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Remarks by U.S. Deputy Secretary of Commerce Don Graves at the Juneau Business Roundtable in Juneau, Alaska


Good afternoon, everyone! Thank you, Robert, for the introduction and for moderating our roundtable discussion.

Thank you to the Central Council Tlingit & Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska and Richard, for hosting us today.

And thank you all for taking time from your busy schedules to join this important conversation.

In the last eighteen months, COVID-19 has impacted every community in America and across the world. We have seen firsthand how our families, our businesses, and our communities have been devastated by this unprecedented pandemic.

I know this region – and so many other tourist destinations around the country – have suffered a severe economic impact from the downturn in travel.

According to the Alaska Travel Industry Association, overall Alaskan visitor volume fell by an estimated 82% in 2020, creating a $2.2 billion and 27,800 job loss in the Alaskan economy.

And with all major cruise operations in Alaska cancelled in 2020, cruise visitor volume dropped from 1.33 million passengers in 2019 to basically 0 in 2020, crippling part of Alaska’s tourist-driven economy.

Sadly, I know the brunt of this has fallen on small businesses, like those here in Juneau and around the state, who often do not have the financial resources to make it through sharp and prolonged declines.

This has caused a ripple effect and we understand there was a significant drop in Juneau’s employment, as most of Juneau’s manufacturing and tourism sectors suffered losses.

The good news is that the latest statistics show that tourism in Alaska – and across the United States – started to bounce back in part thanks to the Administration’s vaccination efforts.

We have seen time and time again how getting vaccines in arms is key to economic recovery, and we encourage Alaska’s businesses to take measures to motivate employees to receive their COVID-19 vaccination.

We also commend Alaskans for your perseverance in rebounding from pandemic lows.

At the Department of Commerce, we are committed to helping turn the tourism industry around as our economic recovery continues.

  • We have participated in expert working groups on restarting international travel, advocating on behalf of the industry in those discussions.  
  • We have met with numerous airline industry executives and advocacy groups, including Airlines for America, US Travel Association, and Travel Management Coalition to discuss industry challenges and concerns.
  • We led coordination between the cruise industry and the CDC to facilitate cruising from Alaska and U.S. ports, and
  • Worked to ensure that money made available to Brand USA under the Travel Promotion Act remains available to support the travel and tourism industry.

We’ll also be looking to expand our services to U.S. businesses that may be looking to diversify their client base through exporting, especially businesses in communities that in general may have reduced access to resources, including many minority and women-owned businesses.

Trade promotion is at the top of our agenda as it plays a critical role in ensuring American competitiveness and economic growth.

In fact, our very own International Trade Administration, or ITA, is spearheading efforts to help American businesses access global markets, repair trade alliances, and combat trade barriers.

Secretary Raimondo and I will bring a whole of Commerce approach focused on three priority areas to help businesses get back on their feet and so that millions of Americans can get back to work.

First, equitable economic growth. Commerce is eliminating barriers and doubling support for underserved communities and small and medium-sized women and minority-owned businesses by using digital tools to double the number of clients served.

Second, travel and tourism. As part of President Biden’s American Rescue Plan, our bureau, the Economic Development Administration, or EDA, was allocated $750 million to help states and communities that have suffered economic injury related to the travel and tourism industry. We are committed to ensuring these funds are allocated equitably and in a way that reflects the losses in all 50 states.

And third is creating a National Export Strategy to help American businesses reach customers in fast-growing markets abroad, to help generate the demand needed for job creation, and to position our economy for a strong recovery.

I look forward to hearing from you on your thoughts as to what the Administration can do to accelerate economic recovery and long-term growth, and to you sharing both the challenges and global opportunities you see in doing business internationally.

I am also interested in hearing more about the intersection of the Southeast Alaska Native Corporations and the Alaskan economy in international travel and tourism.

Thanks again for joining us today. I’ll turn it back to Robert so we can start our discussion.

Thank you.