Dear North 6 Questions: Susan Bell, Principal, The McDowell Group

By: Dear North Team July 14, 2016

Alaska is full of the unexpected, and who’s better than the locals for sharing it with you? Every so often, we ask the “Dear North Six Questions” to get the insights and experiences of true Alaskans – giving you a sense of their land, their lives and their spirit. Please meet Susan Bell, a former Commissioner of the Alaska Department of Commerce, Community, and Economic Development. Stay tuned for more in this series to meet the people behind Dear North, our tribe and those who call Alaska home.


What Brought you to Alaska?

Susan: I was born up in Nome moved inland to Fairbanks in 1970. In 1987 I came to Southeast Alaska and never looked back. I love, love, love being in Southeast - the year round recreation - the fact that it can be 50 degrees at Christmas and I can be on my mountain bike.


What keeps you here?

Susan: Early in my life I thought about living somewhere else, especially as I went through college. But there was a point where I just knew, this is where I’m from, this is who I am, it’s my home!

Opportunity is what keeps me here. You can try new things, learn new things, and make a difference. This is the kind of place where if you have an idea you can bring it to life. People are very accessible, whether they are community or state leaders.

Another important reason I love it here is that other people have to work really hard to have that ski week for the year. Here, we walk outdoors and within minutes we are skiing or running on a trail or biking. It’s a great way to live.

What is your Favorite Season?

Susan: Ironically I love winter. I love when it stretches for weeks or months, after other people are ready for it to let go. I love a true winter. I’ll grab my dogs and my snowshoes, or go cross country skiing. While I obviously enjoy the physical activity of winter recreation, I also appreciate the light. It can be snowy at sea-level in Juneau or a quick hike up to the mountains takes you to the snow. The light reflecting off the snow is so energizing to me.




How does that season Influence your work or free time?

Susan: When we are having a good winter stretch I make time to get out! It might be mid-day, after work or on the weekend, but I’m out. The dogs are out. If it’s a fresh powder day, I’ll think nothing of being up really early to get to the ski hill.

What is your favorite Alaskan word or expression?

Susan: I’m originally from Nome, where it’s more common to have a vocabulary of Inupiat words. But, having lived in Southeast so long, I’m more fluent in Tlingit. One of the words that I think is yummiest, and I just love to let it resonate, is “gunalchéesh!! “ which means “thank you.” It feels good to say it!

What is your favorite Dear North Salmon product?

Susan: Spruce no question – fresh!


Susan’s favorite Bites keep her energy up in the outdoors.

Most essential item?

Susan: Headlamp! For those wonderful evening ski sessions.


Susan is a principal of the McDowell Group, Alaska’s preeminent research and consulting group.

Susan rejoined the McDowell Group after serving as Commissioner of the Alaska Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development. She led initiatives to market Alaska domestically and internationally; develop Alaska’s renewable and traditional energy resources; and enhance the business climate.

In her free time, Susan volunteers for the University of Alaska’s Leadership Fellows Program and Big Brothers Big Sisters. Her two Labrador Retrievers encourage her to spend a lot of time outdoors.

From Alaska With Love