STATEHomer company wins contract to build centerHOMER -- A Homer construction company has won the federal contract to build a headquarters and visitor center for the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge in Homer.Jay-Brant Construction got the job with an $11.7 million construction bid, said Sheri Della Silva, a contracting officer with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.The $16 million total budget includes construction money and about $3 million to design and build interpretive displays in the 38,000-square-foot facility.The visitor center will be located on a bluff above Beluga Slough in Homer. The 60-acre site was purchased in the early 1990s for $1.1 million.The facility will include space for the state and federal Kachemak Bay Research Reserve.Construction is to begin in May and should take two years to complete, Della Silva said.The Alaska Maritime Refuge, created in 1980, protects 3,000 islands, including most of the Aleutian Islands and the Pribilof Islands in the Bering Sea.State changes smoking policy for ferry travelersJUNEAU -- Smokers traveling the Alaska Marine Highway will find fewer places to light up under a newly clarified policy.After complaints, Alaska Marine Highway System General Manager George Capacci updated the ferry system’s smoking policy in December. Under the new policy, smoking is not allowed inside state ferries, except for one designated area in a bar on board the Columbia, where there is adequate ventilation. The goal is to make a consistent policy, Capacci said.Smoking will be allowed in designated areas on weather decks and designated open areas behind the solarium. Otherwise, smoking is off limits for passengers and crew in lounges, observation areas, passageways, dining areas, the car deck and inside the solarium, according to the policy.Charities show area economy still strongFAIRBANKS -- At almost year-end, charitable giving in Fairbanks seems to have transcended a lagging economy and the Sept. 11 terror attacks.It’s an indicator that the recession hasn’t hit Fairbanks as hard as it has cities in the Lower 48, according to a state labor economist, but next year could be another story."It depends on how soon consumer confidence is restored," said Brigitta Windisch-Cole, an economist with the state Department of Labor.Sept. 11 coincided with the normal seasonal decline in tourism, one of the main industries in Fairbanks, so the Sept. 11 economic impact on the tourism industry was arguably minimal. In fact, Fairbanks experienced growth, Windisch-Cole said. Employment has grown an average of 2 percent a month.But if people are afraid to fly next summer, as many believe may be the case, fewer tourism dollars could flow into Fairbanks. And that could translate into less charitable giving in the fall and winter of next year.This year, main Fairbanks charity organizations such as the Fairbanks Community Food Bank and the United Way, which are dependent on gifts from residents, report that things are fine.Some charities were concerned a few months ago when an initial lag in local giving occurred as tens of thousands of Fairbanks dollars went to the East Coast following the terror attacks.Haines residents form business organizationHAINES -- A group of Haines business people unhappy with the Haines Chamber of Commerce are forming a new business advocacy group.The group wants to fight taxes and government regulation more aggressively, said retailer Doug Olerud."We want to take a strong stand for business," he said. "There are lots of people in the chamber now who aren’t pro-business. They think new taxes, like the tour tax, are just fine. I don’t share that view."The tour tax and a proposal to ban motorized commercial tours from a section of the Alaska Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve are two of the group’s main issues. As of Dec. 20, the group had held one meeting."We’re ready to form an alternative group to get rid of the tour tax," said tour operator and break-off group member Duck Hess. "Right now the future does not look good. That’s what’s down the line, another battle for Haines."NationChicagoans denounce expansion of O’HareBENSENVILLE, Ill. -- A Chicago suburb near O’Hare International Airport is raising taxes to finance its efforts to fight a proposed runway expansion.Bensenville officials said they expect the 5 percent amusement tax, affecting such things as golf courses and ice arenas, to bring in an extra $200,000 annually.Some of that money will be used for a Fourth of July celebration, and the rest will go into a legal fund used to fight the airport expansion, deputy village manager James Johnson said. The tax was approved Dec. 27.Community groups and leaders in Chicago’s western suburbs around O’Hare have fiercely opposed proposals to add runways or expand the number of flights, complaining of noise and air pollution and reduced property values.Gov. George Ryan and Chicago Mayor Richard Daley agreed earlier in December on a $6.6 billion deal to expand O’Hare that involves reconfiguring several runways, adding a new runway and providing western access to the huge airfield. Plan supporters say the new runway would require the destruction of about 500 homes.Newmont to acquire Australian mining firmDENVER -- Gold giant Newmont Mining Corp. said Dec. 30 its planned takeover of Australia’s Normandy Mining Ltd. and Toronto-based Franco-Nevada Mining is going according to schedule.Newmont chief executive Wayne W. Murdy said the takeover should be completed by mid-February as planned.The takeover would create the world’s largest gold-mining company, with 22 mines on five continents, interests in eight other gold operations and 12,500 employees.On Dec. 26, the Federal Trade Commission cleared Newmont’s plan to buy Normandy and Franco-Nevada, Normandy’s largest shareholder. Denver-based Newmont is competing with South Africa’s AngloGold Ltd. to acquire Normandy.Newmont’s offer for Normandy, Australia’s largest gold producer, topped an unsolicited September bid by rival AngloGold, currently the world’s biggest gold producer.WorldBush approves trade relations with ChinaWASHINGTON -- The ailing U.S. business sector hailed President Bush’s decision to grant normal trade status to China, saying it will take the gamble out of dealing with the communist nation and emerging economic powerhouse.The new trade status was to take effect Jan. 1.The United States has struggled over China’s trade status for almost a quarter-century, with factions of both political parties arguing that the Beijing needed to improve its human rights record before normal trade was considered. But supporters argued that China would be better influenced by an influx of American business brought on by normal trade relations.That, and the acknowledgment that China could soon have a production ability that rivals the United States, brought the issue to the fore.Congress in 2000 granted the permanent status to the Chinese contingent upon its entry into the World Trade Organization. China’s application was accepted formally at the WTO’s annual meeting in November in the United Arab Emirates.Some economists said the decision reflects a need to repair the country’s relationship with China, after the incident earlier this year when the crew of a crashed U.S. spy plane was held for a short time in China.Since 1980, China has enjoyed temporary normal trade relations with the United States under annual presidential waivers of the law.-- Compiled from business wire services.