2014 Speakers


Thor Sigfusson | Founder & Managing Director, Iceland Ocean Cluster
Collaboration and diversification for success in Iceland's seafood industry 

Dr. Thor Sigfusson founded the Iceland Ocean Cluster in 2011 and Codland in 2012. The role of the Iceland Ocean Cluster is to connect people and firms in ocean related fields and by that seek new opportunities. Codland´s goal is to increase the value of raw materials from fish. Codland is now owned by Vísir and Thorfish fisheries. Thor has worked as CEO of Sjóvá, CEO of Iceland Chamber of Commerce and deputy director at the Nordic Investment Bank in Finland. Thor has written five books on topics such as international business, knowledge networks and salmon.

Thor graduated with a P.h.D. in International Business from University of Iceland 2012. He has a Masters degree in Economics from The University of North Carolina.


Mary Jo Waits | Director of Economic & Workforce Development Division, National Governors Association 
Strategies for Supporting Innovation & Economic Competitiveness

Mary Jo Waits is the director of the Economic, Human Services and Workforce (EHSW) Division at the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices. EHSW focuses on developing innovative policy options and promoting best practices across a range of current and emerging state issues, including economic development, innovation, workforce development, and employment and social services for youth and low-income families. Prior to joining NGA, Waits was project director with the Pew Center on the States. She has held numerous positions in her native Arizona, including principal at the public policy consulting firm Mary Jo Waits and Associates LLC; associate director of the Morrison Institute for Public Policy at Arizona State University; and assistant director of the Governor of Arizona's Office of Policy Development and Planning. Additionally, Mary Jo is a former Juneau resident, having worked in Alaska's State Government in the 1980s and was the owner of a small businesss on Seward Street in downtown Juneau.   




Alan Austerman | Alaska State Representative, District 35

Representing Kodiak & Outlying Communities, Whittier, Yakutat, Cordova, Chenega & Tatitlek

Political Party: Republican
Residency: Kodiak, AK
Alaska State Legislature: 1995-2001, 2009-Present

Current Committees, Boards, Commissions, and Task Forces:
Co-Chair of House Finance Commitee  | Legislative Budget & Audit Committee | Alternate on Legislative Council Committee | Alaska Arctic Policy Commission | Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute Board | Pacific Fisheries Legislative Task Force | CSG-West – Fiscal Affairs Committee

Susan Bell | Commissioner, Alaska State Department of Commerce

Susan Bell has served as Commissioner of the Department of Commerce, Community, and Economic Development since July 2010, where she oversees 14 agencies. In her role as Commissioner, she successfully implemented many initiatives that strengthened Alaska’s economy and communities, including increased marketing of Alaska’s industries, enhanced business financing, and tax relief.

Bell serves on the Board of Directors of the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority (AIDEA) the Alaska Energy Authority (AEA), the Alaska Railroad Corporation, the Alaska Gasline Development Corporation, and as state co-chair of the Denali Commission.

She has held numerous senior-level business management and marketing positions in Alaska, and she understands the challenges faced by communities and small businesses in this state. A former principal for the research and consulting firm McDowell Group, Bell managed a wide array of economic and community development projects. She has worked closely with Alaska community leaders and residents, ANCSA corporations, nonprofit organizations, tribal entities, and state and federal agencies. As a Vice President for Goldbelt, Incorporated, Bell had responsibility for marketing and management of nearly a dozen separate business ventures.

Born in Nome and raised in Fairbanks, Bell has been a Southeast Alaska resident since 1987. She is a shareholder of Bering Straits Native Corporation and Sitnasuak Native Corporation. Bell received a bachelor’s degree from the University of Alaska. She volunteers for Big Brothers Big Sisters and enjoys spending time outdoors.

Jamie Bennett | Executive Director, ArtPlace America
Creative Placemaking

ArtPlace America is a consortium of philanthropic foundations, financial institutions, and federal agencies dedicated to creative placemaking.  To date, ArtPlace has awarded $42.1 million in grants to 124 organizations that are using arts at the center of place-based strategies to transform 79 communities across the United States.

Until December 2013, Jamie was Chief of Staff and Director of Public Affairs at the National Endowment for the Arts, where he was in charge of overseeing the agency's external affairs, which included the national rollouts of the "Our Town" grant program and of new partnerships with the US Departments of Agriculture, Defense, Health and Human Services, and Housing and Urban Development. 

Previously, Jamie was Chief of Staff at the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs during Mayor Bloomberg's administration where he oversaw the agency's partnerships with the NYC Departments for the Aging, of Education, and of Youth and Community Development.  He also represented DCA on two public-private partnerships: the New York State Cultural Data Project and Materials for the Arts.

Jamie has also provided strategic counsel at the Agnes Gund Foundation, served as chief of staff to the President of Columbia University, and worked in fundraising at The Museum of Modern Art, the New York Philharmonic, and Columbia College. His non-profit affiliations have included the Board of Directors of Art21 and HERE Arts Center; the Foot-in-the-Door Committee of the Merce Cunningham Dance Foundation; and Studio in a School’s Associates Committee.  Jamie received his B.A. from Columbia College. 

Patrice Kunesh | Deputy Under Secretary of Rural Development

On May 22, 2013, Patrice H. Kunesh began her tenure at USDA as the Deputy Under Secretary of Rural Development. Among Patrice's responsibilities are overseeing Operations & Management and the Office of Civil Rights and working with the State Directors.

Prior to joining USDA, Patrice, of Standing Rock Lakota descent, served as the Deputy Solicitor for Indian Affairs at the U.S. Department of the Interior, where she supervised the work of the Solicitor's Office on a breadth of matters concerning American Indian tribes and individual Indians, Indian lands, and Indian gaming. Before joining DOI, Patrice was a member of the faculty of the University of South Dakota School of Law where she taught in the areas of Federal Indian Law, Legislation, Property Law, and Children & the Law, and also directed the University's Institute of American Indian Studies.

Patrice began her legal career at the Native American Rights Fund as a Skadden Public Interest Fellow and then as a Staff Attorney, where she litigated cases involving tribal sovereignty and natural resources and provided legal and policy advice to tribes on a wide variety of Indian law and tribal governance issues. In 1995, she became in-house counsel to the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe of Connecticut, where she continued her legal and policy work in the areas of tribal law and governance and economic development.

Patrice received a Master of Public Administration from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government and a law degree from the University of Colorado School of Law, where she was an editor of the Colorado Law Review

Beth Pendleton | Regional Forester, USDA Forest Service

Beth Pendleton has been the Alaska Regional Forester since March 2010. As Regional Forester, Pendleton oversees management of more than 22 million acres of National Forest System lands in Southcentral and Southeast Alaska. She works closely with the region’s diverse stakeholders and communities of interest, especially on issues related to forest restoration and strengthening rural community health.

Pendleton has worked in natural resources, coast-to-coast, for more than 25 years. Her experience in both the public and private sectors make her well qualified for her role as regional forester. Previously, she served in several key positions in the Alaska Region, including Deputy Regional Forester for Operations; Director for Recreation, Lands and Minerals and team leader for the 1997 Tongass Forest Plan Revision. She worked as Program Manager for Wildlife and Fisheries in the agency’s headquarters in Washington, D.C. and in short-term assignments as Rocky Mountain Region Deputy Regional Forester and as Pacific Southwest Research Station Director. Pendleton served as Deputy Regional Forester for the Pacific Southwest Region for four years.

Early in her career, Pendleton worked for the National Wildlife Federation’s Institute for Wildlife Research in Washington, D.C., as managing editor of scientific and technical publications.

She holds a bachelor’s in wildlife biology from the University of Vermont, a master’s in wildlife and fisheries from South Dakota State University and a master’s in journalism from the University of Wyoming. She is also a graduate of Harvard’s Senior Executive Fellows Program and American.

Cathy Munoz | Alaska State Representative

Cathy Engstrom Muñoz is a life-long Juneau resident who was elected to the Alaska State House in 2008 after serving on the City and Borough of Juneau Assembly from 1995 to 2001.