|Stepping Out of Sarah Palin's Shadow
By: Megan Tackett
Sarah Palin may have told Congress "'thanks, but no thanks' on that bridge to nowhere," but her hometown is lobbying hard for a $715-million bridge that would halve the trip between Wasilla and Anchorage.
It's all part of Wasilla's rebranding strategy, spearheaded by Mayor Verne Rupright. Determined not to fall back into the nation's subconscious after Palinmania inevitably subsides, Rupright is actively working with a new breed of businesses to steer Wasilla through a post-Palin identity crisis. While about 2,700 of Wasilla's 3,600 tourists were on a Palin-centric pilgrimage last year, Rupright, as well as local business and economic-development organizations, takes more interest in the influx of young professionals. The big-box stores that compose the mainstay of Wasilla's commerce are starting to see competition from high-brow boutiques. The local restaurants are beginning to reflect a rising foodie culture; in fact, one of the most prominent new businesses in the area is Alaska Distillery, which specializes in flavored vodkas. But you can skip the cliché citron and grape — Alaska Distillery offers flavors for the more sophisticated palate, such as smoked salmon and birch syrup. And speaking of sophisticated palates, Moose Bites, a Cajun-style catering business, offers "palate-specific personal meals" for a mere $350 per week. Rupright couldn't be more pleased.
"Once we get that bridge, in 20 or 30 years, we'll be San Francisco," he told Bloomberg Businessweek. "And that'll be Oakland," he added, referencing Anchorage.
It will take more than a transportation unit to bridge the gap between Wasilla and Anchorage, however. While the cost of living is still more expensive in Wasilla than in Anchorage, Anchorage boasts the kind of development that in Wasilla is still hypothetical. Al Koch, owner of Anchorage-based All Alaska Tours, conceded that “there’s some beautiful scenery in the surrounding area […] but we wouldn’t build a tour to Wasilla. Haven’t done it, never will,” he told Businessweek.
That’s just fine with some of the self-proclaimed “colonists” that settled in Wasilla 30 years ago. Most of them came to Wasilla to get away from places like Anchorage — and sometimes away from Anchorage itself. They like their guns and moose, thank you very much. They don’t like seeing houses selling for more than $250,000 (and in some cases, up to $500,000) in a town where houses traditionally cost less than $200,000.
If Rupright and his growing posse of professionals are going to successfully convert Wasilla into the San Francisco of the Yukon, they need to get more of the community on board. Otherwise, they risk isolating the town’s founding members. And as any good brand strategist knows, no effective messaging takes place without group cohesion, or at least general morale. The good news for Rupright? He has, by his own declaration, 20 or 30 years to make it happen.
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