US Market Update: Alaska and the Tea Party Politics

Posted by Rumin Mann
September 20th, 2010

A few comments, meanderings, and observations over the last few weeks that might be of interest to the industry…

A few weeks back, I travelled to Alaska for meetings with builders and distributors, and to get a feel on the condition of the market.  To say Alaska is an interesting place would be an understatement.  Currently, Alaska is a politically charged State that seems more focused on bi-partisan politics than it does in economic stimulus and the revamping of its stagnant economy.  While I was there, the Republican Party was choosing its nominee for the upcoming November mid-term elections; the State was completely preoccupied by the nomination.

I assume that part of the reason for the preoccupation with politics is that Alaska is the home of former Republican Vice President Nominee, Sarah Palin, and her conservative “tea party movement” that is reshaping the US political landscape.

How does the State of Alaska’s focus on politics effect the secondary wood products in British Columbia?  For one, I do not think that it will be an easy place for BC companies to do business.  There is a ground swell of “Buy American” in Alaska even to the point that the State is currently promoting the idea of ‘Buy Alaskan’.  The notion of ‘Buy Alaskan’ is a bit misleading when you consider that over 80% of goods and services in Alaska are provided by companies outside of the State.  Still, foreign suppliers including Canadian manufacturers are viewed as taking jobs away from native Alaskans.  I think the only solution is to have a good Alaskan partner in the market.

As for potential opportunities in the State, they are limited but still exist.  A new medical centre in the city of Wasilla has been announced and is currently at the drawing stage.  The design is to feature heavy timber and a prominent display of finished wood products throughout.

The State of Alaska parks and recreation are currently entertaining bids for the renovation and new construction of kiosks, information, and tourist centers in the parks throughout the State. This a good opportunity for Western Red cedar shingles, siding, and cladding, along with heavy timber products

*picture from flickr

In residential construction, the main housing market is in Anchorage as it accounts for over 40% of the total population of the State.  New home construction is relatively flat in Anchorage though the renovation market is said to be strong. Some of the coastal cities including Homer and Seward are seeing some limited construction activity in the residential and resort development (fishing lodges etc). In discussions with the buyers from the main building products supplier, Spenard’s, they feel that new home construction will be weak for the next year.

You would assume that Alaska, being one our closest neighbour States, would be an easy place to either grow your export business or at least establish a new market. However, with the current state of the economy, combined with a contentious political climate, your marketing dollars would probably be better utilized in the lower 48 States.

As always, for more information on this or any other market in the United States, please feel free to contact me at

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