In Alaska, manufacturing is limited, geological conditions make farming difficult, and interior industries are sparse. Small-scale mining operations dot the landscape, but since much of Alaska is still considered frontier and not hugely populated, most business operations exist near ports that support larger cities. With these challenges, most food, heavy industrial equipment, and general goods must originate elsewhere.
In addition to supplies coming in from U.S. West Coast ports like Seattle, Alaska’s main trade partners are South Korea, China, and Canada, with all exports totaling $5 billion in goods in 2019. Alaska, however, imported only $2.3 billion in goods and ended up with a $2.7 net export surplus.
Based on statistics from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Economic Analysis, in 2019, Alaska spent the most money on imports of various petroleum products, including refined oils and other fuels. Here is a list of the top imported goods:
- Electrical and Industrial Machinery (including computer system components, boring/drilling machinery)
- Iron and Steel Products
- Precision Instruments and Equipment
- Motor Vehicles
Other imported goods that didn’t quite make the top of the list are concrete, clothing, general/home goods, and food. According to the statistics, 90-95% of food purchased in stores comes from outside Alaska. The added expense of shipping in these goods makes grocery prices much higher than most of the U.S.
On the flip side, a lot of what is imported helps to produce exports in some way. Fishing and mining are important industries in Alaska, accounting for over 75% of the overall export value. Both industries need machinery to process and prepare goods for shipment and to fuel to ship products to the next destination. Here’s a list of some of the goods exported by Alaska:
- Many Types of Seafood (Pollack, Salmon, Crab, Cod, just to name a few.)
- Mineral Ores (including Zinc, Lead, and Gold)
- Crude oil
- Animal Feed
- Fish Fats and oils
Residents of Alaska receive a yearly dividend from a program called the Permanent Fund, in which net oil export revenues are deposited and managed with diversified investments. Then with a formula, divided, and the share is equally distributed. One of the reasons the fund began in 1977 was to save a portion of oil and mineral lease payments for residents when those resources might be depleted in the future. Think of it as a rainy day fund.
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