For towns such as Seward, who owe their existence largely to sea-based commerce in all its forms, the ocean is the nexus for nearly every aspect of life. As a superhighway for trade and travel and a source for nearly limitless bounty, the ocean provides many of the cornerstones that shape a healthy community. Developing and growing the “blue economy,” an economy centered in, on and around the ocean, is exactly what a new Alaska-based project entitled the Blue Pipeline is endeavoring to accomplish.
Spawned by the Alaska Ocean Cluster Initiative (AOCI), Blue Pipeline is a business incubator whose goal is to “support innovative startups in an industry vital to Alaska’s economy” across a variety of maritime sectors, including ocean technology, tourism, fishing and recreation. The AOCI maintains a lofty goal of growing 50,000 jobs in Alaska’s blue economy by 2040.
Blue Pipeline selected Seward to host its inaugural year due to its strategic location and its already existing marine economy.
“The community was very supportive of hosting Blue Pipeline,” said Justin Sternberg, project director for Blue Pipeline. “(This) allowed the City and Chamber to act quickly, thus becoming the first Blue Pipeline location.” Sternberg is well-versed in Alaska’s marine economy, having been involved in many sectors since 1997.
After accepting and sifting through applications this fall, Blue Pipeline selected six local businesses to participate in this year’s program. According to Sternberg, applicants were chosen based on several criteria, including concept, sustainability and the people involved.
Nominees spanned the marine economy spectrum from seafood manufacturing, eco-tourism, mariculture, commercial fishing services, to ocean energy.
One of this years selected entrants is locally owned and operated Alpenglow Charters. Boat captain and company founder, Mackenzie Barnwell, was first encouraged to apply for the program through contacts at the Seward Chamber of Commerce.
“We weren’t sure we were a match for the businesses Blue Pipeline intended to support,” said Barnwell. “We decided to give it a shot anyways.”
Launched in April of this year, Alpenglow Charters is a private charter business that utilizes a 40-foot custom built yacht named the Gambler to shuttle patrons on overnight trips in Resurrection Bay, taking time to kayak and explore beautiful coves and anchorages along the way.
“Blue Pipeline is an incubator project that helps us meet our business goals,” Barnwell explained. “We undertake a curriculum that helps us dive in to the nuts and bolts of starting and growing a business, and focus on reaching out to mentors who might help support budding businesses.”
The program entails a commitment of roughly 5-10 hours a week from its participants and will run through May 2019, culminating in a presentation on May 23rd to the AOCI about growing the marine economy in Seward and Alaska.
“Seward has tremendous potential for growth in its marine industries,” said Sternberg. “We’ve seen some of this come to fruition…but there are other areas where Seward is uniquely situated to grow.”
Barnwell echoed a similar enthusiasm for Seward’s future.
“Alaska’s ocean ecosystems hold enormous potential for growth in industries that aren’t established yet in our state,” she said. “It is an enormous opportunity for Seward to host Blue Pipeline. I would encourage those who are interested in ocean-based entrepreneurship to set up a meeting with Justin.”
As a town where almost all facets of life revolve around the sea, Seward seems primed to charge forward into the burgeoning future of maritime economics. Local entrepreneurs and programs such as Blue Pipeline help cultivate a productive business environment and train tomorrow’s leaders in a promising and rapidly expanding industry that is, and has long been, a vital part of our community.