"Seattle connects Alaska to the world"

By: Maggie Wilson Posted: 02/08/2019

Experts discuss the cruise industry's positive economic impacts on Seattle and Alaska


(Photo: Wikimedia Commons, author Sunnya343, in Ketchikan, Alaska)

Over breakfast Thursday morning at the Chamber’s February Alaska Business Forum, business and community leaders discussed the growing cruise industry, infrastructure needs, and opportunities for innovation.

Charlie Ball, Executive Vice President of Land Operations and Customer Service for the cruise line Holland America Group, was our first speaker. He walked attendees through Holland America Group’s background, why they chose to be Northwest-based, and the scope of their work.

“Alaska is a networked destination,” Ball said. The Holland America Group, originally founded in 1873 as a Dutch shipping line carrying both freight and passengers, is headquartered here in Seattle and, Ball said, proud to be based in the Pacific Northwest.

Ball talked about how the presence of the cruise industry drives meaningful economic impact in every community it touches, including through supporting local jobs you may not think about, like florists. He highlighted the importance of having flowers, local eggs, locally produced milk, and locally grown produce on cruise ships. The company is gearing up to hire seasonal employees in Alaska, a state known for its high economic seasonality.

Then the group heard from Stephen Metruck, executive director of the Port of Seattle, who discussed infrastructure needs, the cruise industry's impact across Washington state, and the Port of Seattle's connection with Alaska.

“Seattle connects Alaska to the world,” Metruck said.

He noted that continued infrastructure investment is critical to stay competitive. An example he shared was that container ships are getting larger, which requires adaptation. Cruise ships are also growing in size, and industry leaders are working toward higher sustainability and a cleaner environmental footprint.

Metruck also shared how personal and significant cruises are to people. With his own family, he celebrated his tenure with the Coast Guard by taking a Holland America cruise to Alaska.

Our final speaker was Carl Uchytil, Port Director for the City and Borough of Juneau. Uchytil shared insights around the redevelopment of Juneau’s waterfront and how to best engage residents with increased tourism.

“We are all about the visitor experience,” Uchytil said. Juneau does have mines in town, but tourism is the brightest contributor to its economy, he said.  

Uchytil noted how unique Juneau is: it’s off the road system, they own a ski resort, a hospital, a gold mine, and an airport.

In the last decade, there has been a 50 percent growth in Juneau cruise passengers. One challenge has been getting the community on board to invest in tourism.

Uchytil showed photographs of Juneau’s waterfront redevelopment. Parking lots were reorganized and cruise ship berth capacity was expanded.

He also highlighted a success in community reception. Many residents were concerned the Juneau waterfront changes would be an eyesore. But when they visited after construction, there was joy that the quality of their own lives had improved with the new Seawalk. Through Juneau's waterfront development, Uchytil learned, "If you build it for the tourists, the locals will hate it. If you build it for the locals, the tourists will love it."

Alas1(Photo: James Nguyen, Seattle Metro Chamber)

About this event series: The Alaska Business Forum helps build relationships in the business community and provides information on issues of concern to the Alaskan and Puget Sound regions. The monthly events offer insights on a variety of industries, including maritime, seafood, and technology.