Resort grows with state, in fits, starts

Just as Alaska became a state in 1959, the Alyeska Resort at Girdwood, 40 miles south of Anchorage, was conceived as a magnet to attract skiers from other states and nations and build a winter tourism for the young state.The first rope-tow at the base of Mount Alyeska was actually built in 1950 by a group of ski enthusiasts headed by Joe Danich, a local resident.Later, Francois de Gunzberg, a Denver-based oilman with real estate interests, and a group of other investors including wealthy Texas oil families, first developed Alyeska as a day-use ski area in 1959.In 1960 the "Roundhouse," a wooden shelter, was built at the 2,300-foot level of Mount Alyeska and became the upper terminus for the first chair lift, a mile-long French-made Pomagalski chairlift.In 1962 the first day lodge was built near the base of the first chair to aid an effort to secure the 1963 Olympic ski tryout competition, which was successful.From the beginning, the resort’s development has been connected with efforts to attract major world ski competitions and to build the state’s winter recreation image, according to Chris von Imhof, Alyeska’s managing director.Because Anchorage was then a major refueling and support station for international airlines flying the polar routes between Asia and Europe, the resort early on began hosting international airline ski competitions. Von Imhof himself first skied Alyeska in 1964 when he was with Scandanavian Airlines System.He has been deeply involved in Alyeska’s development, from the time he first became its manager in 1967. That same year de Gunzberg’s group sold the resort to Alaska Airlines. Its then-chairman, Charlie Willis, had a vision that the resort could be developed and would attract winter visitors, helping fill airline seats during the winter months.But Alaska Airlines was struggling financially, and von Imhof had to find other ways to fund the resort’s development. Von Imhof recalls an early conversation with the late Elmer Rasmuson, chairman of National Bank of Alaska, in which Rasmuson advised him to find a new investor with deep pockets.Development proceeded, but it was slow. The resort owned a 160 acre homestead and in 1962 acquired 233 acres at the base of the mountain under long-term lease from the state of Alaska. The upper half of the mountain is used under a long-term permit from the U.S. Forest Service.The first hotel, with 32 rooms, was built in 1969. The following year another 43 units were built and sold as condominium units, with many of the units leased back to the hotel for rentals. The state-leased land was developed into Alyeska Subdivision, now a growing community with homes and condominiums.In the 1970s, three or four more buildings with condominiums were built, sold mainly to people from Anchorage. The idea was not only to sell properties to fund development of the resort, but also to build a customer base, von Imhof explained.Through the 1970s three additional chairlifts were built on the mountain, and other improvements, including night lighting at the origibnal Chair 1. In 1979 Alaska Airlines told von Imhof to find a buyer for the resort. The airline maintained an office in Tokyo then, and von Imhof recalled that its manager thought that Seibu, the major operator of ski resorts and the Prince Hotels in Japan, might be interested in an overseas investment.Four senior Seibu officials visited, and a few months later an offer was forthcoming, von Imhof recalled. The sale was concluded on October 1, 1980.Alyeska has hosted a series of high-profile international competitions, including the 1963 Olympic Trials, 1973 World Cup Alpine Competition, 1987 World Masters Competition, 1993 World Junior Olympic Competition, 2000 Western Region Collegiate Spring Series, 2000 Red Bull Freeski World Championships and, in 2001, the Alpine ski competitions in the Special Olympics World Winter Games held in Anchorage.Anchorage was the U.S. choice to host the 1992 and 1994 winter Olympics. Had the selection been approved by the International Olympic Committee, Alyeska would have been the site of all alpine events.

Around the World March 18, 2001

STATEMineral industry gets liftANCHORAGE -- The minerals industry in Alaska is getting a big boost from record production at Red Dog and Greens Creek mines.According to state figures, the two mines pushed the value of the minerals industry to more than $1.2 billion last year. That’s an increase of 11.6 percent over 1999 figures.The 2000 numbers represent the fifth straight year that the industry’s total value has topped a billion dollars. Strong mines production, as well as a surge in investments in development, helped offset exploration declines.Readers Digest deal setANCHORAGE -- Alaska is among 32 states that have reached an agreement with Readers Digest Association over its sweepstakes mailings, Attorney General Bruce Botelho said.The settlement requires Readers Digest to discontinue misleading information and to include facts about the "real" chance of winning. Included in the settlement was an $8 million fund for attorneys’ fees and restitution.Alaska consumers could be eligible for more than $16,000 in restitution, and the state will receive $75,000 for consumer protection and antitrust investigations, enforcement and education.BP fights Prudhoe spillANCHORAGE-- BP Exploration (Alaska) Inc. is dealing with a spill of drilling mud, sea water and rock cuttings at the Prudhoe Bay oil field.BP officials believe 3,200 to 5,880 gallons of the mixture spewed from a small crack in a pipeline March 6. Most of the material left a gravel pad and spilled onto the snow and tundra, BP spokesman Ronnie Chappell said.Drilling muds are used to lubricate drill bits. After use, the muds and rock cuttings from the well bore are ground at a Prudhoe Bay facility and then sent through high-pressure pipelines to be injected underground.NATIONStarbucks hits EuropeFRANKFURT, Germany -- Europe is the last frontier for one of America’s greatest commercial icons.After building a caffeine empire that stretches from Seattle to Shanghai to Dubai, Starbucks waded into continental Europe on March 8, opening doors at a shop in Zurich, Switzerland, the first of 650 stores Starbucks says it will open in six neighboring countries by 2003.Europe is new territory for the Longview, Wash.-based retailer. Over the next year, chairman Howard Schultz said he hopes to have 10 more stores in Switzerland.Most of the new stores will be 50-50 joint ventures with local companies. One hurdle remains the price. European coffee drinkers are used to paying as little as 30 cents for an eye-opening shot of espresso.Get out of the officeTRUMBULL, Conn. -- All work and no play are making Americans sick, according to a survey by Oxford Health Plans.A study of 632 men and women found that nearly one in five U.S. workers can’t use up annual vacation time because their jobs are so demanding. A third never leave the building where their offices are located once they arrive at work, the same number that work and eat their lunch simultaneously."Taking a vacation is not frivolous,’’ said Dr. Alan Muney, chief medical officer and executive vice president at Oxford. "It is essential to staying healthy.’’The average U.S. workers gets the least vacation time among industrialized nations. Where Italians are given 42 vacation days, Americans receive 13.American to buy TWAWILMINGTON, Del. -- American Airlines won a bidding war March 12 for the assets of bankrupt TWA in a $742 million deal that will mean the end of one of the most celebrated names in aviation.U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Peter Walsh approved the purchase by American parent AMR Corp., much to the relief of TWA employees who feared the airline might be reacquired by its former chairman, billionaire financier Carl Icahn.American has said it expects to offer jobs to most of TWA’s 20,000 workers, and the airline’s unions are expected to approve the deal. The purchase is subject to approval by the Justice Department.Sales fall 0.2 percentWASHINGTON -- Consumers were more selective in February, driving down sales at the nation’s retailers by 0.2 percent after a January shopping spree. They cut spending for furniture and ate out less often, though they did buy more groceries.The latest snapshot of consumer spending, which accounts for two-thirds of all economic activity, suggested that the economy continues to be sluggish but hasn’t fallen into recession, analysts said.The March 13 report "does not carry the implication of a collapsing consumer,’’ said First Union’s chief economist David Orr.But, analysts said, the report does provide a fresh reason for the Federal Reserve to rev up economic growth by reducing interest rates again.Compiled from business wire reports.

Bill would ban drilling in ANWR

WASHINGTON -- Two days after Republicans unveiled an energy bill that would allow oil drilling in an arctic wildlife refuge, legislation was introduced Feb. 28 in both the House and Senate to permanently protect the area from oil rigs.A bill by Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., would designate the 1.5-million-acre coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge a wilderness area, barring future development.A similar bill was introduced in the House by Reps. Ed Markey, D-Mass., and Nancy Johnson, R-Conn.President Bush has made drilling in the arctic refuge a centerpiece of his energy plan, arguing that oil and gas can be taken from the area without environmental harm.Environmentalists have promised to fight any drilling proposal, and most congressional Democrats, as well as a handful of Republicans, are opposed to opening the refuge to development.The refuge was set aside for protection in 1960. In 1980, Congress barred development of its coastal plain -- beneath which is believed to be between 5.6 billion and 16 billion barrels of oil -- without congressional approval. The area is the calving grounds for thousands of caribou and attracts millions of migratory birds and other wildlife each spring and summer.A broad energy bill introduced by Sen. Frank Murkowski, R-Alaska, on Feb. 26, would open the refuge to oil and gas drilling. Bush’s proposed budget anticipates $1.2 billion in revenue from oil leases in the refuge by 2004.Under the wilderness designations outlined in the bills introduced Feb. 28, the coastal plain of the refuge would be permanently protected from development.

Day's Inn owners plan Country Kitchen nearby

Owners of the Anchorage Day’s Inn have acquired franchise rights to Country Kitchen restaurant and plan to open a new eatery in June.Break of Day Inc. currently is remodeling the site at 346 E. Fifth Ave. for the 24-hour restaurant, which will seat 200.The downtown restaurant will employ 65 people, said franchise operator Dennis Lavey. Sixty-five percent of the employees will work full time with 35 percent working part time, he said.Renovations started Feb. 5 on the 5,200-square-foot building which Break of Day has owned for several years, he said. "We looked at all the options and decided a restaurant would be best," Lavey said.Based in Madison, Wis., the Country Kitchen chain tallies more than 250 family restaurants and plans to add 30 new stores in 2001. The corporation lends its brand to franchises either inside hotels or along busy travel routes; free-standing restaurants must seat at least 150 people and can choose to operate round the clock.Lavey believes the chain is a good fit for the neighborhood which includes the Day’s Inn and the Sheraton Anchorage Hotel."As I travel across the U.S. I always seek out Country Kitchen," he said.Country Kitchen, which serves breakfast, lunch and dinner, carries an early American farm house motif, he said.Break of Day operates the restaurant inside Day’s Inn, but Lavey plans to remodel the eatery due to the addition of Country Kitchen.

Aurora Gas: shut in for 20 years, Cook Inlet gas well has potential

Aurora Gas LLC has announced successful test results for its Nicolai Creek Unit No. 3 Well, which had been shut in for more than 20 years. The well, tested last week, had a sustained flow rate of more than 4 million cubic feet of natural gas per day attained from the five commingled perforated intervals of the Upper Tyonek formation at depths of 1,900 to 2,380 feet.Nicolai Creek is believed to contain up to 8 billion cubic feet of proven reserves and straddles the shoreline near the offshore Granite Point field.Jones said the test data confirms the reserves picture. "If anything, the flow pressure was a little higher than we expected," he said.Though the well has been shut in for years, it once produced a fair amount of gas that was used by Texaco for fuel on its offshore platform.Aurora Gas is an exploration & production company owned by 50-50 partners Aurora Power Resources Inc. and Texas independent Orion Resources LLC. It purchased a 50 percent interest in the underdeveloped field from Marathon and picked up the remaining 50 percent from Unocal.In December, a drilling contractor cleaned out, reperforated, and gravel packed the well in a workover of the Nicolai Creek Unit, which is located on the West Side of the Cook Inlet.The successful test was critical to the company’s future intentions to develop the Nicolai Creek Unit, Ed Jones, Aurora Gas’ executive vice president and project manager, said March 5."We can now proceed with our plans to rework or drill at least two additional wells early this summer," he said. "We’ve looked at seismic of area and we see more potential."If next two wells are successful, Jones said the company plans to drill a new well during next winter’s exploration season.Aurora Gas officials will begin work on installation of production facilities as soon as it can barge needed equipment across the Inlet from Kenai and is currently finishing engineering for a connection to the Cook Inlet Pipeline, he said.Half of the gas produced from Nicolai Creek is dedicated to Agrium Inc.’s fertilizer plant in Nikiski and the remainder will go to Aurora Power, a gas marketer in Southcentral Alaska, Jones said.Cook Inlet is the scene of substantial oil and gas exploration activity this winter for the first time in years. Two weeks ago, Forest Oil announced a significant oil discovery in the Redoubt prospect. Several other exploratory projects have occurred in the region this season."Natural gas supply in the Cook Inlet has become a hot topic, and our company is positioning itself to be a long-term player in supplying the energy needs of Southcentral Alaska," said Aurora Power President G. Scott Pfoff. "Bringing the Nicolai Creek Unit on production is a very significant step for us, we have now joined the ranks of Cook Inlet operators, something few companies, if any, our size have accomplished."Jones said gas sales are expected by the end of April. He also said gas prices in Southcentral Alaska are firming up a bit. "They certainly are up from when we started this project last summer, so that’s encouraging," he added.

Phillips sells building, leases it for 20 years

Phillips Petroleum Co. has sold its Alaska headquarters building in Anchorage to the financial services division of The Staubach Co., an international real estate services firm. The $14.6 million sale-lease back deal calls for a 20-year lease on the 610,406-square-foot property, allowing Phillips to retain long-term control of the property, Staubach officials said.Phillips acquired the building -- the largest privately owned commercial office facility in the state -- when the company purchased ARCO’s Alaska properties in 2000."Following its ARCO acquisition, Phillips faced a year-end deadline to sell its Alaska headquarters to free up capital for other uses," Staubach Financial Services President Brant Bryan said in a statement.The Staubach Co. provides real estate services for companies seeking office, retail and industrial space and has more than 950 professionals in North America with others in several countries.

Arctic Slope subsidiary wins NASA job

Arctic Slope Regional Corp.’s subsidiary ASRC Aerospace has received a $29 million contract from NASA to provide scientific and technical information services and related support for the Center for AeroSpace Information in Hanover, Md.The center supports NASA’s Scientific and Technical Information program at NASA Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va., ASRC officials said.Under the cost-plus-fixed-fee contract, ASRC Aerospace will organize, disseminate and archive scientific and technical information. The company also will create and maintain databases.ASRC Aerospace, based in Greenbelt, Md., researches, develops, manufactures and operates advanced technology systems, products and services, ASRC officials said.ASRC Aerospace operates 16 contracts including a five-year $59 million contract with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency awarded last year for information technology services.

Movers & Shakers

The following new members have joined the Alaska SeaLife Center board of directors: Mike Burns, KeyBank Alaska; John Schoen, National Audubon Society; and Ned Smith, San Diego Foundation. Sharon Anderson, past board president, is now serving on ASLC’s board of governors. New board officers include president, Tom Tougas, Kenai Fjords Tours; vice president, William C. Noll, Major International; treasurer, Richard L. Lowell, Ribelin Lowell & Co.; and secretary, Willard Dunham, former publisher of the Seward Phoenix Log. The International Association of Energy Economics - Anchorage Chapter recently elected officers for 2001. William Nebesky was re-elected president. Nebesky has been a member of IAEE for four years and is a former vice president. Nebesky works as a petroleum economist with the Alaska Division of Oil and Gas. Kristen Maines, an economist with Northern Economics Inc., was elected vice president. Before joining Northern Economics in 1999, Maines worked at the Carolina Recycling Association in Raleigh, N.C. Gregory McDuffie was re-elected treasurer. McDuffie currently is working as a commercial consultant in the exploration and land group at Phillips Alaska Inc. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce recently presented Sens. Frank Murkowski and Ted Stevens, both R-Alaska, 2000 Spirit of Enterprise awards for their strong support of pro-business legislation in the second session of the 106th Congress. The awards go to members of Congress who supported the chamber’s positions on at least 70 percent of key votes. Jeff Wilcheck has been promoted to district manager of Grinnell/Audio-Video. Wilcheck is responsible for offices in Anchorage, Fairbanks and Juneau. Wilcheck previously managed the Grinnell Fire Protection office in Boise, Idaho. Adams & Associates Inc. has chosen Joanie Havenner, a personnel consultant in its Anchorage office, the No. 1 Consultant of the Year for the Northwest. Havenner was recognized for placing more than 300 candidates in 2000 at the year-end award ceremony held recently in Seattle. Havenner has been with Adams & Associates for six years. Lisa Herrington has joined Dynamic Properties as an associate broker. Herrington specializes in representing buyers and sellers in relocation transfers, condominium sales and temporary housing placements. Herrington has opened a branch office for Dynamic Properties at 702 Barrow St. The Alaska Club Network has hired Aaron Collins as membership manager at Alaska Clubs Eagle River and North. Collins previously was employed by Nordstrom as a department manager. Dawnell Arthur has been promoted to fitness manager at The Alaska Club East. Arthur has worked as a fitness consultant for the club since August. John Warren has been hired as member services director at the Alaska Club East, North and Eagle River. Warren most recently worked as an athletic director at the University of Nebraska. Shannon Segerstrom has been hired as aquatics director for The Alaska Club Network. Previously, Segerstrom was the director of programming, aquatics, health and fitness for the Nordby Center for Recreation in Huron, S.D. Hiawatha Logan has been promoted to front desk associate at The Alaska Club West. Logan has worked as a front desk associate at the West facility since 1999. Sara Anderson has been hired as front desk manager at the club’s Midtown location. Anderson most recently served as manager and senior consultant for the Boston University office of information technology’s residence computer lab system. Gabriel Wagner has been hired as front desk manager at The Alaska Club South. Wagner previously served as valet manager at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in San Antonio.  

Stocks sock Permanent Fund

ANCHORAGE -- The stock market slump has taken its toll on the Alaska Permanent Fund, and Alaskans are likely to see a smaller dividend from the state’s oil wealth savings account this year.The permanent fund dividend is expected to slip from $1,964 in 2000 to about $1,925 this year, according to fund projections. That would still be the second highest per capita distribution on record.The slight drop in dividends obscures what has been a hard fall in the permanent fund’s stock portfolio. Since the start of the fund’s fiscal year June 30, the fund’s U.S. stock holdings are down about 11 percent to about $8 billion, said spokesman Jim Kelly.This year’s stock losses are ugly, but a correction for the soaring markets may have been overdue, fund managers say."It feels like what we have expected to happen for a long time," Kelly said.For the first time since 1994 the fund is projected to slip in value, from $26.5 billion to $26.2 billion this year. Since June 30, the fund is down 3 percent, Kelly said. The dividend last fell in 1992.Kelly cautioned that the figures are preliminary and could change.Alaskans pay no state income tax and no state sales tax, and much of the state’s budget is covered by taxes and royalties on oil pumped from Alaska’s North Slope. Voters created the permanent fund in 1976 as a savings account for some of those royalties. Annual checks on its earnings have been distributed since 1982.Last September, the fund distributed $1.15 billion to Alaskans.

Net opens market to outdoor clothier

A small specialty clothing manufacturer is prospering in Fairbanks, thanks to an ability to reach out to world markets through the Internet.Dick Flaharty is convinced his business, Apocalypse Design, wouldn’t be serving much more than the small local climbing and backcountry ski clientele it started with in 1984 if he hadn’t learned to market through the Internet.Now he has customers in Asia, the Lower 48 and Europe. Apocalypse Design isn’t Eddie Bauer or Recreational Equipment Inc., and Flaharty doesn’t want it to be.Growing large would eliminate his key advantage over competitors -- a specialty focus on cold weather outdoor gear and an ability to fill custom orders quickly."If you called Eddie Baeur and asked them to make something special, they could do it but it would take three months and they’d want you to buy a big quantity," Flaharty said. He has to charge a bit more, but customers get exactly what they want. However, the advent of electronic commerce has allowed him to reach customers only larger companies could have reached before."We get a lot of our business in Alaska and the Lower 48, but we ship a lot to Norway, Germany, Sweden and Switzerland -- all places that are cold -- as well as Japan," he said.Apocalypse Design imports fabric to Fairbanks, sews what customers order and ships it out. The company has a retail store in the Interior city and a sewing shop where orders are assembled. Flaharty employs about 12 people in the winter and seven to eight in the summer, he said.A lot of orders are small quantities but some have been large, at least for a small company."We’ve had orders for thousands of gloves and mittens," of a particular design. "Some orders for parkas have approached a 1,000." There are smaller quantity orders for duffel bags and even briefcases, he said.During the winter there is lots of business from the mushing community."We’ve made as many as 50,000 dog booties," Flaharty said.Apocalypse Design started in 1984. Flaharty didn’t have much capital, and his customers were local climbers and skiers. He began to expand into other products when computers began to be widely used in business and orders came in for customized computer covers.Alyeska Pipeline Service Co. and BP Exploration (Alaska) Inc. began buying specialized fabric products for use on the North Slope and along the pipeline corridor, and government agencies became customers, too.Flaharty’s firm, for example, makes body bags, which must be rugged enough for helicopter and sled transport for the U.S. National Park Service. They’re for the almost-inevitable fatalities each year that occur during the climbing season on Mount McKinley in Denali National Park and Preserve.But Flaharty really wanted to expand his cold weather retail line. A catalog was developed to help in marketing, but it didn’t produce much business, he said.Access to the Internet was the company’s ticket to a wider market."I built our Web site myself in July 1999." Flaharty admits he has a flair for working on the site but says anyone can really do it, and there’s a lot of free software available. "I’m getting better at it," he said."We keep our Web site simple. The people who buy from us are interested mainly in our products and we don’t have a big marketing budget, so we don’t have flashy animation and we keep graphics to a minimum."He does have to update product information, and he has "web specials" and a "tip of the month" to keep people interested in the site.Flaharty easily became listed with the eight major search engines mainly used in the United States, and then began branching out to search engines used in other countries."Getting into and keeping current in the search engines and directories is very important," he said.It didn’t really matter when he found a search engine that wasn’t in English because he was still able to link to it anyway, Flaharty said.

Statistics for Kenai Peninsula reveal diverse, strong economy

KENAI -- The Kenai Peninsula’s economy is diverse, reasonably strong and, in many ways, better than other economies around the state, despite an economic growth of only 1.8 percent in the 1990s.That’s the message researcher Brigitta Windisch-Cole, of the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development, gave at the Kenai Chamber of Commerce luncheon Feb. 28."We can call 1.8 percent moderate," she said, adding the decline in 1999 was considered leveling out."I was here in 1999 and the mood was not good," she said. "Oil prices were low, tourism was down, and so was fishing."She said the loss of nearly 2 percent of Peninsula jobs in 1999 over 1998 is directly attributable to layoffs at the Unocal fertilizer plant, Southcentral Air’s demise and the explosion and fire at the Icicle Seafoods plant in Homer.Some other facts and figures Windisch-Cole presented included:* The Peninsula has always had a faster rate of growth than the rest of the state. In the 1960s, the Peninsula experienced 16.5 percent growth, compared with 6.6 for the state as a whole; in the ’70s, the Peninsula had 7 percent growth, the state 6.3 percent; in the ’80s, the Peninsula had 5.2 percent to the state’s 3.5; and in the ’90s, the Peninsula’s growth was 1.8 percent to the state’s growth at about 1 percent.* In the ’90s, industry growth was mixed, with oil and gas employment declining by 9.5 percent, and manufacturing -- which includes the then-Unocal fertilizer plant and the Tesoro refinery, but not the Phillips LNG plant -- falling by a whopping 25 percent.* Retail showed the greatest growth of all sectors in the last decade, with a 57.7 percent increase in jobs. It was closely followed by the financial, insurance and real estate industries with 39.5 percent, and construction at 30.8 percent. The service industry and government employment increased by roughly 24 percent each.* There is a huge disparity in wages between the oil and gas industry, which is losing jobs, and the service and retail industries, which account for most of the new jobs created on the Peninsula.Her figures show annual oil and gas wages in 1999 averaged $60,485, while service and retail averaged $18,000.* In 1999, the Peninsula work force earned $498.6 million, with an average wage of $30,091. The biggest piece of the pie came from government employees, highlighting their importance to the area’s economy. More than 30 percent of the total earnings on the Peninsula were made by government employees, compared with 19 percent in service and retail, and 13 percent in oil and gas. Seafood processing accounted for barely 3 percent of income earned.* Unemployment has been a relatively dark spot during the ’90s, but has recently improved, Windisch-Cole said. In 1991, 11.7 percent of the work force was out of a job, and it went up from there. The next year it was 13.6, before peaking a year after that, in 1992, at 15.5 percent. After declining slightly for the next few years, the jobless rate popped back up to 14 percent in ’96 and was 13.6 percent in ’97.The decade’s only year of single-digit unemployment followed in 1998, when the rate was 9.8 percent. In ’99, it rose 1 percentage point, but dropped back down to 10.2 in 2000."The unemployment rate is tied to the economy of the Lower 48," Windisch-Cole said. "If the national economy weakens, we will get an influx of workers from there."* Since the economy in the Lower 48 had been so good during the Clinton years, causing fewer workers to come to Alaska looking for jobs, in-state and local hire skyrocketed in the ’90s. In 1992, out-of-state hire was more than 34 percent. In 1999, it was down to 17.8 percent.* An influx of retired people to the Peninsula -- up 70 percent in the ’90s -- could be attributable to the relatively low cost of buying a home here. The average cost of a home on the Peninsula is $146,631, she said, and it only takes 1.3 wage earners to buy one.In Juneau, it takes 1.9, Kodiak 1.8, Ketchikan 1.7, the Matanuska-Susitna Borough 1.6 and Fairbanks 1.4. The state average is the same as Anchorage at 1.5.* A solid majority of the jobs on the Peninsula are in the central Peninsula. Two-thirds of the jobs are in the Nikiski-Sterling-Kasilof triangle, with the Homer and Seward areas accounting for about 15 percent each.Windisch-Cole said the construction industry is an early indicator of the overall health of an area’s economy, which looks good for the next few years, as millions of dollars are going to be spent on roads and other public works projects.

Better hiring plan keeps Hannibal Lecter from company picnic

Life has been pretty tough lately at the company. Good employees have been really hard to find, but since the economy has slowed things are starting to improve ... so you think. Your phone rings and Harry, your sales manager excitedly tells you about this great employee he hired today. "Let me tell you about this great guy I hired! He is a little older, but he passed the interview with flying colors and best yet, he loves to work with people. He is fascinating and has great ’soft skills,’ just what we need around here. I have a gut feeling he is going to be the best salesperson we’ve ever hired." Finding and placing the right person for the right job is critical to business success. Because of the labor shortage, many businesses feel they need to lower their standards and hire the first body that walks through the door. But that’s a bad strategy. Job interviewing alone is unreliable in today’s market. Many people with hiring responsibilities are not aware how one bad choice can damage or in this case "kill" healthy organizations. Shortsighted decisions often lead to disastrous results.

House resolution takes exception to linking fisheries with Steller sea lion decline

The House Fisheries Committee has given a unanimous nod to a resolution that supports limitations on pending fishing restrictions designed to protect sea lions. The measure is expected to fare as well in the state Senate. House Joint Resolution 10 notes a reference in the National Marine Fisheries Service’s controversial "biological opinion" that salmon and herring fisheries may also be a factor in the decline of the Steller sea lion. "In doing so it raises a red flag," said Rep. Drew Scalzi, R-Homer, who sponsored the resolution. According to the publication "Laws for the Sea," Scalzi said that a committee review of research on the sea lion decline indicated "evidence to curtail the fishery is lacking." Pacific Seafood Processors Association Vice President Stephanie Madsen testified in support of the resolution with a newspaper editorial cartoon that compared federal restrictions on groundfish harvesting to an imaginary order to stop picking berries because of a decline in bear populations. "That’s how we feel," Madsen said. "We’re being broad-brushed because one theory points the finger at us."

Pollock boat owners challenge law requiring U.S. ownership

ANCHORAGE -- The owners of several Bering Sea pollock fishing boats are challenging a 1998 federal law that requires the vessels to be predominantly owned by American citizens by later this year.The owners say that under terms of post-World War II free-trade treaties, their Japanese, Korean and Danish partners should not have to give up their investments in the U.S. fishing boats.But squeezing out foreigners from U.S. commercial fisheries was the aim of the American Fisheries Act of 1998. The law was the latest in a string of efforts by Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, to reserve for Americans the rich fishing resources in the 200-mile zone around the coastal United States.Previous laws had loopholes that let substantial foreign ownership continue in the fleet, particularly in the Bering Sea pollock fishery. The pollock fishery is the largest fishery in the United States by volume. The annual Bering Sea pollock haul is worth about $700 million after processing.The American Fisheries Act mandates that all boats longer than 100 feet and fishing in U.S. waters be 75 percent owned by American citizens by Oct. 1. Lenders that finance the boats also must meet that standard.The act, however, provides for an exemption in cases where the citizenship standard "is determined to be inconsistent with an existing international agreement relating to foreign investment."Owners of several large fishing vessels are now petitioning a federal agency, the Maritime Administration, for a ruling on whether their foreign investors must shed their interests in the boats. The owners cite treaties of friendship, commerce and navigation between the United States and Japan, South Korea and Denmark.The Maritime Administration is expected to make a ruling on the first of seven petitions, involving a total of 14 boats, by March 15.The act affects more than 500 large fishing boats nationwide, many of them operating off Alaska.William Myhre, a maritime attorney in Washington, D.C., said he’s unsure whether the boat owners petitioning the Maritime Administration will prevail. However, over time, he said, he believes the act will greatly increase American ownership in the pollock and other fleets.In fact, Myhre said he’s already worked on numerous cases in which foreign owners have sold their shares to Americans or boats have changed hands altogether.Last year, the Norwegian owners of American Seafoods, the largest operator of Bering Sea factory trawlers, sold out to American investors, including some Alaska-based companies.Even if the Maritime Administration grants the petitioning boats an ownership exemption, it could limit them in other ways, such as forbidding contracts requiring a boat to deliver all of its catch to a foreign packer, Myhre said."These are not the old days where somebody can sort of wink and hide their foreign partner," he said.

Phillips christens second double-hulled tanker

ANCHORAGE -- The second of five state-of-the-art Millennium Class tankers planned for Phillips Petroleum Co. was christened March 3. A unit of Phillips, Polar Tankers, unveiled the new double-hulled tanker in New Orleans. The Polar Resolution was constructed by Polar Tankers at the Litton Avondale shipyard in New Orleans. It will be delivered late this year. The first of the Millennium Class tankers, the Polar Endeavour, will begin carrying Alaska North Slope crude this spring. Phillips Petroleum Co. and Polar Tankers Inc. christened the second Millennium Class double-hulled tanker called the Polar Resolution in early March. Millennium Class tankers are the first tankers to be built to haul Alaska oil since passage of the federal Oil Pollution Act of 1990. They have twin propellers, twin rudders and double independent engine rooms. Litton Avon currently has four 125,000-deadweight ton crude oil tankers under construction for Polar Tankers. Phillips Chairman and Chief Executive Jim Mulva said the company decided to build a fifth Millennium Class tanker because it plans to increase its North Slope production from 350,000 barrels to 400,000 barrels a day. The fifth tanker is valued at more than $205 million. The carriers will hold slightly more than 1 million barrels of cargo at full capacity. Ship builder Litton Avondale and Polar Tankers have agreed to options for a sixth and seventh ship. The option for the sixth ship is subject to exercise in the third quarter of 2001, and the option for the seventh is subject to exercise during the fourth quarter.  

'Paperless' agencies pass cost onto builders

Electronic commerce has a hidden, but large, cost for construction contractors and subcontractors in Alaska, according to Monty Montgomery, assistant executive director of the Associated General Contractors Alaska Chapter.AGC is the construction industry’s trade association in Alaska. The problem is that federal policies dictating the move to "paperless" procurement has left each agency and, in the case of the military, each base, with authority to establish its own procedures, often using different hardware and different software.Federal agencies require potential bidders to get the information electronically, which saves the government a lot of money. But the information has to eventually be printed out anyway, Montgomery said, so that contractors can use designs and specifications at the job site.Also, some agencies in the Lower 48 require the bids to be made electronically, but for contractors to also send a paper copy of the bid and backup material by mail. It’s a trend that may affect Alaska projects, he said.This doesn’t cut down on paper, but it has passed costs from the government to the private sector, Montgomery said.Keeping up with it has become a nightmare for smaller contractors and subcontractors, Montgomery said. Lack of a uniform, coordinated approach gives an advantage to big firms that can afford to hire specialists to get the information, but leaves smaller businesses in the lurch.For example, federal agencies are now posting Alaska project announcements and specifications on Web sites. The problem is finding the Web sites because they can be almost anywhere, Montgomery said.A defense radar project in Alaska, for example, will be posted on the Web site of the U.S. Air Force base that takes the lead on radar technology, in this case Scott Air Force Base in Ohio, he said. It might not be posted in Alaska on Web pages maintained by Elmendorf Air Force Base in Anchorage or Eielson Air Force Base, east of Fairbanks.Likewise, Montgomery said Alaska projects are sometimes, but not always, posted on the Web page of Hickam Air Force Base in Hawaii, the administrative headquarters for Alaska’s military -- but again, not on Web pages in Alaska."To keep up with this a contractor or subcontractor would have to hire someone full time just to surf the Web and try and find these projects. It’s a cost many smaller companies just can’t bear," Montgomery said.Military officials don’t see the problem because they may not experience a reduction in the number of prime contractors bidding. But what they don’t see, Montgomery said, is that there are fewer subcontractors competing to team up with potential prime contractors.It will wind up costing U.S. taxpayers in the long run, Montgomery said, because fewer subcontractors, and over time fewer prime contractors, will bid to build federal projects, he said. Less competition means higher costs.Another problem is that the different military bases in Alaska use different software. Buying multiple software packages is very costly for small firms, Montgomery said.But one agency that has done an outstanding job of addressing the problem is the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, he said. The corps tackled the problem in 1990, worked closely with the contractor community, and by 1995 developed an approach used nationwide where bidders on projects are sent a CD-ROM that contains the software. It’s very user-friendly, and it helps the contractor or subcontractor to pull project information off the corps’ Web site.The AGC has been urging other federal agencies to adopt the corps’ approach, but so far there have been no takers."We have meetings every year with the top people, the generals and everybody," Montgomery said. "Every year we bring it up. Nothing ever happens."One step the industry has taken is buying equipment and hiring specialized staff members in a joint project with The Plan Room, a private firm that acquires project documents for contractors."We couldn’t afford it if we did this ourselves because we haven’t enough members of AGC," Montgomery said. "The Plan Room couldn’t afford to do it themselves because they aren’t big enough. Together, we are big enough to make it work."The joint project was undertaken in January 2000. AGC closed down its plans room in Anchorage to pool resources with the private company.In Fairbanks, things were consolidated in the existing AGC plans room. Electronic capabilities were also offered in the plans rooms maintained in Kenai and in Juneau.This step helps, but it doesn’t solve the root of the problem, which is lack of coordination and uniformity in federal agency policies, Montgomery said.The state of Alaska is taking a more cautious approach and is watching the experience of federal agencies, Montgomery said. The state Department of Transportation and Public Facilities is moving toward electronic commerce, but still publishes bid notices in newspapers and sends paper copies of bid requests and project specifications to plans rooms.

Project bonds bet on future U.S. funds

Gov. Tony Knowles has found a way to pave streets in Barrow and Bethel, fix seaside erosion to Kotzebue’s Shore Avenue, fund new ferries for service in Southeast Alaska and fix the Glenn and Seward highways in Anchorage.Department of Transportation and Public Facilities Commissioner Joe Perkins introduced a statewide transportation initiative on Feb. 27 that calls for using revenue anticipation bonds called GARVEE bonds to fund $355 million of transportation projects statewide, meeting Knowles’ expectations.GARVEE or Grant Anticipation Revenue Vehicle bonds will allow the state to issue revenue obligations based on anticipated federal funds allotted the state for transportation construction. Once the bond sale is approved by the Legislature, funds from GARVEE will be applied to statewide projects in addition to projects that have been identified on the Statewide Transportation Improvement Plan, or STIP.Perkins called the new funding process the third leg of a three-legged stool, referring to transportation funding mechanisms like the state general fund and matching funds for federally qualified projects."This will speed up projects that have already been identified by communities statewide, and in the case of Anchorage, transportation projects that are on the Metropolitan Area Transportation Study list," he said.According to Perkins, statewide community identified projects will receive acceleration from the normal lengthy STIP process, and will receive GARVEE funding much sooner than other processes for completion of the projects.Perkins explained that the bonds are not state guaranteed debt but will offer funding earlier, and offer a additional source of revenue outside of the general fund. Under the plan, Alaska will pledge future federal funds to repay the construction costs of the projects. This pledge will be subject to annual appropriation by the Legislature.Knowles’ bill provides $147 million for Anchorage, including: $58.2 million to eliminate the bottleneck on the Glenn Highway near Merrill Field; $28.8 million to extend C Street from Dimond Boulevard to O’Malley Road; and $15 million for the Seward Highway and International Airport Road crossing.Other Anchorage projects include work on the Seward Highway, Bragaw Street, Dimond Boulevard, Ninth Avenue, Northern Lights and Benson boulevards, Mountain View Drive and Spenard Road.The bill includes $67 million each for the Fairbanks and Matanuska-Susitna Boroughs.Fairbanks projects include $18.7 million to reconstruct Illinois and Barnette streets; $16 million for the Richardson Highway interchange at North Pole; $8 million for downtown Fairbanks street improvements; and $10 million for other roads and trails within the Fairbanks North Star Borough.Mat-Su Borough projects include $18 million to expand the Palmer-Wasilla Highway and $13 million for the Old Glenn Highway. Other projects in the area include improvements for the Parks Highway; Petersville, Seward Meridian, Trunk and Bogard roads; and $1 million for Wasilla’s local "gravel to asphalt" program.Knowles’ bill also provides $70 million for two new high-speed ferries for Southeast Alaska, and $15.7 million for Kenai to repave eight miles of the North Kenai Spur Road and rehabilitate East Redoubt Avenue in Soldotna.Rural projects in Knowles’ initiative include $11.5 million for rehabilitation and erosion control along Shore Avenue in Kotzebue; $5.1 million to rehabilitate Bering, Sepalla and Front streets in Nome; $9.9 million to pave the remainder of the Aleknagik Lake Road in Dillingham; $6.8 million for road improvements in Bethel, including Chief Eddie Hoffman Highway and Ptarmigan Street; $10 million to pave dirt streets in Barrow; and $15 million to address the dust problem in rural Alaska by surfacing village roads.

Team to scourge Amchitka for bombs

ANCHORAGE -- The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will be heading a multi-agency group going to Amchitka Island this summer to look for bombs, grenades and mortar shells left over from years of military occupation.Agency contractors plan to detonate whatever unexploded ordnance they find on that remote island. Old explosives tend to be unstable.The Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Navy and the Department of Energy also will be demolishing old military sites and hauling away PCB-contaminated sludge. The Energy Department plans to cap pits of drilling muds left over from atomic testing on the island in the late 1960s and early 1970s. When the Japanese captured Kiska, 70 miles to the west, in 1942, Amchitka became a forward outpost in World War II. U.S. Army troops moved onto the island, and a Naval Air facility followed. Japanese bombers and fighters hit the island several times before evacuating Kiska in August of 1943.The U.S. maintained a military presence on Amchitka and operated a White Alice communications site there through the 1950s and 1960s. The Atomic Energy Commission chose Amchitka as the site for three underground atomic tests from 1965 through 1971.The last, the 5-megaton Cannikin, was among the largest underground atomic blasts ever conducted by the United States.At one time, more than 1,500 buildings stood on Amchitka.Much of that was removed by the Army Corps of Engineers in a cleanup effort in the mid-1980s, and the Navy made another run at clearing Amchitka in 1991.Suzanne Beauchamp, the corps’ project coordinator, said the five sites contractors will focus on this summer may shelter unexploded bombs and a wide range of munitions and cartridges.

Royal Caribbean hitches two new dome cars to Alaska Railroad

Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd.’s two new domed railcars are en route to Alaska where they will serve Alaska Railroad visitors this summer.The Miami-based cruise line touts the cars as the world’s largest glass-domed cars, which measure 18 feet tall by 85 feet long and 10 feet wide, said company spokeswoman Michele Smith. The domed cars should arrive in Anchorage in mid-April, she said.Other Alaska cruise players, Holland America Line and Princess Tours, already operate domed railcars, tours and hotels in the state. Holland America runs 13 McKinley Explorer railcars in Alaska carrying 66 passengers each while Princess operates 10 railcars each carrying 88 passengers for its Midnight Sun Express, company representatives said.Royal Caribbean’s two-level Wilderness Express railcars, which can seat 88 people each, were built by Colorado Railcar Manufacturing LLC of Denver.Valued at a total of $5 million, the two railcars offer dome-level seating that complies with the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the cruise line believes the accessibility to both levels is an industry first. Royal Caribbean also aims to improve accessibility on the ships it’s now building, Smith said. Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd., which owns Royal Caribbean International and Celebrity Cruises, has a total of 20 ships in service and nine under construction or on order, company officials said.The new railcars are part of Royal Caribbean’s move to expand onshore excursions in Alaska for its passengers, Smith said.Last year Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. started a new company, Royal Celebrity Tours, based in Seattle, to handle land tour packages for Alaska, Smith said. New railcars and land tours are ways the company can increase its Alaska business with new offerings, she said."We wanted to enter this market in a dynamic way," she said.The company is offering new land tour packages beginning in May ranging from two to six nights and visiting Anchorage, Denali National Park and Preserve, Fairbanks, Girdwood and Talkeetna. Cruise passengers can add the tours before or after their cruise, and Royal Celebrity Tours employs tour directors to guide the land tours.Wilderness Express railcars feature outdoor 360-degree viewing platforms, seats that recline and rotate plus onboard dining.The company was promoting its new railcars this month en route to Alaska during a six-city tour to Denver, Dallas-Fort Worth, Los Angeles, San Jose, Calif., Portland, Ore., and Seattle.

Praxair to merge home care business

Praxair Distribution Inc. has agreed to purchase Interwest Home Medical Inc. which operates a branch in Anchorage.Under terms of the deal, Praxair Distribution, a subsidiary of Praxair Inc., will pay about $42 million for the equity of Salt Lake City-based Interwest Home Medical plus assume debt.Praxair plans to combine its home care business with Interwest Home Medical.The transaction is subject to regulatory approval and Interwest Home Medical shareholders, but has been approved by boards of both companies. Officials expect the deal to close in second quarter.Interwest Home Medical handles the rental and sale of home oxygen and respiratory equipment and other home medical equipment.The company has 25 branches in Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Nevada and Utah, employing more than 400 people. Interwest Home Medical also employs about 40 sales people who call on hospitals, physicians, therapists, discharge planners, case managers and other health care professionals.Air ambulance upgradedANCHORAGE -- LifeGuard Alaska recently completed an upgrade of its new Bell 412 helicopter, a move that gives the aircraft state-of-the art equipment and allows it to carry three patients at a time, a company statement says.LifeGuard Alaska is the air ambulance service of Anchorage’s Providence Alaska Medical Center.The Bell 412, which Providence acquired in August, is the only civilian-dedicated, hospital-based helicopter for use in air ambulance service in the state, LifeGuard said, although the North Slope Borough has a Lear jet it frequently uses for medical evacuations.The helicopter upgrade was completed as LifeGuard gears up for its 24-hour summer service, which begins April 1 and runs through Oct. 31.


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