Shirley first arrived in Alaska in 1980 when she landed in Dillingham to work for Queen Fisheries for the summer. After returning home to Seattle at the end of the season, she soon realized she wanted to be back in Alaska full time. After applying to seafood processers in Bristol Bay, Kodiak, and Unalaska, it was Pan Alaska Fisheries in Unalaska/Dutch Harbor that offered her the way back. She worked in the seafood processing industry for the next eight years. Accepting a position with a fishing vessel logistics company in Captains Bay that lasted five years created a new direction, a new challenge, and ultimately a new (and only) husband.
Fast forward to going to work for Samson Tug and Barge as the Dutch Harbor Operations Manager (with a newborn) and spending the next twenty years immersed in the maritime transportation industry with a focus on the seafood industry and small local business support. During these years she ran for City Council in 1994, and to her shock, won. This was the start of 23 consecutive years of service in local government with ten years on Council and thirteen years serving as Mayor of the City of Unalaska.
Staying true to her maritime roots (Father served in the USCG and Mother in the Navy) Shirley focused on maritime safety and risk reduction in the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands. She served on the Aleutian Island Risk Assessment team after the ill-fated Selendang Ayu ran aground off Unalaska Island in 2004 and was instrumental in the development and design of the Emergency Towing System (ETS) that is on-site and ready for deployment around the state today. Supporting the AMHS by serving on the MTAB for ten years she successfully led the push to add a second port call each month to the Tustumena’s summer route in order to better serve coastal SW Alaska.
Called to serve by Governor Bill Walker in 2017, Shirley took the position as Alaska’s Director of Boards and Commissions for just over a year, and then Executive Director of the Alaska Marine Highway System for just under a year. Both roles were complex and challenging, yet greatly enjoyable.
Southwest Alaska is in Shirley’s blood. A unique, challenging, beautiful, heartbreaking place of adventure, peace, joy and belonging is the best way she can explain to folks in the Lower 48 as to why she spent 40 years of her life 800 miles west of Anchorage on an island between the Bering Sea and the Gulf of Alaska. That’s good enough for her.
Laura has spent most of her life living in southcentral Alaska. She received a Bachelor of Arts in Economics and a minor in Mathematics from the University of Alaska Anchorage in 2014. That fall, Laura started as an intern at SWAMC before being promoted to Energy Coordinator, focusing on a regional energy planning program funded by the Alaska Energy Authority. She had never been to the SWAMC region, but in the years since she has visited hubs Dillingham and Kodiak many times and numerous smaller communities, learning more each time about the region’s unique needs, what drives local economies, and how SWAMC can best serve its members.
In 2016, Laura took on the role of project manager of a Department of Energy-funded grant, a three-year project that focused on developing a network of energy stakeholders and technical assistance providers to increase regional capacity and help residents tackle their energy challenges. The team developed under the grant assisted several communities with securing funding for their energy projects and established an ongoing energy audit program for small businesses that has now expanded statewide.
In late 2019, Laura received a Master of Science in Resource & Applied Economics from the University of Alaska Fairbanks. She also took on her current role of Economic Development Specialist, where she is broadening her focus to include critical issues like broadband, transportation, fisheries, and economic relief for businesses impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Outside of work, Laura can be found scrambling up mountains, trail running, camping, and exploring everything that makes Alaska such a unique and wonderful place to live.