark Penney and the development of the Alaska Development Team, a state entity that allegedly began working on creating a website last spring.

The website explaining the purpose of the Alaska Development Team to Alaskans—or to people from Outside who might be interested in doing business in Alaska—is still nowhere to be found.

It’s not open for business.

While the Dunleavy administration appears to be trying to keep operational details about the development team quiet—the money for Penney’s contract was laundered through a state agency—the governor says this on his personal list of first-year accomplishments: “Established the Alaska Development Team to attract new investment and opportunity.”

The portion of the state website dedicated to containing information needed by potential businesses makes no mention of the Alaska Development Team.

This state document on “Establishing a Business in Alaska,” last updated in 2009, makes no mention of the Alaska Development Team.

One recent change is that the names of four state employees who work on the team are finally posted on the commerce department website, but Penney, who received an $8,000 per month contract to manage the team, is not mentioned.

Granted, public identification of the team leaders is hardly an accomplishment, but it’s a step above the two sentences on the commerce department page about the team: “Alaska is open for business. For more information, contact the commissioner's office.”

The page for commerce commissioner Julie Anderson adds this: “To access Alaska Development Team resources and assistance, please contact the commissioner’s office by phone or email. 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.”

Hyphens appear to be in short supply as is the desire to use technology to communicate with the rest of the world and promote Alaska businesses.

The new information added recently says that the contacts for the team are: deputy commerce commissioner John Springsteen, deputy revenue commissioner Greg Samorajski, senior development executive Matthew Fagnani and development executive Keith Comstock.

I’ve written to Springsteen and Samorajski asking why Penney’s name is missing.

The state now lists what the leaders of the team are trying to promote—everything from gambling and manufacturing to mining, pharmaceuticals, timber, fishing, oil and gas, finance, real estate, agriculture, technology, infrastructure, aerospace, health care, aviation, telecommunications and more. Scattershot is the first word that comes to mind.

Fagnani is still listed on the state employee directory as director of the commerce department’s economic development division, which apparently has been renamed the “Division of Economic Development—Investments.” The division used to have a lot more responsibility. Compare the current page with the former page for the division.

As I reported here in December, the governor now plans to fund the development team by taking $2.8 million from a loan program for aviation equipment and using it instead to cover team expenses for four fiscal years, 2020-2023.

The experiment would end in 2023 with the creation of a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization and “the economic development functions will be outsourced to the private sector.”

The “unbudgeted reimbursable service agreements” for the team, presumably including Penney’s contract, are now not with commerce, but with the governor’s office, according to this summary in the Dunleavy budget.

Before approving this proposal, the Legislature needs to examine the origins of the no-bid Penney deal, the reasons why it was laundered through the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority and why it is now back in the governor’s office. The public deserves to know who in the governor’s office decided that the grandson of one of Dunleavy’s major backers deserved a no-bid contract. And who decided that the state needed “unbudgeted reimbursable service agreements”” The phrase sounds like a reference to inappropriate agreements.

There is also the question of whether all of this is duplicating efforts of existing groups in Alaska. And the little matter of the missing website.


State website for 'Alaska Development Team' still missing in action