Governor Bill Walker is inviting businesspersons from around the state who are interested in boosting trade with Alaska’s largest international trading partner to come along on a China trade mission to be launched in May. A member of the Walker administration says the governor is especially interested in bringing along representatives of the mining and tourism industries.
For the past seven years, China has been Alaska’s biggest export market. Last year, the state sold more than $1.3 billion in goods and services to China. Most of that, about $865 million dollar’s worth, was for seafood and other ocean products, followed by $356 million in mineral ore.
“They are a key trading partner with Alaska, and I think that’s why the governor sees great opportunities,” says state Transportation Commissioner Marc Luiken.
Luiken says zinc from the Red Dog Mine in northwestern Alaska accounts for a lot of those mineral exports, along with precious metals. He says the governor believes the state’s mining industry could sell more of its products to China, and he says Walker hopes the industry will be well-represented on the trade mission, set for May 19-26.
“There are several industries in the state that would benefit from better connections with customers in China,” he said. “So I think he’s open to whoever would be interested in participating.”
Luiken says the governor hopes that’ll also include representatives of the tourism industry. The commissioner says he’s working with Chinese authorities to establish direct flights from China to Alaska to accommodate the nation’s growing interest in visiting Alaska, year-round.
“A lot of the Chinese tourists coming to Alaska are coming in the winter, coming to Fairbanks,” he said.
Deb Hickok, president and CEO of Explore Fairbanks, the area's tourism-promotion organization, says tourists from China and other Asian countries are increasingly coming to Alaska during the winter to view the aurora borealis.
“Chinese tourism for Fairbanks is really driven by the aurora, so we’re seeing Chinese guests come from late summer all the way through to the spring,” she said. “The lion’s share of our guests do come in the five-month summer period, but we have seen growth in winter tourism.”
Hickok says winter tourism has grown so much over the past 10 years that it now generates 45 percent of the revenue Fairbanks gets from tourism annually. She says she appreciates the governor’s efforts to promote greater tourism with China.
Hickok says she’d like to go along on the trade mission, but she got a schedule conflict due to a major conference she’ll be attending.
But, she added, “We absolutely are researching and solidifying plans to intensify our efforts in mainland China.”
Information about how to sign up for the governor’s China trade mission is available on the website of the Alaska Office of International Trade, which along with the state Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development is organizing the trip. Information also is available on the Office of the Governor’s website.
Editor's note: This story was revised to correct a reference to Explore Fairbanks being a part of the Greater Fairbanks Chamber of Commerce. Explore Fairbanks is an independent organization that is a member of the chamber of commerce. In turn, the chamber is a member of Explore Fairbanks.