Many of our cities and our towns have mottos that reflect the spirit of place. Seward’s motto, “Alaska Starts Here,” is one of the most appropriate mottos in the state. So much of what’s great about our state is found in Seward — stunning landscapes, strong community and entrepreneurial spirit.
My wife, Julie, and I want to thank the city of Seward for the warm welcome so many gave us during our recent visit, where we spent time with your newly-elected Mayor, Christy Terry, and a team of city officials as they updated us on the projects and issues important to the growth and success of Seward. We also visited the Maritime Training Center at AVTEC and saw the state-of-the-art training that takes place there every day. The Alaska SeaLife Center staff gave us an amazing tour and I met the seals and sea lions that make the place so special. And, finally, I had the opportunity to speak to a number of job creators at the Seward Chamber of Commerce luncheon, where I gave an update on what we’re doing in D.C to help Seward and all of Alaska thrive.
I was able to share some important successes for the community, including working to sustain our vital fishing industry, cleaning up our oceans, bolstering our tourism industry, and working toward a vision of Seward as a logistical hub for our state as we continue to build up our military in Alaska to protect our nation.
Since coming to office I have worked diligently to educate my colleagues on Alaska’s strategic location and how we constitute three pillars of America’s military might. We are the cornerstone of our nation’s missile defense, a strategic expeditionary platform for some of America's best-trained troops, and the hub of air combat power for the Asia-Pacific and the Arctic.
In the past few years, Alaska’s congressional delegation has secured nearly $1.4 billion in military construction investments for Alaska to build up these pillars.
And this story of progress is the same for the Coast Guard. As chairman of the subcommittee in charge of this service, I was surprised to learn of plans in 2015 to draw down Coast Guard assets in Alaska, including in Seward.
Working side by side with community leaders in Seward and throughout Alaska, and through relentless advocacy here in D.C. —including placing a hold on the Coast Guard Commandant’s confirmation — we convinced Coast Guard leadership to bring more assets and tens of millions of dollars in infrastructure dollars to our state. These assets include a Fast Response Cutter (FRC) for Seward. We were also able to bring tens of millions of dollars in infrastructure dollars to Alaska, including $31 million to Seward to support the new FRC.
And we are finally making progress on icebreakers. In last year’s defense bill, I secured a provision that authorized the scheduled purchase of six polar-class icebreakers. Senator Murkowski’s hard work on the Appropriations Committee ensured that the Coast Guard has the money to build the first of these, which is happening now.
With the Coast Guard build up, the shipyard in Seward that can support and maintain icebreakers and Coast Guard vessels, and the Marine pilot training center at AVTEC, Seward has the potential to be a vital strategic center of support for our national security in the Arctic. I see the vision, and I’m sure Secretary of the Navy, Richard Spencer, saw it too when, in September, he oversaw members of the armed forces that were in Seward participating in the Arctic Expeditionary Capabilities Exercise, which tested the Navy’s logistical effectiveness in the Arctic. I want to thank all residents of Seward who received the Secretary of the Navy and the troops he is responsible for so warmly.
We’re also working to bolster our tourism industry — which has been a bright spot for our economy. Thanks to communities like Seward, we’ve been seeing a significant increase in tourists coming to Alaska, both by cruise ship and by air and car. Nearly 1 in 10 jobs in our state are tourism related, and those numbers are growing.
Our tourism industry is an essential element in diversifying our state economy, but it’s also important for the nation. The tourism industry contributes over $1 trillion into our economy annually and provides close to nine million jobs. But here’s the issue: most countries have a minister of tourism who is focused specifically on this sector. In the United States, we don’t have a comparable, cabinet-level position.
Soon, I’ll be introducing the Visit America Act that will establish an Assistant Secretary for Travel and Tourism within the U.S. Department of Commerce, set visitation goals, and require a whole-of-government strategy to create the opportunities for tourism to flourish in Alaska and our nation.
But it takes more than a beautiful landscape to attract tourists. It takes vital communities full of warmth and generosity. That’s what Seward has in spades, and it was certainly reflected in the community’s response to Nick Woodard, a Lance Corporal in the U.S. Marine Corps, who was in a terrible car accident last February.
His injuries were devastating, including a broken vertebrae in his neck, which caused significant nerve damage. As tragic as this accident was, what happened next is truly inspiring. So many in the Seward community and Major Marine Tours rallied around the family, hosting a fundraiser to help the Woodards cover some of Nick’s expenses and the ongoing challenges associated with his injuries. Since returning to Seward, he’s been working diligently on his recovery and charting the next course of his life. I had the opportunity to visit with this fine young Alaskan in Seward. Semper Fi, Nick!
This story is pure Alaska — revealing qualities I see time and again throughout our state — deep respect for our military service members and vets, neighbors helping neighbors in need, and resiliency in the face of adversity.
Indeed, Alaska does start in Seward. The best of it.
Sen. Dan Sullivan, elected in 2014, is Alaska's junior U.S. senator. He is also a colonel in the United States Marine Corps Reserve, serving with the Marine Corps Special Operations Command.