Premier Alaska Tours adds nine buses to its summer tour fleet

Operators of an Alaska-based tourism company are expanding their summertime bus fleet to support statewide tours.Premier Alaska Tours Inc. of Anchorage plans to lease 12 buses this year, up from three buses leased last year, according to company president Peter Grunwaldt. In 2000 the company started its transportation division with the three 54-passenger buses plus four 15-passenger vans and a luggage truck.Before 2000, Premier Alaska Tours had chartered buses from other companies like Princess Tours and Gray Line of Alaska.In addition, Premier Alaska Tours plans to increase its seasonal staff from about 30 last year to 60 for 2001, said Stephanie Gorder, vice president of sales.Premier Alaska Tours specializes in providing land-based itineraries with tour guides for major U.S. tour groups visiting Alaska that are not affiliated with major cruise lines.The 12 buses, which should carry 50 to 56 passengers, are due to arrive in Anchorage in late April or early May, said Josh Howes, vice president of operations.The move represents a $1 million investment in leases for the vehicles, Grunwaldt said. Premier Alaska Tours is leasing the buses from a Vancouver, British Columbia, company with an option to purchase, he said.Last year Premier Alaska Tours’ three buses chiefly served the company’s tour groups and handled limited charter services for other groups, Grunwaldt said. The additional buses this year will allow the company to increase its charter service, he said.Operating its own fleet of buses allows Premier Alaska Tours to manage transportation quality, he said. "It’s very significant in that we are able to have in-house control of the product," Grunwaldt said.With an eye to the future, Premier Alaska Tours is looking for a two- to three-acre site for a bus maintenance facility, he said.

AHFC to return to state's investment

Alaska Housing Finance Corp. has paid its way. The state housing corporation has benefited thousands of Alaskans with lower-cost home mortgages and allowed thousands more to own homes who might not otherwise have been able to buy. It has also nearly repaid the state’s original capitalization, and now contributes $103 million yearly to the state treasury. The state of Alaska has invested $1.069 billion in Alaska Housing Finance Corp. since it was formed in 1971. As of last June 30, the corporation has paid $1.053 billion back to the state general fund, according to documents the agency provided to the Legislature. With another $103 million to be paid by AHFC to the state this year, the housing corporation will have repaid the state’s investment. AHFC was created in 1971 to provide housing for low- and moderate-income Alaskans. In 1980, when interest rates skyrocketed and home financing became virtually unavailable in the state, the Legislature expanded the state housing corporation’s programs to include all residents regardless of income.

PenAir drops service to its Bethel hub

A pilot shortage and the reallocation of company resources are factors that prompted management at Peninsula Airways Inc. to discontinue service to the southwestern Alaska hub of Bethel.Effective March 13, PenAir discontinued its flight operations in Bethel, according to General Manager Dick Harding."We needed to use those pilots and aircraft elsewhere in our system," Harding told the Journal. "The decision was made because of the current pilot shortage and the addition of service to the Aleutian Islands, the core of our service area."PenAir was awarded an essential air service contract from the U.S. Department of Transportation for flights to Adak shortly after Reeve Aleutian Airways Inc. discontinued scheduled service to Adak last December, and it is in the process of adding a 17-passenger Metroliner for service to Adak.Bethel was a stand-alone hub for PenAir, meaning that it offered passenger service from the Bethel airport to the surrounding villages, but that none of its other flights connected service to the Bethel hub."PenAir had a very small share of the market here, and with their amount of canceled flights, they probably decided that they could better use the aircraft in the (Aleutian) Chain," said L.J. Davis of the state Department of Transportation and Public Facilities and airport manager in Bethel.PenAir is leading air carriers statewide by using an operations risk management safety checklist that can cancel flights due to safety hazards.Figures for PenAir market share were not available from DOT officials but 14 passenger and cargo carriers currently operate out of Bethel."We are directly attributing this decision to a statewide pilot shortage that leaves us training pilots for service to the major airlines outside, and they pay more so that’s the reality," Harding explained. Of the 17 PenAir employees in Bethel, seven were pilots. PenAir’s hub operation used six aircraft for flights from the hub operation.As PenAir rearranges the 17 Bethel employees affected into its system, the Senate Commerce Committee on March 15 agreed to a modified version of Alaska Republican Sen. Frank Murkowski’s legislation to raise the mandatory retirement age for commercial airline pilots from 60 to 63.Harding, also PenAir’s director of operations, was forced out of the left hand seat as a pilot for PenAir by current FAA regulations when he turned 60. As a pilot with more than 30,000 hours, Harding has testified before the U.S. Senate and House transportation committees in favor of upping the age of pilot retirement."This is an issue of age discrimination," said Murkowski at a Subcommittee on Aviation hearing. "When pilots are leaving small carriers because they can earn more money flying for the major commercial carriers, this exodus is having a devastating effect on service to rural and remote areas."Certified pilot numbers nationwide have fallen by nearly 80,000 to 616,342 in the past 10 years; during that same period, certified pilots in Alaska have fallen by 1,300, or from 10,000 to about 8,700. Another 18,600 pilots are likely to retire nationwide in the next two years, according to a Smithsonian Institution study.

State moves long-term care management

As a result of an executive order from Gov. Tony Knowles, management of the Long Term Care Ombudsman Office has transferred to the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority. The order took effect March 10.The office had previously been overseen by the state Department of Administration’s Alaska Commission on Aging.The Long Term Care Ombudsman Office oversees long-term care facilities in Alaska including the state-run pioneers’ homes. The office investigates, mediates and advocates in instances of abuse or neglect in long-term care facilities like nursing homes, pioneers’ homes and assisted living facilities in the state for people 60 and older.Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority officials said the first duty is to hire a new ombudsman to replace the ombudsman who resigned in November.

BP wins federal grant to study capturing, storing carbon dioxide

BP Exploration (Alaska) Inc. has won a $5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy, Sen. Frank Murkowski, R-Alaska, announced March 13.The grant, along with $8.8 million from an industry consortium, will be used to study the feasibility of capturing carbon dioxide from a variety of fuel types and combustion sources and storing it in unmineable coal seams and saline aquifers.The industry team will include BP, Chevron, Norsk Hydro, Royal Dutch/Shell, Statoil, Suncor Energy and Texaco, and the project will be funded for 27 months, beginning June 2001."This is an example of a government-private partnership to develop new technology to meet environmental concerns," Murkowski said.Carbon sequestration is the removal of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, from the exhaust gases of power plants, or from the atmosphere itself, and securely putting them in storage."If we can lower the cost of the technology, we could remove the carbon dioxide emissions from power plants and other facilities that have substantial emissions," said Ronnie Chappell, a BP spokesman in Anchorage. "For us, this represents a significant opportunity. If we can get the cost of removing the carbon dioxide low enough, we can use it to enhance oil recovery, particularly in our more viscous fields."This project, and others recently awarded, will study the ways to capture the gases and store them in underground geologic formations, or in terrestrial vegetation such as forests."We will be using fossil fuels for the foreseeable future," Murkowski said. "We need to see if we can develop the technology to use them without releasing greenhouse gases into the atmosphere."For more information about the study, visit the consortium Web site at (

Bush: Explore, protect ANWR

WASHINGTON -- President Bush has reiterated his interest in exploring for oil and gas in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.Bush, during an interview with regional newspapers, said he recognized that some places ought to be off-limits to development for at least aesthetic reasons. Other, less-precious places can be used without damaging the environment, he said.To him, ANWR’s coastal plain falls in the latter category."There’s a mentality that says you can’t explore and protect land," Bush said. "We’re going to change that attitude. You can explore and protect land."Bush described his view of how that might occur on the coastal plain.First, he said, "I think it’s about less than 10 percent of the total refuge up there."And modern development techniques reduce impacts, he said."I don’t know if you know, but they flood roadways, flood drill sites. And so they do all their exploration activity on ice," he said. "They get all the equipment out and when it comes time to melt, the only thing left is a wellhead. And the technology today is such that you’re able to drill, slant-hole drill, in various directions from a single platform.""It’s a much friendlier technology than when we first explored in Prudhoe Bay," Bush said.The president spent the summer of 1974 working in Fairbanks for Alaska International Industries, an airline and construction business working on the trans-Alaska pipeline. The business later evolved into the now-defunct airline MarkAir.

Find the right employee by sharpening your interviewing skills

A successful interview should determine if there is a match between the individual and the job. Furthermore, a good interview process allows you to understand the applicant’s behavior, values, motivations and qualifications. Time and time again we have seen people hired for sales jobs that don’t like calling people, customer service people who can’t look into your eyes and say, "Hello." Then there are good employees promoted into management positions who have no clue how to lead and manage others. Here are several reasons why interviewing techniques fail:Lack of preparationThe first impression lasts a long time. Before the interview, make sure you understand the key elements of the job. Develop a simple outline that covers general job duties. Possibly work with the incumbent to get a better idea of what the job is about. Screen the resumes and applications to gain information for the interview. Standardize and prepare the questions you will ask each applicant.Lack of purposeNot only are you trying to determine the best applicant, but you also have to convince the applicant that this is the best place for them to work. Today’s workers have many more choices and job opportunities to choose.Job competenciesEach job can have anywhere from 6-14 job competencies. Identify the behaviors, knowledge, motivations and qualities incumbents need to have to be successful in the job.If the job requires special education or a license, be sure to include it on your list also. There are several assessments and profiles available to help ensure you have a good match between the applicant and the job.Lack of structureThe best interview follows a structured process. This doesn’t mean that the entire process is inflexible without spontaneity. It means that each applicant is asked the same questions and is scored with a consistent rating process.A structured approach helps avoid bias and gives all applicants a fair chance. The best ways to accomplish this are by using behavioral based questions, role-plays and situational questions.Behavioral based questions are used to evaluate the applicant’s past behavior, experience and initiative such as:* Give me an example when you ...* Describe an incident where you went above and beyond the call of duty ...* Tell me about the time you reached out for additional responsibility ...* Tell me about the largest project you worked on ...Situational-based questions evaluate the applicant’s judgment ability and knowledge. The interviewer first gives the applicant a hypothetical situation such as:You are the store manager of a hardware store. One of your employees has just told you that he thinks another worker is stealing merchandise from the store.* What should you do?* What additional information should you obtain?* How many options do you have?* When or should you call the police?Sample role plays are effective ways to learn and practice new skills. They can also be used during the interview process to determine the skills and personal charisma of people during stress.For example, if you are interviewing a customer service representative you can use a role play to see how this person can manage an irate customer. When using role-plays consider the following guidelines.* It is a good idea to write the situation down on paper. Give the person time or a short break to "get into character" before beginning the role play.* Give the candidate clear guidelines and background information so they thoroughly understand the situation.* Allow them to ask questions before you begin.* Debrief the applicant at the conclusion of the role play. Ask them to tell you how they thought they did and how they could have done it differently. Conclude the role play in a positive way.The traditional interview is never 100 percent reliable. Yes, a structured approach will improve your chances, but it is important to go one step further. Pre-employment screening is an important aspect of the hiring process for a growing number of employers.By using various assessments and profiles, organizations have been able to help clients reduce turnover and improve the quality of the work force.Gregory P. Smith leads the management consulting firm called Chart Your Course in Conyers, Ga. He can be reached via e-mail at ([email protected]).

Evergreen buys Avionics Specialists, plans one-stop products, service shop

Evergreen Helicopters of Alaska Inc. has acquired Avionics Specialists of Alaska Inc. in an effort to expand service to general aviation, air taxi and charter operations in Alaska."Evergreen intends to quickly expand Avionics Specialists into a ’one-stop shop’ for general, commercial and military avionics products and services. A retail store and online shopping are planned," said Evergreen Helicopter’s president, Jerry Rock.According to the March 13 announcement, Avionics Specialists will operate as a division of Evergreen.Avionics Specialists will retain its name, staff and management, and, according to Rock, Evergreen is actively recruiting for additional avionics specialists to expand the business."Evergreen will enable Avionics Specialists to provide a much broader range of products and services on a statewide basis," Rock said. "We will emphasize avionics systems that enhance flight safety for all aircraft categories."Avionics Specialists is at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport. Services will also be offered at Evergreen Helicopters’ location at Merrill Field, and eventually other Evergreen bases statewide.Avionics Specialists has been in business since the 1980s in Anchorage. Evergreen Helicopters of Alaska was founded in 1961 at Merrill Field by aviation pioneer Del Smith, who remains the sole owner.Evergreen International Aviation Inc., the parent company, employs about 4,000 people in more than 185 locations worldwide. Corporate headquarters are in McMinnville, Ore.

Rent pays property taxes

Several years ago I worked with a company that owned a number of commercial buildings and nearly 200 residential properties and had just completed one of the most popular beer micro-breweries in Downtown Anchorage. I was the partnership’s residential property manager for a couple of years and received a very extensive education and a great deal of exposure into real estate of all kinds.At the time we had, for the most part, rebounded from the "Great Depression of Alaska" but nothing was really booming, and the market was rather balanced between buyers and sellers, renters and landlords.While things have been getting progressively better since then, people tend to forget, or never knew, how out of balance our economy can get. And then there is always someone who starts making unfounded claims.One of the claims floating around across the state that I would like to refute is that "Property owners are the only ones footing the bill for property taxes."I’m personally not aware of any property owners in the residential market that had to take a negative monthly cash flow from their rentals in the 90’s -- unless they didn’t manage it properly.Part of the reason is that owners have been able to charge amounts that covered their monthly mortgage PITI (principal, interest, taxes and insurance), sewer, water, trash pick-up, snow removal and a property management fee for a very long time.Renters do pay, in fact, rent amounts that cover the owner’s property taxes. Collectively renters make up nearly 40 percent of the housing market in Anchorage.If we implement another form of taxation to ease the burden on the property owners, then we, in effect, transfer the tax burden disproportionately to renters. If owners are subsidizing anything in the rental market it’s not the renter’s property taxes but rather the renter’s lifestyle.Poor property management, in my opinion, along with unprincipled spending by governments, is what owners should push to change rather than creating class warfare to increase taxes while leaving the real problems intact. I know this is a hard statement, but allow me to explain.While there are a few owners who never enjoyed much of a positive cash flow, it was usually because their properties were in "challenged" parts of town, had too much deferred maintenance, or they pushed too hard for that extra $25 per month in rent. All of these contributed to their tenant turnover and vacancy.Rents have been rather stable, though slowly increasing, and an owner is able to charge between $600-$800 for a two bedroom apartment in a four-plex, depending on condition, location, amenities, and so forth. Condominiums and townhouses rent for more as location, condition and amenities increase.The gross rental income should more than cover the outflow of cash, including the tax burden, with that four-plex. And since rents are not going down any time soon, renters will continue paying the higher level of rents, in addition to any taxes that may be implemented -- especially since most landlords will simply increase their rents dollar for dollar to cover their property taxes.Not all renters or property owners are created equal. Some renters don’t take care of the property or pay their rent, and some owners don’t know how to manage their property very well.For example, when a tenant doesn’t pay rent, causes damage, or simply gives proper notice and moves, the owner is faced with turnover maintenance, collections, advertising costs, and the most expensive of all, vacancy.The solution is to implement better management and therefore get better tenants and lower one’s costs, rather than get someone else to pay property taxes and still have the same landlord-tenant problems in place.I regularly recommend the smarter, win-win solution. Owners of income properties will enjoy a better cash flow position and the tenants will stay longer and happier. Here are some suggestions.* Get a copy of the Alaska Landlord-Tenant Law booklet so you know what you and your tenants can and cannot do legally.* Set down the rules in writing from the very beginning and don’t allow deviations unless the tenant pays you for each one.* Refuse to subsidize a tenant’s undesirable lifestyle that costs you money. For example: allowing smoking indoors, allowing unrestrained pets to damage carpets and walls, allowing broken cars to be an eyesore and take up valuable space, allowing late payments without late fees, allowing "over-occupancy" in a rental, or allowing tenants to occupy without first paying your security deposit.* Conduct a thorough move-in inspection that is part of the lease that all adults sign.* Remember that even a small $25 increase in rent will rarely justify even a two week vacancy if that tenant chooses to move rather than pay it.Ken Jelinek is an associate broker with Re/Max Properties of Anchorage. He can be reached at ([email protected]).

Calendar for March 25, 2001

Confabs The Mat-Su Borough Small Business Development Center is offering a seminar entitled "Insurance Needs of Small Business Owners" from 9 a.m. to noon March 27 at the SBDC office, 201 N. Lucille St., Suite 2-A, Wasilla. The seminar is free, but registration is required. For more information, call 907-373-7232. The Seward City Council and the Seward Chamber of Commerce are holding a Seward Economic Forum from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. March 27 at the Alaska Vocational Technical Center. To register or more information, call 907-224-8051. The Greater Fairbanks Chamber of Commerce is holding its general membership luncheon at noon March 27 at the Westmark Fairbanks. Steve Jarvice, vice president of electronic commerce for Alaska Airlines, is the scheduled speaker. The luncheon cost is $11.25. For more information, call 907-452-1105. The Greater Soldotna Chamber of Commerce is holding its weekly meeting at noon March 27 at the Riverside House, 44611 Sterling Highway. Debra Holle, Kenai Peninsula branch manager of the American Red Cross, will discuss everyday disaster preparedness. For more information, call 907-262-9814. The Greater Wasilla Chamber of Commerce is holding its luncheon presentation at noon March 27 at the Mat-Su Resort, 1850 Bogard Road. The program features a Matanuska Electric Association Board candidate forum. Program fees are $3 for members and $5 for others. For more information, call 907-376-1299. The Kenai Peninsula Small Business Development Center is sponsoring a seminar on valuing a business from 1-4 p.m. March 27 at the Kenai Peninsula College Kachemak Bay Campus in Homer. A seminar entitled "Break Even Analysis and Cash Flow" is scheduled for 6-9 p.m. March 27 at the same location. Each seminar costs $15. A free "Expanding Your Bed-and-breakfast Business" seminar is slated for 1-4 p.m. March 29 at the Kenai Visitors Center, 11471 Kenai Spur Highway. For more information, call 907-262-7497. The Anchorage Chamber of Commerce is holding its annual E-commerce Seminar from 7:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. March 28 at the Hilton Anchorage Hotel. D.J. Mueller of Chamber WebLink International is the keynote speaker. The cost is $70 for members and $90 for others. For additional information, call 907-272-2401 or visit ( The Anchorage Small Business Development Center in Anchorage is holding a networking breakfast from 7:30 - 9 a.m. March 28 at the University of Alaska Anchorage Commons Building. The cost is $12. For registration, call 907-272-7232. The Kenai Chamber of Commerce is holding its weekly meeting at noon March 28 at the Old Town Village Restaurant, 1000 Mission Ave. Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Dale Bagley is the scheduled speaker. The luncheon cost is $10.50. For more information, call 907-283-7989. The Greater Palmer Chamber of Commerce is holding its weekly meeting at noon March 28 at the Palmer Moose Lodge, 1136 S. Cobb St. The program features a Matanuska Electric Association Board candidate forum. The cost is $9. The Palmer Chamber of Commerce is holding a breakfast meeting at 7 a.m. March 29 at the Inn Cafe, 325 E. Elmwood Ave. Mike Pauley of MEA will discuss how fuel cells can change people’s lives. For additional information, call 907-745-2880. The Chugiak-Eagle River Chamber of Commerce is planning a Business After Hours from 6:30 - 8:30 p.m. March 28 at Credit Union 1, 16635 Centerfield Drive, Eagle River. For additional details, call 907-694-4702. The Resource Development Council for Alaska Inc. is presenting a program at 7:30 a.m. March 28 at the Petroleum Club of Anchorage, 3301 C St. Trevor McCabe, executive director of the At-Sea Processors Association, will discuss "Alaska Fisheries: Opportunities and Challenges in 2001." Breakfast for members cost $12 and $15 for others. For more information, call 907-276-0700. The Alaska Science & Technology Foundation is sponsoring the annual Teachers Conference March 29-30 in Juneau. The general public is invited to attend a reception from 4-6 p.m. March 29 and the open showcases from 1:30 - 6 p.m. March 29 and from noon to 3 p.m. March 30 at Centennial Hall. For more information, contact Sharon Fisher at 907-452-1624. The University of Alaska Fairbanks Small Business Development Center is presenting a workshop on small business insurance from 6-9 p.m. March 29. The fee is $25. For more information, location and registration, call 907-456-7232. The Alaska World Affairs Council is presenting a program on missile defense at noon March 30 in the Hilton Anchorage Hotel. Program lunch fees are $17 for members and $20 for others. For more information, call 907-276-8038.  

Native firm's wireless bid challenged

WASHINGTON -- An Alaska Native telecom company that scooped up one of three valuable licenses for offering wireless service in New York City’s high-demand market is the subject of a challenge to a recently completed government auction.But by and large, the Federal Communications Commission auction, which reaped a record $16.86 billion, drew little opposition on an issue that became contentious during the process: Some companies that won licenses specially set aside for small businesses had ties to industry giants.The challenges to the auction had to be filed by March 8 and were made public March 12.One petition filed by TPS Utilicom Inc. asks the government not to grant licenses to Alaska Native Wireless, which won licenses in New York and elsewhere, because of that company’s ties to powerhouse AT&T Wireless.TPS charges that Alaska Native is not eligible for very small business status or special entrepreneur discounts because of its links to AT&T.Alaska Native Wireless is a joint venture of Sealaska Corp. of Juneau, Doyon Ltd. of Fairbanks and Arctic Slope Regional Corp. of Barrow.A lawyer for Alaska Native Wireless asserted that its partnership falls within the commission’s rules because AT&T does not have legal or practical control of the company. The company is confident that it has met the standards laid out by the FCC for this type of arrangement, the lawyer said.TPS Utilicom argues that the government should not grant licenses to DCC PCS Inc., which also has links to AT&T, on similar grounds.AT&T declined to comment.The small companies that partnered with larger industry players have long argued that such arrangements are necessary to give them enough capital to compete in the auction and prevent them from defaulting on their payments, as other small businesses have done in previous auctions.The January auction included licenses bid on several years ago by NextWave Personal Communications, which later went bankrupt and missed deadlines to pay for the licenses.The FCC reclaimed the licenses and re-auctioned them. But NextWave has mounted a legal challenge to get the licenses back, saying it can now pay for them.NextWave also filed a petition, made public March 12, asking the government to hold off on granting the licenses won by bidders until its litigation is resolved.Several other companies, that also had their licenses revoked by the FCC after failing to pay on deadline, are still contesting the decision by the commission to cancel those licenses and re-auction them to new bidders, according to the filings.

This week in Alaska business history March 25, 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 TimesMarch 25, 1981Borax to begin $870 million mineBy Jean KizerThe Associated PressJUNEAU -- Flanked by top state officials, the president of U.S. Borax and Chemical Corp. today announced plans to proceed with construction of an $870 million world-scale molybdenum mining venture near Ketchikan.... Gov. Jay Hammond hailed the mining development as the "first major industrial commitment in the state" since congressional passage last year of Alaska national interest lands legislation.Borax’s Quartz Hill mine site, in the newly created Misty Fjords National Monument about 40 miles east of Ketchikan, is estimated to hold 1.5 billion tons of ore valued at $18 billion. It is believed to be one of the world’s largest molybdenum discoveries.Anchorage TimesMarch 25, 1981Buy railroad, Stevens tells lawmakersThe Associated PressJUNEAU -- Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, warned state lawmakers Tuesday that the federal government probably will not fund the Alaska Railroad after next year, and he urged the state to purchase the system.In an address before a joint session of the House and Senate, Stevens told lawmakers they should begin negotiating now with the federal government to buy the railroad, which runs from North Pole, near Fairbanks, to Seward.Many argue the railroad is the key to the state’s transportation system.Stevens said the railroad is "absolutely essential to the coal development in the state."Others have said the railroad is needed to get grain, beef and pork to market or to ports for export.10 years ago this weekAlaska Journal of CommerceMarch 27, 1991Healy coal: the stakes are highBy Tim BradnerAlaska Journal of CommerceThere’s a kind of high-stakes poker game now going on among participants in a proposed $193 million new-technology coal power plant planned at Healy in Interior Alaska.The problem is how to cover a $26 million funding gap needed to bring in $93.5 million in federal coal technology research funds and to keep the big project on schedule.The players in this game are Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority, which would build the plant and issue revenue bonds to help pay for it; Golden Valley Electric Association in Fairbanks, which would buy power from the plant and guarantee AIDEA’s bond with a long-term power sales contract; the U.S. Department of Energy, which has awarded -- but not yet turned over -- $93.5 million in clean coal technology research funds; and Usibelli Mines Inc. of Fairbanks, which operates the Healy coal mines and would sell coal to the power plant.Alaska Journal of CommerceMach 25, 1991Joint-venture batteries finally escape KGBBy Margaret BaumanAlaska Journal of CommerceAn international joint venture in the production and export of batteries is off and running, after a skirmish with the Soviet KGB that temporarily took the spark out of SPARK."We hope to export about 6,000 to 10,000 batteries the first year," said Earl Roman, owner of Alaskan Battery Enterprises Inc., in Fairbanks and a partner with Valentin Tesvitkov, an entrepreneur from Magadan, Soviet Far East, in the joint venture, SPARK.Roman arrived home via Aeroflot from Magadan recently with 14 of the batteries, manufactured with American parts by Soviet workers in Magadan.A previous attempt to take batteries out of the U.S.S.R. was met by opposition from Magadan KGB, because the batteries were not entirely produced in the private sector and because the batteries are considered war materials.-- Compiled by Ed Bennett.

Movers & Shakers March 25, 2001

Jan K. Sieberts, a senior vice president with National Bank of Alaska, recently was re-elected to the Federal Home Loan Bank of Seattle board of directors. Sieberts was first elected to the board in 1998 and will serve another three-year term. Sieberts began his career with National Bank of Alaska in Anchorage in 1975. RIM Architects has added Christopher R. Vajda to its professional design staff. Vajda has more than 18 years of experience in architecture, urban design and resort planning. Vajda is currently assisting in the design of the University of Alaska Anchorage Consortium Library addition. Terry Henderson has been promoted to officer and assistant branch manager of Northrim Bank’s Southside Financial Center. Henderson joined the bank in 1993 and has more than 20 years banking experience. Sirisuk "Sam" Srisaneha has joined the staff of MBA Consulting Engineers Inc. as an computer-aided drafting technician. Srisaneha specializes in electrical drafting for power generation and distribution, interior, exterior and emergency lighting, and special emergency and communication systems. Ericka Pike has been hired by the firm as secretary/receptionist. Pike has six years secretarial and receptionist experience. Freida Costly has joined the Alaska Native Heritage Center as grant writer and coordinator. Costly has experience in grant writing and grants management. Costly most recently served as administrator for the Emmonak Tribal Council and was responsible for the operations and fiscal health of the organization. The Process Technology Department at the University of Alaska Fairbanks Tanana Valley Campus has selected the following people for its advisory board: Dave Gardner, Golden Valley Electrical Association; Mark Reischke, Petro Star; Fred Villa and Kathy Ross with Williams Alaska Petroleum Inc.; Tom Brice, Alaska Works; Charlene Ostbloom, Alyeska Pipeline Service Co.; John Ringstad, BP Exploration (Alaska) Inc.; Rick Solie, Phillips Alaska Inc.; Dan Graham, Usibelli Coal Mine; Bud Sands, BCS Consulting Services; Tom Benjamin, Fort Knox Gold Mine; Tom Minder, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers; Click Bishop, Operating Engineers Local 302; Rick Boyles, Teamsters Local 959; Don Verstrate, Hutchison High School; and Ernie Manzie, Fairbanks North Star Borough School District. Claire Bradley Chan, business banker in National Bank of Alaska’s commercial loan department, has been reinstated as vice president. Chan’s career with the bank began in 1987. Chan was given the title of vice president in 1988 and left to pursue other opportunities in 1990. Cindy Jobe, business banker in NBA’s residential construction department, has been appointed vice president. Jobe joined the bank in June and has 15 years experience of real estate lending experience. John Gleason, manager at the Barrow branch, has been chosen assistant vice president. Gleason started working for NBA at its Eagle River branch in 1991. National Bank of Alaska has promoted Kevin Miller to assistant vice president. Miller is a business banker at the Homer branch and entered the bank’s management training program in 1997. Heather Reier, manager at the Sand Lake branch in Anchorage, has been appointed assistant vice president. Reier joined the bank in 1997. NBA has promoted Randy Rhodes to assistant vice president. Rhodes, a business banker in the commercial real estate department in Anchorage, entered the bank’s mortgage loan management training program in 1997. Cory Ricks, a technical service specialist in NBA’s electronic services department in Anchorage, has been appointed vice president. Ricks joined the bank in 1996 as a management trainee.  

First-time buyer subsidy threatened

An innovative Alaska Housing Finance Corp. program that used earnings on invested funds to support interest rate subsidies on Alaska homeowner loan programs is now being scaled back, AHFC Executive Director Dan Fauske said.AHFC has earned $30 million to $70 million per year for the last five years, and this income paid subsidies on interest rates on several of the housing corporation’s loan programs.The amount of funds available has become limited over time, Fauske said. There’s enough left to pay $26 million to AHFC in each of the next two years.The corporation can stretch out the subsidies on some programs by eliminating one popular AHFC interest rate support, the first-time home buyers program based on taxable bonds, to allow reduced subsidies to continue on other programs.Under a plan to be put before AHFC’s board later this month, a reduced level of subsidy in the corporation’s low income and energy efficiency home programs will continue, as well as full support for a program targeted for people with special needs, such as disabilities.But unless a way is found to replace the income through some other innovative financing plan to bring low-cost capital into the state, all of the interest-rate support programs may have to be eliminated in two years, Fauske said."One option we’re considering is something similar to a recent bond sale by the Connecticut Housing Finance Authority, involving a series of taxable, variable-rate bonds with an interest-rate agreement that combines both tax-exempt and taxable indexes to create opportunities to make lower interest mortgages," Fauske said."The Connecticut deal is the first time a housing agency has issued taxable bonds with a provision that incorporates tax-exempt and taxable features."However, to do these kind of deals AHFC will have to remain financially strong, and the concern is that pressures on the corporation due to the state’s annual draw will, over time, curtail its flexibility.It can then become a downward spiral. John Bitney, AHFC’s director of legislative affairs, said if AHFC can’t offer lower-cost financing for mortgages, it could lose market share to its competitors, the Federal National Mortgage Association, known as Fannie Mae, now a private corporation, and the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corp., or Freddie Mac.If the state housing corporation has a lower share of the more profitable traditional home mortgages, its portfolio will consist mainly of less-profitable loans to low-income and other special groups of borrowers.Those are important for social policy purposes, but they still eat into the corporation’s financial strength, Bitney said.The national mortgage entities offer slightly cheaper financing than AHFC for conventional mortgages, because they are large national organizations with big economies of scale, he said. In the late 1970s and early 1980s Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac won substantial market share away from the state corporation, he said.With funding from its arbitrage earnings which are invested proceeds from bond sales, AHFC was able to win back market share in the mid-1990s with new programs that offered lower interest rates, such as first-time home buyer loans and lower-interest rates on loans for energy efficient homes."We’ve been able to loan out $170 million in 11,000 loans over the last five or six years," AHFC’s Fauske said. "Much of this was to people who would have fallen outside the limits of conventional mortgage loans."

Northwestern Arctic Air plans flights to Adak, Russian Far East

The departure of Reeve Aleutian Airways from the Aleutian Islands and the Russian Far East has Alaska aviation and state international commerce officials scrambling to fill the void for flights. In the meantime Northwestern Arctic Air Inc. announced that it will roll out "limousine" service to both destinations in late March."Flights to Adak and the Russian Far East will be handled with a recently remodeled and upgraded Hawker Sidley 125-400/ 731 (jet) that is based in Anchorage," said Dave McKay, executive vice president of Northwestern Arctic Air.The service to Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk in Russia on the Hawker will feature flights lasting seven hours, compared with the current three-day commercial travel times to the Russian Far East through Japan and Korea."The Hawker has more headroom, a larger entry door and warm meals, and a bathroom, but most of all its ability to land on shorter runways, both asphalt and gravel, makes this the aircraft of choice," said McKay.Although the Hawker Sidley is a proven jet, this particular aircraft has new Stage Three noise restriction compliant Garret fan jets, beefed up landing gear and a new interior. This workhorse is capable of landing on 4,000-foot gravel strips and features a flap/airbrake system that extends to 75 degrees for quick full-stop landings."When you fully extend those flaps, you stop right now," said Greg Monette, assistant director of maintenance for LMM Inc. recently restationed to Anchorage for Northwestern Arctic Air.This particular aircraft has seen service in Alaska before as a business jet for British Petroleum on lease by Era Aviation Inc.Northwestern Arctic Air, a subsidiary of Seattle-based Northwestern Companies Inc., operates a Beechcraft King Air B-200C twin turbo prop and a Lear 35 jet that act as fixed wing lift for air ambulance service for their Providence LifeGuard contract. Northwestern also recently added a Lear 25 for additional charter traffic.Era officials who commissioned an online survey at the end of 2000 addressing the possibility of flights to the Russian Far East, recently announced at an industry conference that they would only offer service there for oil-related businesses if they were under contract. The perfect aircraft for the Russian Far East service would be a $40 million Boeing 737-700 series aircraft, according to Era officials.When it comes to Russian Far East travel, Northwestern’s McKay said that use of the jet will offset current travel times and may offer break-even costs."We anticipate charter rates or ’limo’ service to be competitive, taking into account the cost of an executive’s time," he said."Should so and so be traveling on a train for three days after three days of commercial connections, in less than ideal conditions, to get to a Russian destination for a meeting, when they could fly to their meeting and be back within three days? Just what is an executive’s time worth? Much more than that," McKay said.Currently business people wishing to fly to Yuzhno are forced to fly to Japan and on to Korea or Vladivostok using either Japanese or Korean carriers, or Sakhalin Air Transport, a Russian carrier."Business class travel to Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk is a three-day $3,500 plus hotel room and meal expense to Alaska-based companies doing business on Sakhalin," said Yoshi Ogawa, president of ITC Travel Inc.Ogawa’s company specializes in booking people from Alaska to the Russian Far East."I think we are the only ones that can offer up to five gateway cities in Japan that offer connections to Sakhalin Island through the Russian Far East," Ogawa said.McKay and Ogawa may team up to book the charters, according to McKay, who wants the flexibility to book his own reservations for the "limo" service and to let Ogawa use his contacts and expertise in Japan, Korea and Russia for group charters."Right now the travel is by executives," Ogawa said. "This type of travel may be more worthwhile to company executives now, but if in the future they are doing crew change outs, there will have to be bigger aircraft and regular scheduled service."Prices for the six-place Hawker will range from $2,500 per seat for travel to Adak, and $5,000 per head or $35,000 for six on a charter to Yuzhno or Petropavlosk-Kamchatsky, McKay said.The total price for an Adak trip will be around $16,000, depending on how long the layover is, according to McKay.PenAir currently has flights three times a week to Adak with a six-place Piper Navajo at a cost of $550 round trip; however you must first fly to Dutch Harbor.Prices on PenAir from Anchorage to Dutch Harbor vary from a two-week advance purchase at $748 dollars to a walk-up price of $904 round trip.McKay, whose experience includes working for Era Aviation in the 1970s and ’80s, sees many similarities between Sakhalin today and Prudhoe Bay in the 1960s."Everyone thought that Prudhoe Bay would produce much sooner than it actually did, due in part to permitting entanglements," said McKay. "Sakhalin is also coming online much later than predicted."Current infrastructure improvements by Sakhalin officials and the existence of third party international companies that are handling logistics in the Russian Far East will make travel, fueling and parking much easier, according to McKay.

Tungsten mine could reopen

ANCHORAGE -- A Canadian tungsten mine 250 miles east of Whitehorse could restart after a 15-year closure, and officials of the state-owned Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority are hoping the mine will use AIDEA’s ore-loading facility in Skagway.The Skagway loading facility was used for lead, zinc and copper ore from the Anvil Range Mine in Faro, north of Whitehorse, until that mine shut down in 1998. Railcars and then trucks transported ore from Faro to Skagway, where it was loaded onto ships.North American Tungsten Corp. Ltd. of Vancouver says it has more than half the $5 million needed to restart the mine. Mining could start in late 2001.

GCI loses $13.2 million

General Communication Inc. recorded a net loss of $13.2 million for 2000, compared with $9.5 million for 1999. The Anchorage-based telecommunications company said the loss was primarily due to greater interest and depreciation charges from its investments in major capital projects in the last three years.GCI listed a net loss of $1.9 million for fourth quarter 2000, compared with a net loss of $3.6 million for fourth quarter 1999. Revenue for the fourth quarter totaled $77 million, up from $66.8 million for the same period in 1999.Annual revenue rose $292.6 million in 2000, up from $259.7 million in 1999, GCI officials said.The company said revenue rose in its product lines, led by long distance, which tallied annual revenue of $196.1 million, a 10 percent increase. Cable television revenue grew 11 percent to total $67.9 million. Local telephone service revenue increased 30 percent to $20.2 million. Internet revenue increased 75 percent from 1999 and totaled $8.4 million.At year-end GCI tallied more than 62,000 local service access lines in Anchorage representing a 32 percent market share in the area.GCI’s statewide Internet service grew from 54,000 subscribers at the end of 1999 to 63,000 in 2000.The company reports it had more than 16,000 cable modem subscribers in Anchorage, Fairbanks and Juneau at the end of 2000. GCI said it tallied almost 14,000 digital cable television customers for the year.TelAlaska buys Seward InternetTelAlaska Inc., an Alaska telecommunications provider, has purchased Seward Internet. The Internet service provider was formerly owned by Bruce and Barbara Miller of Seward, who started the company in July 1996. The deal was completed March 3, TelAlaska officials said.Seward Internet has 459 customers, said Brenda Shepard, TelAlaska vice president of finance.The purchase was important to TelAlaska because last fall it acquired local telephone service operations for Seward through a consortium of companies. The company provides local telephone service and Internet access to Alaska communities including Dutch Harbor, Galena and Sand Point.TelAlaska also provides Internet service in Anchorage, the Matanuska-Susitna area, King Cove and Cooper Landing and now has about 1,700 customers, Shepard said.Seward Internet customers can retain the domain name or select from TelAlaska. The company offers advanced services through its asynchronous transfer mode network.

Adventure skiing business taps high-end niche

A small Alaska-based company is drawing new winter visitors to the state, many from France, Germany, Switzerland, Austria and Italy.Alaska’s coastal Chugach Range is fast gaining a reputation in the high-end niche market of adventure skiing, said Mike Overcast, who with partner Dave Hamre owns Chugach Powder Guides.The company is now in its fourth year of operation, offering guided helicopter and snow-cat skiing trips in unbroken snows on mountains near Girdwood and the nearby Kenai Peninsula.Their customers are skiers looking for more than just one mountain and a comfortable lodge.Chris von Imhof, Alyeska’s managing director, sees the operation making a valuable addition to the kinds of winter experiences his guests can enjoy.The company is cultivating new business for Alaska in high-end international markets, von Imhof said.As a business, Chugach Powder Guides is growing. Its business doubled in the second and third years and is up 50 percent so far this year, Overcast said.Two helicopters, leased from Era Aviation, are stationed with their pilots and mechanics at Girdwood’s tiny airport to support the operation."There’s a good clientele in Europe for this. There’s a strong ski culture in those countries, and helicopter skiing isn’t allowed in France, Switzerland and Austria," Overcast said.Still, there must be something pretty special for Europeans to travel to the United States. Europe has fantastic mountains of its own. Alaska has that draw, along with a few other mountain areas like the Bugaboos of the Canadian Rockies, he said.But a lot of Canadians, and Americans, are becoming clients for the company, too.Chugach Power Guides can accommodate up to 32 guests a week with its present operation, Overcast said. Clients choose between flying high on mountain slopes with helicopters or a lower-altitude trip by snow-cat up to alpine meadows and slopes up Winner Creek valley near Alyeska Resort.The snow-cat offers an alternative if weather grounds the helicopters. But in the past couple of years, the weather has been pretty good, Overcast said. Last year the company was able to fly 68 percent of the time during its season."If we can operate that many days, we can have a successful business," he said. This year has seen some fine flying weather, with stretches of three to five clear days, he said.Helicopter skiing isn’t just for experts either, he said. Experienced guides are with each group, and the new, wider "fat skis" allow skiers with intermediate abilities on traditional ski slopes to handle higher-altitude powder snow."People have a lot of misconceptions about this," Overcast said. "Some have asked me if they have to jump out of the helicopters. I tell them that we’re more civilized -- we land first."The company operates from mid-January to late April, and then mid-June to mid-July. The summer is on harder "corn snow."May and early June are times when the snow is unstable, being in a transition between winter and summer conditions, Overcast said.Higher-altitude skiing could be a much bigger industry for Southcentral Alaska but uncertainty over renewals of annual U.S. Forest Service permits to land helicopters in the Chugach National Forest limits Chugach Powder Guides’ ability to expand.The company has been trying to get a five-year permit that would give it the certainty to plan ahead and sell to clients two and three years ahead.But the Forest Service has delayed a longer-term permit while it works through its revision of the Chugach forest management plan.Environmental groups are objecting to helicopter landings in the forest, and although Chugach Powder Guides works hard to accommodate their concerns the areas the company can operate in have been reduced.The company is developing some alternative areas, however. During the summer, Chugach Powder Guides offers a "Kings and Corn" package at Winterlake Lodge on Finger Lake, near the Skwentna River in the Alaska Range, Overcast said.Guests can fish for king salmon on the Yentna and Skwentna rivers or ski slopes in mountains of the Alaska Range.

This Week in Alaska Business History March 18, 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 weekThe Anchorage TimesMarch 18, 1981Assembly OKs study of petrochemical siteBy Lyn WhitleyTimes WriterAgreeing that information never hurt anyone, seven Anchorage Assembly members voted Tuesday to ask Dow Chemical U.S.A. to include Fire Island near Anchorage in its study of possible sites for a petrochemical complex.But several members warned Dow not to misunderstand their request for the study as tacit agreement to go ahead and build a plant on the island. And three members, Jane Angvik, Rick Mystrom and Carol Maser refused to join in the study request.Dow has said it will consider the site in Cook Inlet four miles west of Anchorage International Airport. The company is the lead partner in a nine-member consortium doing a $5 million study on the feasibility of using North Slope natural gas liquids to develop an petrochemical industry in the state.The Anchorage TimesMarch 18, 1981Dirty fish plants worry state officialsBy Ellis E. ConklinTimes WriterMany of Alaska’s 320 seafood processing operations still have a way to go before meeting state health and sanitation requirements, according to a top state regulatory official.George Hart, seafood coordinator for the state Department of Environmental Conservation, said there are dozens of processing plants around the state using antiquated equipment and contaminated water to process fish.However, Hart said the industry has made giant strides in the wake of last year’s three-week-long epidemic caused by polluted water on a cannery processing ship in Unalaska.Last September, Alaska’s entire king crab industry in the coastal village was subject to regulatory scrutiny after an outbreak of vomiting and diarrhea affected 189 cannery workers on the Barge Unisea, a World War II Liberty ship converted into a floating fish processor.10 years ago this weekAlaska Journal of CommerceMarch 18, 1991Fire Island plan: mixed reactionBy Margaret BaumanAlaska Journal of CommerceA proposal to build a Fire Island Maritime Center, touted as a stimulus for major economic expansion, is being greeted with a mixture of enthusiasm, skepticism and a plea for caution.Commonwealth North’s Fire Island report, a 90-page document released March 6, argues that a Fire Island Maritime Center would attract new facilities and services, which in turn would stimulate growth in industries like modular construction and transportation related businesses.Commonwealth North is a pro-development group from which the Hickel administration draws much of its brainpower."I think if you had the facility it would be used," said Evan Joe Griffith Jr., an executive with Chugach Electric Association who chaired the Commonwealth North committee on Fire Island.Alaska Journal of CommerceMarch 18, 1991Spaceport Alaska?By Tim BradnerAlaska Journal of CommerceJUNEAU -- Spaceport Alaska? Go ahead and laugh now, but Alaska’s new commerce commissioner, Glen Olds, says he’ll have the last laugh -- all the way to the bank."It’s going to go, and it’s going to go big," Olds said in an interview.He said the state has been approached by one major company, a pacesetter in the field, interested in using Alaska as a high-latitude launch point for small-payload satellites."Alaska has key advantages in attracting high-latitude launch customers," Olds said. Launching from a northern location makes polar orbits easier to attain.-- Compiled by Ed Bennett.

Warm temperatures, small fire drop February's North Slope output

Substantially warmer temperatures and a mishap at Prudhoe Bay depressed Alaska North Slope petroleum production last month, dropping output to an average of 6,500 barrels per day.Overall petroleum production totaled 1.015-million b/d for February, dipping six-tenths of one percent from 1.021 million b/d in January, according to Alaska Department of Revenue officials. Last month’s Alaska North Slop petroleum output also continued to slide in a long-term decline, falling 48,000 b/d below February 2000 production of 1.063 million b/d.Natural gas liquids output in February averaged 48,569 b/d, up slightly from 52,615 b/d a month earlier. However, NGLs production also reflected a long-term decrease, dropping more than 16 percent from 58,270 b/d in February 2000.North Slope crude production fell 1.8 percent in February to 966,110 b/d from 986,457 b/d in January. Average crude output in February also lagged by nearly 4 percent from year-ago production of 1.004 million b/d.Production at the three smallest North Slope gathering centers -- Alpine, Milne Point and Endicott -- rose in January, while Prudhoe Bay, Kuparuk and Lisburne lost ground.Phillips’ Alpine field posted average output of 73,269 b/d in February, up more than 6,000 b/d, or 9 percent, from 67,211 b/d in January. Alpine’s operators reported metering problems during the month, but saw output average more than 75,000 b/d during the final week of February, state Economist Denise Hawes said March 7.Average output at BP-operated Milne Point climbed more than 2,000 b/d in February to 53,068 b/d, compared with 50,885 b/d a month earlier.Endicott, another BP-operated gathering center, reported slightly higher average crude output of 37,621 b/d in February, up from 37,591 b/d in January. Last month also marked the third consecutive monthly increase for the field, which also gathers crude production from the Badami field. Endicott produced an average of 37,303 b/d in December.Operators fought a compressor fire Feb. 8 at Prudhoe Bay that was expected to depress the field’s output for six weeks, Hawes said."When the compressor failed, lubricating oil leaked into the exhaust system and caught fire," BP spokesman Ronnie Chappell said March 7. "Our fire suppression system worked, and we ended up with the equivalent of a chimney fire."Chappell said the impact on production associated with the fire was about 25,000 b/d.Average Prudhoe output of crude oil and NGLs for February slipped about 6,000 b/d to 546,712 b/d from 552,840 b/d in January. Prudhoe Bay is operated by BP Exploration (Alaska) Inc.Average crude production at Phillips Alaska-operated Kuparuk fell in February by about 2,000 b/d to 222,797 b/d from 224,688 b/d a month earlier.Production at BP-operated Lisburne also fell by more than 6,500 b/d in February to 81,212 b/d from 87,857 b/d in January.


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