Alaska in the 3rd D

As the last speaker on the last panel of the last day of the Alaska State Chamber’s Conference, the diehards among us were listening to Bill Popp, Pres./CEO of the Anchorage Economic Development Corporation; explain his new online tool for professionals looking at their marketplace.

Popp, in trying to help those Alaskans among his audience understand the density of their marketplace to provide workforce or a consumer base, said, “(y)ou could take the entire population of Alaska and place it in Tacoma-Pierce County, and have some beds left over. Or, you could take Alaska’s population and fit it in 10 blocks in Beijing.”

That got me to thinking of the dynamics of Alaska. Most recognize the “D” of distance. We in Washington cope with it as international traders and as suppliers for Alaska. Many Washingtonians and Alaskans are making their fortunes in distance. Another “D” is diversity. Alaska has diversity with its attendant community benefits and social challenges. Alaska’s diversity profile doesn’t look like the U.S.’s, but the U.S.’s doesn’t look like any other countries’ either.

But an even greater “D” is depth. Alaska is one of those places where the bell curve of normal distribution is inverted. It has more than the normal ratio of people there who are the very best at what they do. And, at the other flange of the bell you find that grouping of very individualistic people, most appreciatively exemplified by Dick Proenneke.

This is not an unusual phenomenon. The Last Frontier is much like all the frontiers of America have been throughout its history. And, especially in much of the West, but also in smaller states that have remained on the American frontier, you find the same situation. Few states have the fortune to have so much of its leadership play on the national stage, as Alaska’s Gov. Palin is now. One exception that proves the rule may be Washington‘s Sen. Magnuson and Sen. Jackson, where circumstance and talent coalesce. (The only like comparison that comes to mind is Massachusetts’ Sen. Ted Kennedy and Sen. Kerry. Help me out with other examples.)

A politico recently told me the best elective job in the nation was as Senator of Vermont. That’s a state that has retained its frontier mentality over the centuries. Just recall Sen. Jeffords for an example. The rationale was that it’s a small state, in the same time zone and close to D.C. but far enough away that it takes a constituent’s sacrifice to come there and has a smaller workload that is shared with another.

At a long ago camping trip, when someone left a bit of Dutch Oven Peach Cobbler available for breakfast, a fellow camper helped me understand that state. He said, everyone in the world thinks of a Yankee as someone from the USA. But here, we think Yankees are people from north of the Mason-Dixon Line. In that quarter of the country, a Yankee is someone from New England. And, in New England, a Yankee is someone from Vermont. But in Vermont, a Yankee is only someone who eats pie for breakfast.

For Dutch Oven Peach Cobbler, this PNWer is willing to be called a Yankee.

One Response to Alaska in the 3rd D

  1. billmcsherry says:

    Gary-This is a great post! Very interesting! I am having a hard time coming up with someone to rival Scoop and Maggie, but I’ll say New Mexico currently punches far above its weight, as Sens Domenici (R) and Bingamann (D) have been chair and ranking minority member, depending upon which party controls the Senate of course – for many years. And Domenici ranks on Energy Appropriations as well (Bingamann is not an appropriator)

    All this for committees that are both very important to their home state and very important to the rest of America as well.

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