Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy and Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon speak during the International Forum of Sovereign Wealth Funds’ annual meeting Thursday, Sept. 12, 2019, at Centennial Hall. The two governors were part of a panel discussion during the yearly gathering of state-owned investment funds. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy and Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon speak during the International Forum of Sovereign Wealth Funds’ annual meeting Thursday, Sept. 12, 2019, at Centennial Hall. The two governors were part of a panel discussion during the yearly gathering of state-owned investment funds. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Gov says warming Arctic could be good for Alaska

Easier navigation of northern waters could be selling point for the state

Gov. Mike Dunleavy said a warming Arctic could turn some of Alaska’s unique characteristics into further business opportunities.

Dunleavy said a more navigable Arctic would be an advantage for both the United States as a whole and Alaska in particular, while speaking to the state’s strengths and emerging opportunities during a panel discussion Thursday morning.

“Take a look at Alaska,” Dunleavy said encouragingly to potential investors in the audience. “Our international airport hub is getting more and more investment. The Arctic is warming. Fifty years from now, if this trend continues, there will be seasonal, if not regular, travel through the Northwest Passage.”

[Live coverage of the meeting]

He said those things coupled with the Trump administration’s pro-business attitudes and recently changed tax laws should make Alaska and the U.S. attractive locations for investment.

Dunleavy was one half of a two-governor panel Thursday morning during an international meeting of investment funds — with more than 30 nations present — happening at Centennial Hall in Juneau. During a conversation moderated by Alaska Permanent Fund Corporation CEO Angela Rodell, Dunleavy and Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon discussed the opportunities and challenges they perceive their states are facing.

Their conversation followed welcoming remarks by Juneau Mayor Beth Weldon and brought the Arctic-focused third day of the International Forum of Sovereign Wealth Fund’s annual meeting to a start. Alaska’s Permanent Fund and Wyoming’s Permanent Wyoming Mineral Trust Fund are among the largest sovereign wealth funds in the nation.

Unlike Alaska, Wyoming’s fund does not provide a dividend to residents, Gordon said.

Throughout the discussion, Dunleavy touted the many things he sees as working in Alaska’s favor.

“As you know, I love talking about Alaska,” Dunleavy said near the beginning of the discussion. “It’s an incredible state. The strengths are many. It’s an Arctic and a Pacific nation. It’s America’s only Arctic nation. We are closer to Asia than any other state in the country, including Hawaii. We have enormous resources.”

He listed timber reserves, national forests, lead, zinc, gold, silver and copper as being among those resources.

“If you’re thinking about a place to invest,” Dunleavy said trailing off before naming his state, which drew laughs. “It’s America, it’s governed by American laws, American tax law, corporate law, the stability of America, but we have the resources and proximity that makes us a little different than a lot of other states.”

Gordon also spoke to his state’s strengths and listed medical research, tourism, agriculture, cryptocurrencies — electronic moneys like bitcoin — energy production and deposits of natural gas, coal and oil as some of Wyoming’s pluses.

“Whatever happens is going to happen in Wyoming, and it’s going to happen to us,” Gordon said. “Our challenge is going to be how do we make it so we steer that development.”

Dunleavy said some of Alaska’s strengths — its size, unique location, sparse population and wilderness — also create challenges.

Climate change and politics

Climate change and a charged political landscape both came up repeatedly throughout the conversation.

“The warming of the Arctic and the warming of Alaska, I think there is no doubt warming is happening,” Dunleavy said.

Gordon and Dunleavy both spoke to the importance of developing technology that could remove carbon dioxide, which is a leading cause of climate change, from the air instead of solely looking at ways to curb carbon emissions.

“We’re really looking at things that have to do with carbon dioxide,” Gordon said. “We’re also looking at ways we can integrate carbon capture and sequestration into forest management.”

Both governors were asked about what the 2020 election means for the U.S. since it is an election year that will feature both a presidential race and put dozens of congressional seats up for grabs.

Gordon said there’s a potential for a “fairly large tsunami” of young voters to come on board.

“You’re really seeing a fundamental shift in potentially the economy and a fundamental shift in how we govern,” Gordon said. “The benefit of being a governor is all of that plays out at a national level. If you look at what’s happening with governors you have the ability to reach across the aisle. You have the opportunity to talk about regional economic development.”

[Protesters march toward annual wealth fund meeting, demand divestment from fossil fuels]

Gordon said he has important discussions with both fellow Republican Dunleavy and Colorado’s Democratic Gov. Jared Polis.

Dunleavy said the election will be “very interesting” to watch because he believes it will show emerging futures of the country’s two major political parties.

“It’s going to be fascinating. I think this election is going to be one, if not the, most important for setting the future of this country for some time.”

Arctic panel

The governors were followed by an international panel that entirely focused on the big-picture future of the Arctic.

It featured Nils Bolmstrand, CEO for Nordea Asset Management; Aaron Schutt, President and CEO for Doyon Limited; Damian Bilbao, Vice President for Commercial Ventures for BP Alaska. It was moderated by the U.S. Director of the World Bank Erik Bethel.

The panel’s assessment of the changing Arctic was less rosy than Dunleavy’s.

“Climate change is creating both opportunities for investment as well as liabilities,” Bethel said.

Bolmstrand, whose company is based in Nordic countries, said the change is creating some international tensions and spoke briefly about President Donald Trump’s recent suggestion that the U.S. should purchase Greenland.

[Journalist comes to Juneau to visit climate change’s “ground zero”]

“We’re seeing much more tension building. I think the tension is quite natural,” Bolmstrand said.

He said Russian and Chinese interest in the Arctic draws increased interested from the West.

“The offer to Greenland, that was much more of an overture, and I don’t think that’s the real issue there,” Bolmstrand said. “Greenland belongs to the people of Greenland, not the Queen of Denmark.”

Rodell asked a question from the audience about how people can deal with the rapid change and not be stuck in place.

“For the Arctic, with a relatively small population and a fragile ecosystem, it’s important to embrace technology,” Bethel said.

He said 3D printing technology or other “cutting edge” industries that don’t impinge on the environment may be good choices.

• • Contact reporter Ben Hohenstatt at (907)523-2243 or Follow him on Twitter at @BenHohenstatt.

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