ACS sees revenues increase, but reports second-quarter net loss

Alaska Communications Systems recorded a net loss of $2.8 million for the second quarter. For the same period last year the telecommunications company tallied a net loss of $2.7 million.Revenue for the second quarter grew to $81.7 million from $80.7 million for second quarter 2000.The company reported that its cellular revenue increased 3.3 percent to total $10.4 million for the quarter, up from $10.1 million for the same period last year. Cellular subscribers increased to 78,574 for the quarter compared with 73,594 for the same time last year.Telephone directory revenue increased 19.6 percent from the same quarter last year to total $8.2 million, ACS officials said.Due to the acquisition of Internet Alaska last year ACS’ Internet revenue increased from $1.5 million in second quarter 2000 to $3.2 million for second quarter 2001, company officials said.ACS lists its total Internet subscribers at 51,791 compared with 43,121 for the second quarter last year.The company reported 66,341 long-distance subscribers as of June 30, up from 36,054 at the same time last year.

Carpenter believes would-be financial savior a predatory lender

A few months ago, things weren’t going too well for Ward Adams. A carpenter, Adams had been out of work and was behind on his bills."I got laid off, and man, it was starting to hurt,’’ said Adams, 38.Then appeared what seemed to be his financial savior: Ameriquest Mortgage, a California-based company that Adams said promised him his credit cards would be paid off if he would just refinance his Sand Lake home.Sounded good to Adams.In the mail came a pile of paperwork, which may as well have been written in Greek, as Adams understood little, if any, of the contents."I’m not really smart in that financial game,’’ Adams said.What he lacked in financial savvy, he made up for in horse sense."This guy would call me up and we’d (small talk) like he was my best friend over the phone. He was calling me constantly, sometimes just to (chat)."He told Adams he had lived in Anchorage before -- for 18 years."He didn’t know any of the crossroads or anything about Anchorage,’’ said Adams, who then became suspicious of his financial phone friend."That’s when I said, ’whoa,’ " Adams said.Adams, who has real estate agent friends he’d met while working in the housing industry, let them look over his paperwork. He also contacted the Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Alaska, a nonprofit agency that helps people with credit problems."Everyone said, ’Don’t you dare,’ " said Adams, who figured out that the mortgage company was "in it to make money, and a lot of it, at my expense.’’"It was spooky,’’ Adams said. "I was down to the wire -- all I had to do was sign the paperwork and send it back.’’Had he signed the paperwork, his fixed-rate 7 percent Veterans Affairs housing loan would have nearly doubled. Over time, his house payment would have increased about $350 a month."How am I going to pay that? There would be no way. I’ve been in my house since 1992, there is no way I’m going to lose it,’’ said Adams, who is married and has a 13-year-old daughter.Adams is working two jobs now and catching up on his debts.Adams is glad he didn’t fall victim to what he believes was predatory mortgage lending: making high-cost home loans without regard to the borrower’s ability to repay it. Predatory mortgage loans often end in foreclosure.Predatory lending and subprime lending are not the same. Subprime lenders focus on individuals who do not qualify for loans from traditional financial institutions. Credit-blemished borrowers are charged higher rates by subprime lenders to compensate for the risk, but they do not charge fees and interest rates far beyond the risk incurred, according to generally accepted banking definitions. The loan is generally based on the assets of the borrower, usually home equity.Predatory lending practices are on the rise nationwide and in Alaska, said Jan Jones, housing director of the Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Alaska."The trickle has become a flood,’’ Jones said.In July Jones forwarded 15 cases to the state attorney general’s office, all of which she believes are the result of unfair and deceptive practices by certain lenders.Minorities and elderly people are targeted most by predatory lenders, either though media advertising or direct mail, Jones said. Sometimes, as in Adams’ case, lenders get the names of homeowners from credit card companies."I have a problem when predatory lenders take advantage of people,’’ Jones said. "They’re not needed in our society.’’Jones has forwarded Adams’ case to the state attorney general’s office for review. She believes the case points to predatory lending.-dam Bass, senior executive vice president of Orange, Calif.-based Ameriquest, the company which offered the loan to Adams, strongly disagreed. He said his company does business in 46 states and has never been accused of predatory lending. In fact, he said, his company testified before the U.S. Senate in July against predatory lending.Bass said his company offers borrowers a one-week "cooling-off period’’ and encourages potential customers to shop around with other mortgage companies to compare rates. Bass said his company also provides customers with credit counseling information."We are one of the nation’s premier subprime lenders,’’ Bass said.Ameriquest does not make it a practice of offering home refinancing loans to those who are unemployed, or to someone with the inability to repay the loan, Bass said."It doesn’t make sense for us to make a loan that can’t be paid,’’ Bass said, adding that foreclosures cost his company money. "We lose 35 cents on the dollar. The last thing we want are nonpayment loans.’’Jones said most of the cases she has forwarded to the state attorney general’s office have been from out-of-state mortgage lenders and brokers, but at least one is local.Cleora Hamases, who is 67 years old and black, believes she was the victim of predatory lending, and wishes she had never refinanced her Chugiak duplex. Now, strapped with a mortgage payment she can’t afford and broker fees she has been forced to pay, foreclosure on the property is likely.She hopes to sell the duplex before that happens.Jones has forwarded Hamases’ case to the state attorney general’s office. Jones and Hamases allege paperwork and terms were incomplete when the loan was closed.Mortgage broker Ellen Nicdao, who set up Hamases’ home refinancing through Los Angeles-based Washington Mutual, vehemently denies those allegations.Nicdao owns The Financial Mall, a brokerage business she runs out of her Anchorage home.Nicdao said she had never heard of the term "predatory lending," but emphasized that’s not the business she’s in.She helps those she calls "financially marginalized,’’ usually minorities with less-than-perfect credit."I’m an immigrant; most of the people I work with are immigrants’’ said Nicdao, who is from the Philippines. "These people are often financially ignorant. These are the people I work with. I know it sounds corny, but I want to serve these people who aren’t being served by anyone else. I look at it as my mission.’’Hamases said she was unaware her duplex payment would increase or that she would be locked into a mortgage with prepayment penalties, making it nearly impossible to get out from under her loan.When she signed the loan papers over a cup of coffee at a local bookstore, Hamases said she had no idea of the terms of her new mortgage. Nearly a month after closing, she said she received the completed paperwork, and that’s when she was hit with payment shock.Now Hamases’ mortgage is $150 more a month, a huge chunk out of her $700 monthly Social Security payment, her sole income.In addition, Hamases was charged some $10,500 in brokerage fees, including more than $7,000 to Nicdao for finding the loan, which was for roughly 75 percent of the value of the duplex, assessed at $215,000."I was wearing my blinders,’’ said Hamases. "I let somebody pass themselves off as my friend.’’The state attorney general’s office will contact each of the lenders under suspicion of predatory lending by the Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Alaska, said Ed Sniffen, assistant attorney general with the Fair Business Practices section of the agency.If a business is found to be guilty of unfair or deceptive practices, contracts can be rescinded, and the state has the authority to fine them up to $5,000, Sniffen said.But enforcement is tough, and the state has little manpower or money to go after predatory lenders, Sniffen said."Proving fraud is a hard claim to claim,’’ Sniffen said. "Enforcing judgments out of Alaska is very difficult.’’Only North Carolina has a law that specifically addresses predatory lending.Subprime mortgage lenders generally do not support legislation against predatory lenders, fearing the laws would hinder the ability to make legitimate loans."I’m always a little leery of legislative fixes,’’ said Wells Fargo Bank Alaska President Richard Strutz. "It bothers me they prey on the elderly and minorities. ... (But) sometimes legislation doesn’t have the intended consequences.’’Wells Fargo has three mortgage companies that specialize in subprime lending.A legitimate lender would never make a loan to someone who does not have the ability to pay it back, Strutz said. "No true lender is interested in taking a house back.’’Susan Benedetti, vice president of mortgage loans with First National Bank of Alaska, said "education is far superior to legislation’’ when it comes to addressing predatory lending.Benedetti, who also serves as chairwoman of the Alaska Mortgage Bankers Association, said her bank and others are focused on educating folks about unfair lending practices."You owe it to yourself to shop around,’’ Benedetti said. "Never sign blank documents and if the terms suddenly change at the closing table, walk away. Walk away.’’

Bank of America to pay state $35.6 million for unclaimed funds

JUNEAU -- Bank of America will pay the state of Alaska $35.6 million for years of failing to turn over unclaimed money from municipal bond dividends under a settlement announced July 26, the attorney general’s office said.The money will be split between the state and about 30 public corporations and municipal governments including Anchorage, Juneau, Valdez and the North Slope Borough, the state said.Under the terms of the settlement, the bank does not admit wrongdoing."This settlement represents an effort by the state and affected municipalities to work together for a just settlement involving the return of money rightfully belonging to the public," Attorney General Bruce Botelho said in a statement.Alaska authorities alleged the bank, which oversaw municipal bonds issued by state and local governments to fund projects, failed to turn over payments made to investors who could not be located.State law requires banks to turn over unclaimed money to the state treasury so that it can be paid out at a later time if the legal owner emerges.As part of the claim, the state alleges the bank charged excessive fees for services rendered and investment earnings lost on money in the bank’s custody. It also alleged the bank kept inaccurate records.For decades, the bank and other banks it acquired, such as SeaFirst Bank, Rainier Bank and Security Pacific, oversaw municipal bonds and charged fees for being its trustee and paying agent.James L. Baldwin, assistant attorney general said it was difficult to determine how much money went unclaimed and for how long. "We went back as far as statehood," he said. Alaska became a state on Jan. 3, 1959.Negotiations began in 1999 after the state of California reached a $188 million settlement for similar allegations, Baldwin said.Bank of America said the two sides reached a settlement July 12. The bank said in a statement issued July 26 the settlement releases it from liability and "averts the enormous time and expense that would have been incurred in litigating this matter."Alaska will keep half of the money as unclaimed property after repaying legal fees and the remainder will be split between bond issuers, the state said.

Stevens to find funding for Fort Greely projects

FAIRBANKS -- Sen. Ted Stevens says he won’t fight Democratic attempts to stop military construction money from being spent on missile defense work at Fort Greely this summer.He’ll just try to get the money from a different pot, he said.Stevens said July 26 he isn’t concerned "so far" about a letter from Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California and several Democrats from the House. The letter questioned whether the Defense Department could spend $9 million on site preparation at Fort Greely.Feinstein is chairwoman of the Military Construction Subcommittee of the Senate Appropriations Committee."We’re not going to argue with that," Stevens said. The money, he explained, was originally provided in last year’s military construction spending bill. But expenditure of that money was always contingent upon a presidential decision to proceed with actual deployment of a national missile defense system, he said.President Clinton decided Sept. 1 not to deploy the system, and President Bush has not yet made a decision on deployment.Stevens said he thinks the clearing and other work can instead be funded using the research money that Congress approved for the current fiscal year. He said he thinks there is enough money left to do so."In view of the decision that was brought about by President Clinton, we are still in a research and development mode," Stevens said.The Fort Greely money was part of a larger package in the military construction spending bill approved last year.

Costco to sell gas in Anchorage

ANCHORAGE -- Costco plans to sell gasoline at its two Anchorage locations by September, a move that could ignite a local price war. "They pretty much sell gasoline as a loss leader to get people into their stores. So they will be very aggressive on their pricing," said Fred Rozell, retail pricing director for the Oil Price Information Service of Lakewood, N.J. Buying gas at a Costco station will require the $45 annual membership card, which will be needed to activate a pump, said Mark Sjoboen, general manager of the DeBarr warehouse. The gas stations will accept credit or debit cards as payment but no cash, he said. The stations will offer only two grades of fuel, unleaded and premium. "It’s kind of like our building, no frills," Sjoboen said. "We view it as just a convenience for our customers, give them good value for their cards." Sjoboen said he wasn’t sure yet what prices will be. "Obviously we’re a wholesale operation and we want to be low-cost," he said. Ron Noel, vice president of Tesoro Alaska Co., confirmed July 26 that his company will supply Costco with fuel. Though Costco tends to sell gasoline cheaper than competitors, that doesn’t mean other sellers will play along, Rozell said. He said he’s received reports that some name-brand oil companies in California are simply ignoring Costco’s cut-rate prices. "They’ve got a much wider product line to spread the price of doing business over," said Jeff Cook, a vice president with Williams Alaska Petroleum Inc. Williams operates 20 stations in Anchorage and has a refinery in North Pole. Cook said Costco might debut with low prices. "The real question is what happens long term," he said.  

This Week in Alaska Business History August 5, 2001

Editor’s note: "This Week in Alaska Business History" revisits events that shaped our past."Those who cannotremember the past arecondemned to repeat it."-- George Santayana, 1863-195220 years ago this weekAnchorage TimesAug. 15, 1981Task force recommends 3 percent coal severance taxThe Associated PressJUNEAU -- The state should slap a severance tax on coal production and alter its royalty structure to garner a bigger chunk of the revenue that will be generated as Alaska’s coal is marketed, a task force told Gov. Jay Hammond Tuesday.The Coal Policy Group recommended that the governor seek major legislation next session revising the state’s taxes and royalty structure for coal development, and encouraging the development of coal facilities and reclamation efforts.The governor said he is reviewing the task force’s suggestions and reserved further comment.Jessie Dodson, deputy executive assistant to Hammond and chairwoman of the eight-member subcommittee, said "it is essential that the state lay down a consistent, rational economic and taxing policy toward coal development now, so that the industry will have firm tax rates in place as it sets about developing Alaska’s huge coal potential."Anchorage TimesAug. 6, 1981Watt investigates Canada oil, gas trade blockBy Paul MonaghanTimes Washington BureauWASHINGTON -- Despite congressional prodding for quick retaliatory action, Interior Secretary James Watt says he’ll move cautiously before imposing sanctions against Canada for trying to block U.S.-owned firms’ investment in Canadian oil and mining.Watt told a House subcommittee today he has begun an investigation to determine if the Canadian government’s proposed new National Energy Program to "Canadianize" its energy industry violates the 1920 Mineral Land Leasing Act, which requires reciprocal treatment between the two countries.If Watt’s fact-finding procedure finds the Canadian government is illegally blocking U.S. energy investment, he could ban any Canadian investment in oil or gas exploration on federally owned land.10 years ago this weekAlaska Journal of CommerceAug. 5, 1991Sand Point airport expansion proceedsBy Margaret BaumanAlaska Journal of CommerceSand Point’s expanded airport won’t be paved with gold, but the project enlarging the facility to accommodate larger commercial aircraft will include paving over two gold mining claims.With the project now in the first stages of development to expand to accommodate Boeing 737s and 727s, DC-9s and LI-88s, talks are under way to purchase the claims, said Bob Juettner, city administrator for Sand Point.Phase 1 of the project, under contract to Herdon & Thompson of Homer, should be complete within 120 days, Juettner said. Phase 1 calls for expansion of runway dimensions to a paved area 4,000 feet by 150 feet, lighted and realigned to the prevailing winds.Bids will be let on Phase 02a as soon as the city buys out two gold mining claims on the land involved, Juettner said. The claims, staked in the early 1980s are owned by an Anchorage attorney.Alaska Journal of CommerceAug. 5, 1991Masses of Soviets visit AlaskaBy Don Byron and Tim BradnerAlaska Journal of CommerceConverting the Soviet Union from a controlled, defense-oriented economy to a system where the market makes production decisions will take some time. It won’t be done in month, or even in just a few years. According to an official of the Soviet Foreign Ministry who was in Anchorage last month, a generation will have to pass before the U.S.S.R. becomes a Western-style consumer society."A market economy is not only what’s produced, it’s a mentality," said Kiril Kassatkin, assistant director of the Department of Information in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Moscow. "It will take a new generation."Alaskans are the "back door" of the huge, undeveloped Soviet economy, and it’s well worth the effort by Alaska businesses to position themselves, U.S. Commerce Secretary Robert Mosbacher said in an interview last week.-- Compiled by Ed Bennett.

Quota system best solution for crabbers, but who gets what is no easy decision

In recent years, "rationalization" is a word often heard in reference to fisheries in which too many boats are targeting too few fish.In reality, it’s just a fancy word that means managers intend to create a limited entry style of management. And right now, rationalizing the world’s most dangerous fishery -- Bering Sea crab -- is one of the most controversial issues in national fishery policy. "We see great benefits to rationalization," said Dorothy Childers of the Alaska Marine Conservation Council, an environmental group. "But we want it to be done right."There’s general agreement that a quota share system for king and snow crab is the best way to proceed in order to create a slower, safer and more efficient harvest. But deciding who gets private rights to a public resource worth hundreds of millions of dollars is no easy task.Crabbers want their shares in the form of annual harvest quotas, similar to Alaska’s halibut and sablefish program. Seafood processing companies also believe they’re entitled to exclusive rights to process certain shares of the harvest. But right now, quota shares for processors are illegal and would require an act of Congress to exempt them from existing anti-trust laws.That’s the crux of a problem that’s made the people involved become, well, downright crabby.The idea advanced initially is to have a so-called "two pie system," in which processor quota shares would be parallel to vessel quota shares. Processor shares would be based on processing history and would be tradable between processors.Processors could then buy from vessels an amount of crab equal to the processing share they have. What’s currently being considered is giving harvesters quota shares equal to 100 percent of their catch history, while processors would get 90 percent or somewhat less of their crab processing history.The concept of individual processor quotas has raised the hackles of harvesters. Many claim IPQs are contrary to the Magnuson-Stevens Act, the law that governs our nation’s federal fisheries, which states that "conservation and management measures shall, where practicable, consider efficiency in the utilization of fishery resources; except that no such measure shall have economic allocation as its sole purpose."Gordon Blue of the CRAB Group, which represents nearly 100 independent vessels, believes an exclusive right to buy a quota-managed resource will restrict free trade, pre-empt future competition, and work against fishermen’s bargaining ability."It will be a throwback to a ’company store’ type scenario," Blue said. "We need to build a system that will encourage and have incentives for more than one processor in town," Blue said.The Alaska Marine Conservation Council and Blue’s group prefer a regional quota share approach assuring that product remains with processors in traditional regions. Blue also suggests that processors’ concerns could be better dealt with by providing either a one-time buy-out of excess processing capacity, or by a separate allocation system.Unisea is one of the major companies that would gain the most from crab IPQs. Vice President John Iani believes that instead of harvesters’ losing bargaining power under a two-pie system, they could be big winners."The one thing they need to realize is the old mentality of dropping the catch off at the dock and hopping on an airplane is over. Fishermen have to start sitting down with processors and looking at the market prior to the season. In the pollock fishing co-ops, for example, we meet with the fleet and decide if we’re going to make fillets or surimi, where we’re going to sell it, the kinds of prices we’re hearing."Crab fishermen have never done that before. They haven’t figured out that under a rationalized system, everything changes. They don’t have the pressure to go fishing if they don’t like the market or the price, and they need to realize what sort of advantages it gives them."But we both have to be able to do it," Iani continued. "We geared up together for these big crab seasons, and we’ve got plants and floating processors that were designed for crab. Like the harvesters, we also want compensation for the investments we’ve made. Whether it’s co-ops or quota shares, we don’t want to be left out."Allowing some crab to be sold on the open market would ensure a level playing field between harvesters and processors, said Glenn Reed, president of the Pacific Seafood Processors Association."That’s the mechanism that allows a market price to be set. Based on a 90/10 split for example, take that 10 percent out on the open market to be bid upon. I don’t see the concern as long as that mechanism exists," he said.Rod Moore of the West Coast Seafood Processors Association of Portland, Ore., offered that when it comes to negotiating prices, "both processors and fishermen are at the mercy of the world fish market; and it doesn’t really matter who has what kind of shares."Every fisherman will continue to try to sell high and every processor will continue to try to buy low, until we reach the point where the sides learn to cooperate and look at how the market works, then design their pricing strategy to meet demand, rather than supply. The trick is to set up a system that forces people to work together so that they share benefits and costs."Regardless of where they stand, all sides agree that an in-depth analysis must be done to assess the impacts of any form of crab quota share program on harvesters, processors and communities. The North Pacific Fishery Management Council is tasked with directing that complex assessment, and any major changes to the Bering Sea crab fishery won’t occur for several years.Kodiak-based free-lance writer Laine Welch can be reached via e-mail at ([email protected]).

Unocal strikes oil twice in Cook Inlet

KENAI -- Unocal announced two new strikes off its King Salmon Platform in Cook Inlet July 25.Pumping 7,100 barrels of oil per day out of the McArthur River Field, the K-13 well has the highest production rate of any well in Inlet history, according to company spokeswoman Roxanne Sinz in Anchorage."It peaked on July 3 at 8,552 (barrels of oil per day)," she said. "At first, they come in really big and have to settle down a little bit."The find has pushed production from the King Salmon Platform, built in the late 1960s, to its highest level in almost 20 years. The well confirmed a pocket of oil in the Hemlock area on the northern flank of the McArthur River Field that could contain more than 35 million barrels of oil, the company said.Charles Pierce, vice president for Unocal Alaska, said the find was brought about by "the use of advanced drilling and analytical technologies," and the investment of $18 million in the King Salmon Platform."Part of it also has been a recent refocus on Cook Inlet oil," Sinz said. "Our capital budget doubled this year and we used modern technologies. That all helped us have good results."The new production will travel by pipeline to Trading Bay on the west side of the Inlet, where it will be mingled with oil from other wells and then shipped to the Tesoro refinery in Nikiski."We think it’s great news," said Tesoro manager Rod Cason. "Cook Inlet is right here in our back yard, and environmentally, it’s the right thing to do not to have ships carrying it out of the Gulf of Alaska," he added. "We can process and upgrade it to a finished product and it’s sold right here."He said the added Inlet oil probably won’t be reflected in prices at the gas pump, since the price of crude is tied to prices of North Slope crude, West Texas intermediate or a combination of those and other indices."The biggest savings to Tesoro and Unocal will be transportation costs."We can bring that directly to our facility," Cason said.The Tesoro refinery currently processes 55,000 barrels of oil a day, but is capable of handling 72,000 barrels."It won’t have an impact on us importing oil, since we have to keep the refinery full," Cason said.He said a Forest Oil strike that may be on line in the first quarter of the new year may be capable of producing 20,000 barrels a day, pushing total Cook Inlet crude production to 50,000 barrels a day.He said another benefit of using Cook Inlet crude is its low sulfur content, meaning it’s cleaner than oil from the North Slope."We’re very excited about this," Cason said. "We hope the community and government continues to give support for exploration, because it’s good for the economy."Unocal also announced a strike from the K-1 well, also on the King Salmon Platform, which is producing 1,100 barrels of oil a day from what is called the "G" zone in the McArthur River Field. Unocal shares working interest in the two fields with Forest Oil.

More rooms, but cyclists may fill them

FAIRBANKS -- The Fairbanks visitor industry went into the 2001 tourism season with 20 percent more rooms -- and expectations for fewer domestic travelers.However, so far the season has shown better-than-expected results compared with early season predictions, according to some industry representatives.Others aren’t so sure."It’s too soon to tell," said Deb Hickok, executive director of the Fairbanks Convention & Visitors Bureau.The most recent figures available show city bed tax receipts down 11 percent from last year while the separate Fairbanks North Star Borough bed tax climbed 31 percent."With more rooms rates tend to go down," Hickok noted, citing the change in dollar figures, but added that the results exceeded her expectations.A boost is due in August with the second annual Alaska AIDS Vaccine Ride, which last year brought about 1,300 cyclists and nearly 500 support crew and event staff to town. The event begins in Fairbanks Aug. 20 and finishes Aug. 25 in Anchorage.This summer the Interior city has 362 new hotel rooms for a total of about 2,500 rooms. Newcomers include the 140-room SpringHill Suites and the 97-room Aspen Hotel plus a 125-room addition to the Fairbanks Princess Hotel.Steve Frank, general manager and owner of River’s Edge Resort, cited a drop in business compared with last year, although it was better than he anticipated."Some of the tour companies are experiencing a little bit of a down year," he said.The drop may be due to declines in the stock market, which may have caused some people to trim their travel budget, he said."Also, a strong dollar means travel to Europe is strong," he said.Frank’s property includes a 94-room hotel property with individual cottages, a 180-space recreational vehicle park and Chena’s Fine Dining & Deck, which seats about 100 inside with additional seasonal deck seating. River’s Edge customers include independent travelers as well as group tours."Highway traffic seems to be stronger than we thought. We were fearful that gasoline prices would have an affect," he said.River’s Edge Resort should benefit from visitors to Fairbanks who are part of the Alaska AIDS ride, he said.Operators at another Fairbanks property also are anticipating the event.The Captain Bartlett Inn, which will serve as host hotel for the event again this year, is sold out during the event, said general manager Rick Ketcham. The Alaska AIDS ride also should trigger strong bookings for many other hotels in Fairbanks, he said.Despite new rooms added to the Fairbanks market, the Captain Bartlett Inn gained business this year from military activity like the Cope Thunder training exercise, Ketcham said.The future of the visitor industry in Fairbanks will feature an expanded University of Alaska museum. Architects are now designing the $31 million project, which will renovate the existing museum and add a new wing to the facility, said UA museum communications coordinator Kerynn Fisher.For the existing 40,000-square-foot museum the project will reconfigure office space as well as upgrade lab space and collections storage, she said. A 40,000-square-foot wing will be added that will house the art gallery, a multimedia auditorium and the expanded museum store."It will really elevate the museum and Fairbanks as a visitor attraction and bring our collections research leaps and bounds forward because we will have more space to work in," Fisher said.The project will go out for bid next spring with the contract awarded in May; construction is scheduled to begin later that month, she said. Completion is set for fall 2004.Another facility that could be added to the Fairbanks landscape is a proposed visitors and cultural center. The project joins the efforts of the Alaska Public Lands Information Center, the FCVB and Tanana Chiefs Conference."The audience we’re targeting is the rubber tire traffic," FCVB’s Hickok said. Through exhibits and area activity information, Hickok hopes the center will persuade visitors to stay longer or return in winter.A conceptual design has been completed that tallies the project at $39 million, Hickok said."That’s the best vision we could have, and I’m sure there will be changes," she said.The center has gained strong community support so far, Hickok said. City officials are conducting economic impact and transportation studies for three possible sites this year, she said.Proponents hope to hire a project manager and a development coordinator this year, plus study building operation management options, she said.A new charter flight from Frankfurt, Germany, is touching down in Fairbanks this summer with a stop in Whitehorse. "Our load factor is about 40 to 70 people per flight" on three flights each week, said Andy Anger, Chena Hot Springs Resort marketing director for Europe. "We’re hoping to increase the load for Fairbanks," he said.Anger is satisfied with the response so far, especially since a strong U.S. dollar hampers the European market.Preliminary plans call for Condor to continue the charter flight next year, he said.

Defense Department budget would boost Elmendorf staffing

The proposed budget for the Defense Department for fiscal year 2002, which starts in October, would add more than 200 military personnel and 30 civilians to Air Force sites in Alaska.The spending plan would add 110 military and ten civilian staffers at Elmendorf Air Force Base. Military officials say the additional personnel would include F-15 maintenance workers and an Airborne Warning and Control System flight crew.The additional manpower would improve readiness of the Air Force in Alaska, Brig. Gen. Doug Fraser, the commander of Elmendorf’s Third Wing, said in a news release.At Clear Air Force Station, a conversion from military to civilian control will result in a reduction of 13 military and a gain of 11 civilian authorizations, according to the release.Eielson Air Force Base, however, will grow if the budget is approved. Air Force officials say the Interior base will see an increase of 109 military and nine civilian positions, mostly to help maintain F-16 and A-10 jet fighters.

Chums, star of last year's season, face tough time with slow Japanese economy

Chums were the star of Alaska’s salmon season last year, when a record catch of 24 million fish -- combined with the best dock price in five years and decreased catches in Japan’s fall chum fishery -- boosted the value of Alaska’s chums to $58 million, a whopping 22 percent of the state’s total salmon catch.By far, most of Alaska’s chums hail from hatchery returns to Southeast, which has a projected catch this year of roughly 10 million fish. The total statewide projection is 15.3 million chums. Fresh and frozen chums from Alaska continue to gain momentum in the United States as a "center of the plate" fish feature, especially at family-style chain restaurants like Denny’s and TGI Fridays.Last July and August, exports of frozen chums to other countries topped 16 million pounds, up 9 million pounds from the year before. China was the top importer, taking 6 million pounds during the two-month period.But the big money in chums comes from the chum roe, or ikura, most of which goes to Japan. Early market indicators point to prices starting off lower than last year.Market watcher Bill Atkinson reported that the first ikura from operations in Prince William Sound and Southeast reached Japan, where, as usual, buyers were "proceeding with caution" until they get a better sense of the total catch. Atkinson said Japanese reprocessors offered average prices for the first product in all grades of $14.66 a pound, compared to a starting price of $15.76 a pound last season.However, with carry-over inventories, mostly from Japan’s fall, still available, sales were reportedly sluggish, and most of the ikura was actually selling at levels between $13.56-$13.93 a pound. Atkinson said Japanese buyers are pushing for wholesale prices of $12.83 for ikura from Southeast Alaska, and "can expect considerable resistance to such low prices from U.S. providers."As usual, much will depend on how the chum harvests in Alaska and Japan materialize. Runs in Prince William Sound are expected to be down this year, and Southeast’s disappointing drop off after an early surge has biologists speculating that the run there might have peaked.Japan’s fall chum harvests have declined steadily for the past five years to roughly 26 million fish, well below the whopping 70 million chums taken in 1996."Lower harvest levels will increase packer competition for chum salmon, and could result in higher ex-vessel (dockside) prices for the fish. This would, in turn, increase the packers’ ikura production costs and their offer prices to the Japanese importers," Atkinson said. Chum prices to Alaska fishermen so far appear to be averaging around 35 cents a pound.Atkinson also cautioned that Japan’s continuing economic woes mean that a reduced supply won’t necessarily equate to higher prices.To add more to the world market muddle, frozen pink salmon roe from Russia is starting to nibble away at the niche held by chum ikura. Use of pink roe increased substantially last year, and demand is growing, Atkinson said. According to some projections, imports of frozen Russian pink roe to Japan could reach as much as 10,000 tons this year.Green light for AlaskaThe second printing of the widely distributed Seafood Lovers Almanac, from the National Audubon Society’s Living Oceans Program, now ranks Alaska pollock, Pacific cod, ling cod and sablefish all squarely in the "green light" zone, according to Laura Fleming of the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute. Alaska salmon, halibut and several other species have been getting the nod from Living Oceans from the beginning.Fleming added that the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch guide for consumers also has been recently updated to reflect the Marine Stewardship Council’s certification of Alaska salmon. Fleming said the aquarium updates its list frequently and serves items on their Best Choices and Proceed with Caution lists in their restaurant."Lots of private foundation money is going into consumer education to spread this information. A recently formed group is the Seafood Choices Alliance. On their Web site you can see heavy alignment of conservation organizations in favor of wild Alaska salmon and against farmed salmon," Fleming said.Fatty fast-food fishChoosing a fish sandwich might appear to be the healthy alternative, but fast-food fish is one of the fattiest items on the menus of places like McDonald’s and Burger King.A New York Post report cited findings from Fitness Magazine that revealed that Burger King’s Big Fish Sandwich holds a hefty 710 calories and 38 grams of fat. McDonald’s Filet-o-Fish sandwich is only slightly less fat-packed, at 470 calories and 26 grams of fat.The fast-food fish is made primarily from fat-free Alaska pollock, but the sandwich patties are deep fried and laden with mayonnaise-based tartar sauce that packs about 100 calories per spoonful. As fast-food restaurants move toward adding healthier items to their menus, perhaps it’s time for them to offer broiled fish sandwiches, such as they do with chicken.Kodiak-based free-lance writer Laine Welch can be reached via e-mail at ([email protected]).

Business Profile: Engineered Fire Systems Inc.

Name of the company: Engineered Fire Systems Inc.Established: 1985Location: 3138 Commercial Drive, AnchorageTelephone: 907-274-7973Major focus of services: Engineered Fire Systems Inc. designs and distributes fire alarm and fire suppression systems for commercial and industrial use. The firm also designs sprinkler systems, low-voltage systems like public address systems and also inspects fire prevention equipment.History of the company: Started in Alaska in April 1985, Engineered Fire Systems opened a Seattle branch office in 1989. In May 2000 United Kingdom-based Kidde PLC, a fire extinguisher manufacturer and fire protection company, purchased Engineered Fire Systems. The Alaska company reports to the North American division based in Boston.In Anchorage Engineered Fire Systems employs 25 people. The Seattle office now serves as the main office, employing 16 people. A one-person office in Fairbanks was closed earlier this year.Engineered Fire Systems has diversified its services during its tenure in Alaska. Although the firm’s core business is designing and distributing fire alarm and fire suppression systems, Engineered Fire Systems has added sprinkler work and other services. This year the company has stepped up its sprinkler work and has started a residential light security service which works with home builders to wire houses for security systems among other work. The firm is now designing a new nurse call system for Alaska Regional Hospital. Earlier this year Engineered Fire Systems worked on adding a new infant security system at Providence Alaska Medical Center.The firm also handles fire suppression systems for the telecommunications industry. In 1998 Engineered Fire Systems provided fire suppression system design through installation work at BP Exploration (Alaska) Inc.’s Milne Point camp. This year Engineered Fire Systems is finishing design for a CO2 suppression system at the Grand Coulee Dam hydroelectric plant in Washington.Top accomplishment of the company: General Manager Kenton Aikens is proud of the Alaska employees’ expertise as well as the company’s diversity of service. Aikens also notes the responsibility and pride accompanying his firm’s work, which is aimed at saving lives.Major player: Kenton Aikens, general manager, Engineered Fire Systems Inc.Aikens earned a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Arizona in Tucson. He started work at Engineered Fire Systems as a summer intern in 1991 before joining the company full time as an engineer in January 1992. He was promoted to engineering manager and last January was appointed general manager.-- Nancy Pounds

Forest Service seeks public comment on number of Juneau helicopter tours

JUNEAU -- The number of helicopter tour landings on Juneau Icefield glaciers could range from none to 31,000 annually in five years under a set of alternatives proposed by the U.S. Forest Service.The agency is accepting comments on a plan that has seven options for helicopter glacier tours in Juneau. The Forest Service currently grants permits to four Juneau companies for slightly more than 19,000 landings a year, although only about 17,000 landings occur.The alternatives range from not authorizing landings to allowing a 10 percent increase a year for the next five years, for a total of 31,000 by 2006, according to Juneau District Ranger Pete Griffin.The agency has not picked a preferred alternative."We did that for a specific reason. We want folks to look at all the alternatives and tell us what they like and don’t like about all of them," Griffin said.Other alternatives would reduce landings to 1994 levels of about 12,000 or increase landings by 5 percent a year to 24,000 landings. Other options would keep the number of landings at current levels.The plan also includes a range of mitigation measures that cover restrictions on operating hours, days of operation and landing areas.The agency is sending out the draft environmental impact statement to interested parties. The document compares the alternatives and provides background about the issue. The project started in January 1999, and Griffin said the agency plans to issue a final decision in January 2002.During the initial phase of the plan, the agency heard concerns from the public about helicopter noise and its impact on Juneau residents, wildlife and recreation, said project manager Ellen Hall of Foster Wheeler Environmental Corp., the Forest Service contractor working on the study.The agency has limited jurisdiction over helicopters in Juneau but can control the number of icefield landings, she said."We’ve done as much as we could do to try to address people’s concerns given the range of authority the Forest Service actually has," she said.The deadline to submit comments on the proposal is Sept. 24 and the Forest Service plans a public meeting Sept. 6 in Juneau.Meanwhile, city consultants continue work to assess possible sites for alternative heliports in Juneau, said senior environmental manager McKie Campbell of Michael Baker Jr. Inc. The planners have identified 30 sites and are in the process of narrowing them down, he said."We’re working with the (city’s) Community Development Department to establish the number of homes affected by the noise footprint of each site," he said.The project also will evaluate sites for size, land availability, infrastructure, terrain, weather, driving distances and other issues. The intent is to pick a site north of downtown and one south of downtown, although that doesn’t mean planners will able to find an ideal spot, Campbell said.

Couple brings Great Clips to Alaska

A national franchise, Great Clips for hair, plans to open its first salon in Anchorage next month and additional salons in coming years. Operators of Great Clips, 880 Old Seward Highway, expect to open Aug. 10 in South Anchorage. The salon will be run by Anchorage franchisee Total ECLIPSE Ltd. The 1,500-square-foot salon will employ about 15 people, most of whom will work full time, said Tracy Gardner, franchise owner. Minneapolis-based Great Clips Inc. started in 1982 and began offering franchise rights the following year. The company now tallies more than 1,500 salons in the United States and Canada. Robert and Tracy Gardner live in Anchorage and operate businesses in Alaska and outside the state, she said. They sought to provide a convenience hair salon niche and research led to Great Clips, which does not require appointments. After a handful of months pitching the Alaska market, the Gardners convinced Great Clips about the potential for the Alaska market. "They were not actively recruiting up here at all," Tracy Gardner said. The Gardners, who do not have a hair care industry background, have hired a district manager to run the new operation, she said. Gardner hopes to open a training center within a year for Great Clips stylists, although the timing is based on locating suitable office space, she said. Also, Gardner, who expects other national salon operators to enter the market, aims to expand the franchise in Anchorage in coming years. "We hope to be fortunate enough to open three to four in the next 12 to 18 months," she said. Future new Great Clips salon openings will be subject to available real estate, she noted. According to the Great Clips Web site, desirable franchise locations include grocery-anchored centers, high-visibility strip malls and national discounter-anchored centers. Possible sites for new Great Clips salons include Eagle River, Fairbanks, Wasilla and possibly Kenai, she said. "We think the Alaska region is a 10 to 12 salon market, maybe more, maybe less if the people of Alaska are receptive," she said.  

Consultant warns of Canada's route influence

Canada’s potential to become an obstacle for an Alaska natural gas pipeline is being underestimated in the United States, a leading consulting firm has warned the state of Alaska.Ed Small, head of Cambridge Energy Research Associates’ Calgary office, told the Alaska Legislature’s Joint House-Senate Natural Gas Committee on July 17 that a competition is emerging between a Canadian pipeline to tap Mackenzie Delta gas and an Alaska pipeline from the North Slope."Two-thirds of an Alaska gas pipeline will be through Canada and little attention is being paid to the potential for obstruction," by Canadian federal or provincial governments, Small said. CERA is under contract to advise the state of Alaska on gas issues.Small told the legislators that if the Alaska pipeline gets to market first carrying 4 billion cubic feet per day it could push the Mackenzie pipeline project back to 2015. "That will be of significant concern to the Canadian government," he said.Feasibility studies by North Slope gas producers are working with a base case of 4 billion cubic feet per day throughput, with 3 billion cf/d as a minimum throughput.However, a Canadian gas pipeline company said that if the smaller Mackenzie pipeline, which will carry only 1 billion to 1.5 billion cubic feet per day, begins construction first, it could delay the Alaska project.John Ellwood, vice president of Foothills Pipe Lines Ltd. of Calgary, told the legislators there isn’t enough material, equipment or labor capacity in the North American pipeline industry to build both projects simultaneously. Both projects will eventually be needed to supply North American markets, however, Ellwood said.BP, ExxonMobil Production Co. and Phillips Alaska Inc., the three major North Slope owners, are engaged in a $75 million-plus study of the Alaska gas pipeline.The three gas producers told the legislative committee on July 18 they will select a route by the end of this year and have applications filed with U.S. and Canadian regulatory authorities by March 2002.Small told the committee that even with gas prices dropping, CERA still sees a "window of opportunity" for Arctic gas beginning at about 2.5 billion cubic feet per day in 2008 and increasing to 3 bcf daily by 2010 and 4 bcf daily by 2015.If demand and supply trends stay on their present course, CERA sees the Alaska highway pipeline being built first, followed by the Mackenzie pipeline, he said.However, if a recession hits the United States and slows demand growth, the order of the two projects could reverse. The smaller, less costly Mackenzie pipeline could be built first, followed by the larger Alaska pipeline, Small said.Although gas prices have come down from a spike last year, CERA is still forecasting long-term gas prices in the $4 per thousand cubic foot range, Small said. He pointed out that prices today, though lower, are still well above average prices for the last 10 years.He also said the Cambridge, Mass.-based firm has lowered its forecast for average gas prices in 2002 from $4.45 per Mcf to $3.53. A long-term price of $3 per Mcf is needed to make Arctic gas feasible to deliver, he said.An emerging competitive threat to Arctic gas, both Alaskan and Canadian, is several projects being planned to import liquefied natural gas into the United States. Four existing LNG import terminals are being brought out of mothballs and several more are in the planning stages.CERA believes LNG technology has improved to the point that liquefied gas can be imported at the same cost that Arctic pipelines can deliver gas from northern Alaska or Canada.LNG could also have an advantage in that these projects can be built more quickly and will have less of a "footprint" than a large pipeline carrying Arctic gas, he said.

This Week in Alaska Business History July 29, 2001

Editor’s note: "This Week in Alaska Business History" revisits events that shaped our past."Those who cannotremember the past arecondemned to repeat it."-- George Santayana, 1863-195220 years ago this weekAnchorage TimesJuly 29, 1981Reagan to discuss waivers with AlaskansBy Betty MillsTimes Washington BureauWASHINGTON -- President Reagan has agreed to meet with Alaska Sens. Ted Stevens and Frank Murkowski to discuss the gas line waiver package, a series of changes in federal law that are needed to secure private financing of the 4,800-mile Alaska Highway Natural Gas Pipeline.Murkowski and Stevens requested the meeting after a breakdown in the negotiations between the House and the Senate on the waiver to various federal laws and regulations sought by the sponsors of the $30 billion project.Key members of the House and Senate have been meeting in recent weeks in an attempt to work out the details of an acceptable waiver package before it was formally submitted to Congress by the president.But the House leaders have balked at the key issue, the so-called pre-commencement billing, which would allow consumers to be charged for the project before it is completed.Anchorage TimesJuly 30, 1981Stevens worried about oil tax backlashBy Karin DaviesThe Associated PressJUNEAU -- Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens said Wednesday the state’s new oil and gas tax will cost the state a bundle in lost revenue and will draw the ire of Congress.The U.S. Senate’s No. 2 ranking Republican said that instead of making it law last week, Gov. Jay Hammond should have vetoed the revisions to the state’s oil and gas taxes."If he’d have asked me, I’d have advised him to veto" the bill, Stevens said during a news conference.He said there are strong rumblings among federal lawmakers who want to bar states from imposing higher severance (production) taxes. Alaska’s recent move to boost its severance taxes from 12 1/4 to 15 percent will only fuel their efforts, he said.Stevens said that besides putting Alaska at odds with Congress the new tax will cut the oil dollars that flow into the state coffers.10 years ago this weekAlaska Journal of CommerceJuly 29, 1991AIDEA plugs financing gapBy Tim BradnerAlaska Journal of CommerceThe Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority’s board last week approved new regulations liberalizing AIDEA’s commercial development lending programs, which will make long-term commercial financing available and help replace traditional sources of investment, like insurance companies, that have pulled out of Alaska.The agency also approved the first major loan under the new program, a $6.2 million package put together by National Bank of Alaska for the new Carrs Quality Center development in Kenai, which will total about $9.7 million in investment when Carrs’ own contribution is included. NBA will hold 20 percent of the loan, with AIDEA financing the balance in a long-term note.Alaska Journal of CommerceJuly 29, 1991700,000 likely to visit this seasonBy Margaret BaumanAlaska Journal of CommerceTourism in Alaska for the summer of 1991 appears to be up at least 10 percent, with the possibility of 700,000 visitors when all the figures are in, state tourism officials say.Early returns coming to the Division of Tourism from the Alaska Public Lands Information Center at Tok also show that while traffic over the Alaska Highway was up by 10 percent for June, the average age of tourists was down to 49 years old, compared with the old average of 55, officials said.Meanwhile, nearly $7 million is earmarked from state coffers for promoting Alaska in 1992, including $1 million to the Division of Tourism for the international market and $5.9 million to the Alaska Tourism Marketing Council for a the domestic market.-- Compiled by Ed Bennett.

Valley Hospital Foundation launched

Valley Hospital Association has inaugurated its foundation, which is geared toward fund-raising efforts. The Valley Hospital Foundation board of directors met for the first time July 9.The nonprofit group elected Linda Menard as president; Clyde Boyer, vice president; Janet Kincaid, secretary; and Craig Thorn, treasurer. Other board members include Martha Blanchett, DeeDee Jonrowe, Louise Kellogg, Harold Newcomb, Sarah Palin, Tim Thom and Jack Williams.Creation of the foundation was part of a strategic plan developed by Valley Hospital Association.The foundation board is beginning work on its own development strategy and kick-off campaign.VHA was re-created and rebuilt in 1952 through a fund-raising program, hospital officials said. Since then VHA has supported itself through minimal grant applications and without significant donations. However, the new foundation will allow for donations.

House panel approves ANWR drilling bill; future still uncertain

ANCHORAGE -- A bill that would open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling cleared its first congressional committee on July 17, but the measure’s future is far from certain.The House Resources Committee, by a vote of 26-17, approved the ANWR provision as part of a Republican energy bill that would also provide financial incentives for other types of energy development.Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, said billions of barrels of oil are under the coastal plain of the refuge, just 74 miles from the existing trans-Alaska pipeline system. Meanwhile, he said, America is sending money overseas to buy foreign oil, leaving the nation vulnerable."With modern technology, we can produce this oil for the good of this nation," Young said.Democrats on the committee tried to strike the ANWR section, Title 5, from the bill."Title 5 would end the pristine wilderness condition of the refuge and replace it with the industrial trappings of oil development -- a huge pipeline, smaller feeder pipelines, drill pads and haul roads and gathering facilities and leaky valves," said Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass.The area that would be drilled, the coastal plain, is critical habitat for the Porcupine caribou herd, which each summer performs "one of the last great migratory miracles of nature," Markey said.The country would not need to drill in the refuge if it raised vehicle fuel efficiency standards by only two miles per gallon, he said.Young said he could hardly stand to listen to Markey’s impassioned argument."My biggest challenge today is not to either (start) crying or laughing at the last presentation. ... Mr. Markey, I do not believe you’ve ever been to ANWR, have you?"Markey has not.The move to strike the ANWR section failed 30-19. A raft of other Democratic amendments also failed. A handful of Democrats voted with the Republicans. Some Republican moderates did not vote on the final bill.Drilling opponents said they are confident the provision to open ANWR will be scuttled when energy legislation comes before the full House."This is just the opening shot," said Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., a staunch opponent to lifting a congressional ban on oil development in the refuge.

State adds oil, gas lease sales in Slope foothills

ANCHORAGE -- The state is adding extra North Slope foothills areawide oil and gas lease sales to its upcoming leasing schedule.Gov. Tony Knowles said the addition is in response to increased interest in North Slope natural gas. The extra lease sales will be added to the schedule for 2002 through 2006.During its first areawide foothills lease sale in May, the state leased more than 950,000 acres -- the most acreage in any state sale, according to Knowles.Before North Slope natural gas became a coveted commodity, the state had planned to hold one foothills lease sale before opening the area to noncompetitive exploration licensing.Future areawide lease sales are scheduled for May and will be held along with the Cook Inlet lease sales. The public process for the 2002 lease sale will start in September.

Brothers launch educational vacations for Alaska's tourists

Two Alaska-grown tourism entrepreneurs, schooled by major tourism operators in the state, are developing a new offering, Alaska Learning Vacations.Justin Ripley, who has worked in the Alaska tourism industry since 1977, leads Alaska Learning Vacations. He worked for 15 years at Denali National Park and Preserve, eventually serving as general manager of the park hotel and tour operations. His brother, Jeff Ripley, logged 13 years with Princess Tours and at one time served as Anchorage division manager. He now works with Alaska Tour and Travel, their firm that packages independent tours.The brothers are third-generation Alaskans.They have found success in building up two lodges that later were acquired by larger companies. Princess Tours acquired the Denali Windsong Lodge, and Cook Inlet Region Inc. purchased the Seward Windsong Lodge and Resurrection Roadhouse.Alaska Learning Vacations, founded in April, aims to expand the work with Elderhostel programs that the Ripleys have handled since 1996, Justin Ripley said. Those programs are for people 55 and older."We basically needed something outside Elderhostel to hit these other age groups," he said.He is targeting student groups, educators, families and others interested in a hands-on natural history and outdoor sciences trip.Current Elderhostel programs that Alaska Learning Vacations handles include visits to the Denali Foundation near the national park, the Alaska SeaLife Center, Exit Glacier and a trip aboard the Marine Science Explorer Cruise, a former Kenai Fjords Tours boat retrofitted with a science lab. Alaska Wildland Adventures also is tapped for an interpretive raft trip from Cooper Landing.Alaska Learning Vacations also can customize tours and book lodging. Such flexibility can come through working with its sister companies, Alaska Tour and Travel, the Alaska Park Connection shuttle between Denali and Seward and Trail Lake Lodge in Moose Pass.The company’s Elderhostel programs tally about 40 people, and Ripley envisions groups of 16 to 20 people for the new venture, accompanied by a van driver and tour guide with a naturalist background."I think the idea is to keep the group size small to maintain the quality of the experience," he said.Stephanie Gorder, vice president of sales at Premier Alaska Tours, another Alaska-grown company, believes there’s a market for such educational tours. The tour companies are booking visitors into each other’s packages, she said.She also is impressed by the Ripleys’ work developing Trail Lake Lodge into an Elderhostel destination and shifting their business after selling the two other lodges. "Those are the visionaries we need in the industry," she noted.Alaska Learning Vacations also works with the nonprofit Denali Foundation, which runs educational programs throughout the national park. Besides Elderhostel programs, the organization provides programs for children and their grandparents plus trips for children organized through Fairbanks social service agencies, said executive director Willie Karidis.Karidis, who recalled Ripley’s tenure at the park, credits Justin Ripley with giving back to the Denali area. Ripley has served on the foundation board."It’s a great combination of nonprofit and business because he’s very much into the aesthetics and values of the park," he said.Ripley describes the new tack of the business as more rewarding than when they operated all three lodges. The Denali lodge and Moose Pass lodges opened in 1996 followed by the Seward Windsong Lodge in 1997. The Resurrection Roadhouse restaurant was built in 1998.The company registered a peak of 200 employees spread out between Seward and Denali, he said. The lodging business was doing well when the Ripleys were approached by CIRI, he said."It’s not like we had to sell," he said.Today the Ripleys’ companies employ a seasonal peak of up to 40 people and a year-round staff of seven."We’ve been adding about a year-round person each year," he noted.He has a theory about their business philosophy: "My brother and I like the development stage more than operating something forever."Last year Ripley started Alaska Web Dynamics, an Internet design company, which takes about half of his time in the winter. The firm has about 24 clients, he said. Jeff Ripley develops search engine programs for the firm, including developing a reservation service for Alaska Tour and Travel."I think my brother and I have a goal for these small companies: to have enough economies of scale without having a large company," Justin Ripley said.


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