Army Corps of Engineers denies Pebble permit

In the end, Pebble Limited Partnership will not be getting a key permit for its mine from the Trump administration, it turns out. The Army Corps of Engineers Alaska District issued a record of decision Wednesday denying Pebble’s Clean Water Act wetlands fill permit application, which, barring an unlikely reversal on appeal, kills the current iteration of the Pebble mine plan.  The company’s late 2017 application for the key development permit spurred the multi-year environmental impact statement review that has since been the focal point of the fight over the massive and contentious mine plan. The Army Corps’ record of decision, or ROD, summarily states that the mine plan impacting more than 3,300 acres of wetlands and 185 miles of streams does not comply with Clean Water Act guidelines and “is contrary to the public interest.” Corps of Engineers Alaska District Commander Col. Damon Delarosa wrote at the end of the 29-page decision document that the Pebble mine plan is being denied because the project would result in “significant degradation of the aquatic ecosystem.” “I have concluded that the benefits of the proposed elimination and alteration of wetlands, streams and other waters within the (Army Corps) jurisdiction do not outweigh the detriments that would be caused by such eliminations and alterations, based upon the information contained in the FEIS, the extensive public comments received, and the analysis of the public interest review factors,” Delarosa wrote. “As those eliminations and alterations would be necessary to realize any benefits from the proposed project, I have found that the project is contrary to the public interest.” Delarosa took over as commander of the Alaska District in August of this year. Opponents of the mine naturally celebrated the Corps’ decision generally stressing that the permit denial ultimately follows years of scientific conclusions about likely environmental impacts of the project and what a majority of Alaskans want in regards to Pebble. Bristol Bay Native Corp. CEO Jason Metrokin called the decision “a triumph for the people of Bristol Bay” in a formal statement. “While we are still reviewing the details of the decision, it is clear that Pebble is not in the best interests of Bristol Bay and those whose livelihoods depend on its incredible fishery,” Metrokin said. “We thank the Corps for acknowledging this reality in its decision. BBNC looks forward to working with stakeholders, both in-region and across Alaska, our congressional delegation and the federal government to ensure that wild salmon continue to thrive in Bristol Bay waters, bringing with them the immense cultural, subsistence and economic benefits that we all have enjoyed for so long.” Pebble’s opponents have routinely cited that the region’s large commercial sockeye fishery — currently one of the state’s few thriving commercial salmon fisheries —supports more than 14,000 jobs and generates more than $1.5 billion in economic activity. Sens. Dan Sullivan and Lisa Murkowski, both of whom formally opposed the project in late August when the Corps issued strict mitigation requirements for Pebble, said Corps officials came to the right conclusion on Pebble, despite their general support for Alaska’s mining industry. “This is the right decision, reached in the right way,” Murkowski said. “It should validate our trust and faith in the well-established permitting process used to advance resource development projects throughout Alaska. It will help ensure the continued protection of an irreplaceable resource — Bristol Bay’s world-class salmon fishery — and I hope it also marks the start of a more collaborative effort within the state to develop a sustainable vision for the region.” Murkowski previously said her preference was that the Corps deny the permit rather than the Environmental Protection Agency issuing a subsequent permit “veto” because of concerns she has about an EPA development prohibition stymieing other resource projects in the state. Sullivan said he will continue to advocate for other resource development projects in the state because of the jobs and economic opportunities they can provide. “However, given the nature of the Bristol Bay watershed and the fisheries and subsistence resources downstream, Pebble had to meet a high bar so that we do not trade one resource for another. As I have been saying since August, Pebble did not meet that bar and, accordingly, the Corps rightly denied the permit,” Sullivan said. Rep. Don Young did not applaud or criticize the decision in a statement from his office, but said he is disappointed in the fact that the permitting process allows the federal government to effectively kill a project proposed on state land. “Now there must be a consideration of how the federal government will compensate the state for the loss of economic potential (from the mine),” Young said. Pebble CEO John Shively said company representatives are obviously dismayed with the decision, particularly since the final EIS published in July indicated the project could co-exist with the fishery. “One of the real tragedies of this decision is the loss of economic opportunities for people living in the area. The EIS clearly describes those benefits, and now a politically driven decision has taken away the hope that many had for a better life.” Shively said in a statement.  The company is now focused on the next steps for the project, including an appeal of the decision, according to Shively. The company has 60 days to appeal the decision. Pebble’s Vancouver-based parent company Northern Dynasty Minerals Ltd. issued a statement Wednesday that is sharper yet in its criticism of the Corps’ conclusions. “Based on the positive findings of the final EIS, conclusions by the (Army Corps) that development of the Pebble project is ‘not in the public interest’ are wholly unsupported,” Northern Dynasty’s statement reads. “For the United States to turn its back on an opportunity to develop these minerals here at home in a manner that U.S. regulators have agreed is environmentally safe and responsible, and to do so for purely political reasons, is not just short-sighted; it’s self-destructive,” Northern Dynasty CEO Ron Thiessen said. The final Pebble EIS published in late July largely concluded that the large open-pit mine plan and its extensive support infrastructure would not materially impact salmon returns or the region’s water-plentiful ecosystem. The final EIS backed the conclusions of the draft document published in 2019. Both of the documents were widely dismissed by Pebble opponents for lacking in-depth science and being rushed to fit permitting within the timeframe of the Trump administration. Brian Litmans, legal director for the Anchorage-based nonprofit environmental law firm that has fought Pebble said in an interview that the group thought both versions of the Pebble EIS could’ve been more thorough but noted Corps officials could also consider other information such as public comments and the EPA’s 2014 Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment — which concluded most any large mine would have substantial negative impacts on the region’s ecosystem. “If anyone looked at this project, it’s impossible not to see significant degradation,” Litmans said. He also noted that the ROD states Pebble’s plan to mitigate the wetlands damage the project would cause was found to be insufficient. “Ultimately the science is clear on this one,” he said. Army Corps Alaska District spokesman John Budnik wrote via email that the decision “is based on all the facts at-hand, which includes information provided by the permit applicant and the public, and is in compliance with existing laws and regulations.” Look for updates to this story in an upcoming issue of the Journal.  Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected]

Federal agency moves to revise OCS drilling rules

In the final days of the Trump administration, federal environmental regulators are proposing to roll back some of the Arctic offshore drilling requirements mandated in 2016. The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and Safety and Environmental Enforcement on Nov. 19 released the framework of proposed regulations for drilling in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas that agency leaders say will ease the burden of environmental protection on industry without increasing the risk of an oil spill in a sensitive environment through the use of new technologies. The prospective regulatory changes — which as of Nov. 24 hadn’t been posted to the Federal Register — follow the directives laid out in 2017 orders from President Donald Trump and then-Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to review the 2016 rules and recommend changes that would encourage additional exploratory drilling off of Alaska’s Arctic coast. Documents outlining the proposed changes state the new regulations would make it easier for operators holding federal leases in the Beaufort or Chukchi to gradually explore their holdings and obtain a Suspension of Operations approval to prevent 10-year lease terms from expiring before work is completed due to the short seasonal operating window in Arctic waters. The revisions would also cut the authority of regional BSEE supervisors to require the capture of water-based drilling muds and cuttings in instances where subsistence resources could be impacted by discharges of the fluids. This change would alleviate uncertainty for industry caused by an apparent overlap of authority with Environmental Protection Agency requirements, according to a joint agency fact sheet on the proposal. The requirement of operators to file an integrated operation plan, or IOP, would be eliminated as well because much of the information in an IOP is also required in exploration plans filed with BOEM, according to the agencies. Changes to requirements for Arctic offshore drillers to have a drilling rig on standby to drill a relief well and well control equipment are also being advanced. “As countries like Russia increase their presence in the Arctic — including the use of U.S. technologies to develop their seabed resources, it is increasingly important to ensure that the United States has a strong presence in the Arctic OCS,” Deputy Interior Secretary Kate MacGregor said in a formal statement. “The Beaufort and Chukchi seas have a long legacy of oil and gas development — we believe these proposed revisions will better harness new technological innovation and best science to allow for responsible domestic energy development off the coast of Alaska.” A 60-day public comment period will start once the proposed regulations are published in the Federal Register, according to the agencies, meaning the changes would have to be finalized by the Biden administration. Alaska Wilderness League spokesman Corey Himrod wrote via email that while he can’t speculate on what the Biden administration will do, but noted it’s unlikely the incoming administration would finalize a move to quickly finalize regulations repealing what was put in place by the Obama administration. “Our view is certainly that the next administration should be strengthening safety regulations when it comes to oil spills, not limiting them,” Himrod wrote. Alaska Oil and Gas Association Regulatory and Legal Affairs Manager Patrick Bergt said he would be able to discuss the changes once they are officially posted. ^ Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected]

Oil Search refines Pikka development schedule

Development of one of the largest North Slope oil prospects in decades will be more deliberate but eventually result in much more oil being produced at lower costs than originally planned, according to the company leading the work. Executives from Oil Search, the Papua New Guinea-based company developing the Pikka project on the central North Slope, said they now expect to reach initial commercial oil in 2025 with production quickly ramping up to 80,000 barrels per day in the first phase of development from pre-drilled wells. Oil Search officials submitted plans to state regulators just more than a year ago indicating the company wanted to push up its original first-oil timeline by about a year to late 2022 by utilizing modular production facilities to produce about 30,000 barrels per day before eventually ramping up to peak production of roughly 120,000 barrels per day. Now, company leaders expect production from the Pikka field and adjacent Mitquq prospect to top out at approximately 160,000 barrels per day late in the decade from a resource base that has nearly doubled since Oil Search moved to the state and took over the Pikka project in 2018, according to Oil Search Alaska President Bruce Dingeman. He and other Oil Search executives spoke Nov. 19 during a videoconference briefing for investors detailing the company’s revised operating and development strategies. Exploratory and appraisal drilling the last two winters has grown the 2C — likely technically recoverable, but not necessarily commercially viable barrels — oil resource over the area the company operates from about 500 million barrels to 968 million barrels currently, according to Dingeman. Managing Director Keiran Wulff, who preceded Dingeman in leading the company’s Alaska work, said during the investor update that 2020 has been a “humbling” year for Oil Search because the collapse of oil prices forced leaders to rethink all of their normal operations and capital plans. In April the company cut about $80 million from what was initially a nearly $400 million capital budget for its 2020 North Slope work shortly after oil markets worldwide bottomed out at less than $10 per barrel. “Aside from the oil prices we’ve had a very strong year,” Wulff said, noting the civil work requiring more than 800 workers was completed under budget on the North Slope last winter — 11 miles of new gravel road and three drill site and facility pads — allowed the company to redesign the Pikka project ostensibly on the fly. Oil Search also drilled the aforementioned Mitquq well and sidetrack just to the east of the Pikka area as well as the Stirrup exploration well about 20 miles to the southwest. Combined, the two represent about 200 million additional barrels of 2C oil resources, according to company leaders. Dingeman said oil from the Mitquq prospect would likely be processed through Pikka facilities in a third development phase, while the Stirrup prospect is likely large enough to be its own “development hub in the future.” Utilizing modular processing facilities to start production from one of three eventual Pikka drill sites should provide Oil Search about two-thirds of the initially planned production capacity for about half of the cost, Dingeman said. The first phase of development to reach 80,000 barrels per day is expected to cost approximately $2.9 billion with roughly $1.1 billion in drilling expenses and $1.8 billion in facilities. A final investment decision is expected in 2021. “The phased approach really opens the door with an initial high-return, low-cost development which will be followed by subsequent phases that will benefit from the learnings of the first phase as well as the cash flow it represents,” Dingeman said of the more gradual approach to Pikka. “It really represents a commercialization pathway that goes way beyond the volume we initially envisioned.” Oil Search previously planned to spend roughly $5 billion to develop the 120,000 barrels per day version of Pikka all at once with a cost of supply of about $45 per barrel. The changes have helped the company cut the cost of supply for Pikka to between $35 to $40 per barrel, which includes a 10 percent investor return, according to Dingeman, who noted long-term Brent oil futures are currently trading between $45 to $50. Oil Search reached a deal with Armstrong Energy in October 2017 to buy into Pikka and take over as the project operator for $400 million. This year the company exercised an additional $450 million option to completely buy out Armstrong and GMT Exploration Co., a silent working interest owner in Pikka, to take a 51 percent stake in the Unit. Spanish major Repsol holds a 49 percent interest in the Pikka Unit and project. Most of the oil would come from the shallow, conventional Nanushuk formation. It has been the source for smaller nearby discoveries by ConocoPhillips as well as Conoco’s Willow project in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, which is similar in scale to Pikka and until recently had been on a slower development schedule. Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected]

Murkowski touts relationships to keep Alaska ‘at the table’ for energy policy

Alaska’s resource extraction industries will be best served by working with, not against, the incoming Biden administration through an emphasis on how the industries can support Democrats’ broader goals for sweeping energy reform nationwide, according to Sen. Lisa Murkowski. Alaska’s senior senator told viewers of the online Resource Development Council for Alaska annual fall conference Nov. 19 that she has had good working relationships with both President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris in the Senate and that keeping Alaska “at the table rather than on the menu” when it comes to natural resource and climate policies will require proactive engagement from the state’s resource industry leaders. “We have a good story to tell and it should be told,” Murkowski said while stressing that Alaska’s traditional mineral and renewable energy resources will be crucial for the national energy transition Biden and Harris campaigned on. “If the new administration is going to achieve its goals it’s going to need to partner with Alaska rather than treating us as some kind of snow globe sitting up on a shelf or one big, giant national park or one big wildlife refuge,” she continued. “Let’s show them that our minerals need to be a part of the solution; that our oil and gas industry can lead in carbon management and we can harness the power of our renewables and that a stronger Alaska economy means a stronger national economy.” Alaska mining proponents have long pointed to the plethora of prospects across the state for numerous metals and minerals needed in new energy technologies. Murkowski specifically pointed to the Graphite Creek prospect near Nome, which would be the country’s only domestic source of graphite — a primary component of lithium-ion batteries used in electric vehicles and elsewhere — if it were developed. Development of Alaska’s deposits of rare Earth elements, or REEs, most notably the Bokan Mountain prospect on Prince of Wales Island, is also seen by many as essential in-part for national security reasons as REEs are often used in defense technologies in addition to cell phones and other devices. China currently supplies most of the world’s graphite and REEs. Mining advocates have similarly emphasized that development of the state’s widespread copper resources will also be necessary to grow renewable energy production nationwide as copper wire is a main component of electric generators. Some of the leading backers of a national carbon tax-and-dividend — the climate change policy favored by many conservatives — contend Alaska’s largely conventional oil and gas production is less carbon intensive than most oil and gas operations elsewhere in the country. To that end, Murkowski noted that flaring of unwanted natural gas produced with oil is prohibited in the state. Additionally, wells tapping the state’s conventional oil and gas reservoirs produce at greater volumes for longer than the shale-focused fracked wells being drilled across the Lower 48, generally meaning fewer wells requiring less fuel to power drilling operations are needed in Alaska to produce more of the target resource. However, Murkowski also said she expects the next administration to pursue much more aggressive policies aimed at cutting carbon emissions and limiting new oil and gas development if Democrats take control of the Senate with wins in the Jan. 5 runoff elections for Georgia’s Senate seats currently held by Republicans. Such a scenario would give Democrats slight majorities in both chambers of Congress in addition to holding the White House. Democrat wins in both Georgia Senate races would split the chamber 50-50 between the parties with Harris serving as the tiebreaking vote if need be. Such a thin margin in the Senate could give Democrats the ability to reverse the rider to the 2017 tax bill that authorized oil and gas leasing in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge coastal plain as budget-related bills requires a simple majority to pass the Senate; but it’s unclear how other standalone climate or environmental legislation could be passed without some level of Republican support or changes to Senate rules that currently require 60 votes to pass general legislation. “I don’t think we should be afraid of (the climate change) conversation, but we should be ready for it. I think we need to thoughtfully engage on ways to reduce our emissions while fighting the policies that just take it too far,” Murkowski said. Still, she said there will be a major speed bump for any legislation attacking mining — particularly coal mining — regardless of which party controls the Senate. That’s because the chair of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee either Wyoming Republican Sen. John Barrasso or West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin, who come from the top two coal producing states in the country. Murkowski currently chairs the committee but her turn as the top Energy and Natural Resources Republican will end with the new Congress in January per caucus rules. She will remain on the committee as the second-ranking Republican. More immediately Murkowski said she still has hopes of passing the American Energy Innovation Act championed by her and Manchin in the three weeks Congress will be back working between Thanksgiving and Christmas. The Energy Innovation Act prioritizes new technologies to limit or capture and store carbon emissions from traditional energy sources; advancements in energy efficiency; small-scale nuclear development; and domestic mineral security among other provisions. If passed, it would be the first major energy reform legislation from Congress in more than a decade, according to Murkowski’s office. A prior version of the omnibus energy bill passed both the House and Senate in 2016 with strong bipartisan support but died in a conference committee shortly before Christmas that year. “If you want to look to a good template to begin to reduce your emissions look at our energy bill,” she said to conference viewers. On Pebble Murkowski acknowledged some in the audience of resource development backers likely aren’t keen on the stance she’s taken since August against the Pebble mine plan, but also countered that it’s the only Alaska resource project she has opposed. “I have reached the same conclusion that Ted Stevens did many years ago — that this is the wrong mine in the wrong place,” Murkowski said, adding that she would prefer the Army Corps of Engineers deny Pebble Limited Partnership’s application for a Clean Water Act wetlands fill permit instead of the Environmental Protection Agency issuing a post-permit Clean Water Act Section 404(c) “veto,” which she says would set a bad precedent for other potential resource projects in the state. A simple permit denial would allow PLP or another developer to reapply for project permits under a new plan. Murkowski said the way Pebble executives portrayed the permitting process in the secretly recorded “Pebble Tapes” released in September — in which then-Pebble CEO Tom Collier and Northern Dynasty Minerals CEO Ron Thiessen touted expansion plans and their personal relationships with regulators and Gov. Mike Dunleavy to individuals posing as prospective investors — damages the credibility of Alaska’s broader resource industries. “What we all saw play out in those awful Pebble Tapes was something that none of us should feel good or comfortable about,” she said. “If you have those who are attempting to sell a project through I believe not only fabrications and truly a dishonest appraisal of their own project, I think we should all be concerned. I don’t think that gives anybody’s development project in the state any help at all.” Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected]

Movers and Shakers for Nov. 29

Annette Gwalthney-Jones was recently appointed to the board of trustees for the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority Gwalthney-Jones brings more than 20 years of managerial experience in human resources and social services to the board of trustees. Her career background includes program work and leadership within many Trust beneficiary-serving organizations in the Anchorage area, including the Arc of Anchorage and the Salvation Army’s Booth Memorial Home. She also has an extensive background in human resources and internal development and training. Furie Operating Alaska announced the appointment of Michael Cipriano as controller. Cipriano has a bachelor’s degree in accounting from Gonzaga University. His background includes progressively responsible positions at Parker Drilling, Arctic IT, BP and ConocoPhillips. R&M Consultants Inc. hired Craig Knight, PLS, as a senior land surveyor in the firm’s Geomatics Department at its Fairbanks office. Knight will work as project manager and lead surveyor responsible for collecting, processing and mapping survey data and for producing surveying and mapping projects in accordance with current standards of practice. He will also lead development and expansion of R&M’s survey services in the Fairbanks area and provide advanced professional, technical, day-to-day support, guidance and input to staff and other team members. Knight has 26 years of surveying experience in a wide range of services. He offers a unique variety of skills and experience, having conducted control, topographic, boundary, aerial, hydrographic, right-of-way, pipeline, power line, as-built, and dam and reservoir surveys. Knight has served as project manager and crew chief for large transportation and utility design and construction projects for a variety of agencies. He has degrees in land surveying, engineering technology, and drafting from Sheridan College in Wyoming and holds a U.S. Patent for a Damage Resistant Surveying Stake that he and his wife developed.

OPINION: Some news to be thankful for

After what has felt more like a terrifying plunge with no ups and all downs, this year has been more like a bungee jump than a roller coaster. But two recent developments have snapped us back from impact in the nick of time and given reason for thanks as we approach the holiday season. For one, as President Donald Trump repeatedly promised in the face of nearly unanimous ridicule and skepticism before the election, a COVID-19 vaccine was indeed just weeks away and is set to be deployed before the end of the year including here in Alaska. Encouraging clinical test results and a ready deployment plan are tremendous accomplishments by the public-private partnership under Operation Warp Speed that have buoyed investors and, critically for Alaska, oil prices. The price per barrel has increased by about $4 since Pfizer announced a preliminary 90 percent effective rate for its phase three clinical trial, and year-to-date North Slope crude is about $5 better than the budget forecast. This is not nearly enough to erase the projected budget deficit but is better than a kick in the shins and a long way from the prices that bizarrely and briefly went negative back in April. The Dow Jones average also crossed the 30,000-point mark on Nov. 24, which is good news for the Permanent Fund that is now the largest source of income for Alaska and as of Nov. 20 stood at nearly $70 billion in value. The record total for the Dow and the Permanent Fund came after ConocoPhillips Alaska President Joe Marushack announced at the Nov. 18 Resource Development Council for Alaska conference that the company is resuming drilling on the North Slope after suspending most non-production activity and briefly curtailing output by some 100,000 barrels per day this past spring. This is outstanding news for jobs — the sector has lost some 3,000 since the COVID-19 induced price crash — and future throughput in the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System. With approval for its massive Willow project in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska in hand (followed like clockwork by eco-extremists filing a lawsuit against it), ConocoPhillips is getting back to work and will finally get to deploy the biggest horizontal drilling rig in North America dubbed “The Beast.” Prices weren’t the only factor in the decision to restart its North Slope programs, of course. Crucial was the overwhelming defeat of the deceptively-titled “Fair Share Act” on Nov. 3 by Alaska voters who refused to follow millionaire lawyer and initiative funder Robin Brena off the economic cliff. The dark winter still lies ahead, but progress toward a vaccine and more production on the North Slope has relegated that fact to a mere function of the calendar and no longer a metaphor for where Alaska is going. For that we have reason for thanks. Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]

GUEST COMMENTARY: Pebble mine is a giant black eye for Alaska

When I was young and my mom thought I was running with the wrong crowd, she had a simple admonition: if you lay down in the gutter, you get up dirty. That was long ago. But today, when I look at our industry “partners” in Alaska, it feels like we’re wallowing in the gutter. While there are many examples, perhaps the most glaring is the Pebble Partnership and its parent company, Vancouver-based Hunter Dickinson. Many things have changed over the past 15 years Inletkeeper has worked on the Pebble mine. But one thing has remained constant: the Pebble people consistently lie to Alaskans and they work in secret to undermine the rule of law and threaten our Alaskan way of life. This week Pebble provided yet another telling example: it submitted its long-awaited plan to “mitigate” the harm its massive open pit mine would cause in the headwaters of the world’s richest salmon fishery. But it kept the plan secret, and refused to share it with Alaskans. You would think Pebble would be proud to show Alaskans how it plans to protect our spectacular public resources, and to send a strong signal to investors and regulators that it knows what it’s doing. But no, Pebble once again chose secrecy and darkness over honesty and transparency. Pebble has been lying to Alaskans for years. It won’t harm salmon, Pebble tells us. It’s building a smaller mine to address local concerns. It won’t use toxic cyanide. The permitting process is fair. The project is economically viable. In the era of fake news, Pebble finds comfort in a bed of mistruths, half truths and flat-out lies. In the meantime, Pebble has spent lavishly on swampy lobbyists to game the permitting process, and paid fancy advertising firms to bamboozle Alaskans with the false promise of jobs and riches. And of course we can never forget the now-famous “Pebble Tapes,” where Pebble executives openly bragged about controlling our politicians and stacking the deck for their dead-end project. The question then becomes, what does it say about Alaska if our state and federal governments openly entertain a proposal like the Pebble mine from a bunch of dishonest people who put corporate profits above the public interest time and again? The short answer is that Pebble is a giant black eye for Alaska. It’s an ugly smear on responsible development and the people who support it. And it destroys the credibility of groups like the Resource Development Council, the Alaska Chamber and the Alaska Miners Association which refuse to call-out reckless and irresponsible development. In the end, however, we all lose with projects like Pebble. Because if Pebble’s lies, secrecy and manipulation get rewarded with the necessary permits, we’ll set the bar even lower for Outside companies to swoop-in and exploit Alaska’s incredible heritage in the years to come. And Alaska cannot afford to wallow in that gutter. ^ Bob Shavelson is Advocacy Director for Cook Inletkeeper, a local group formed by Alaskans in 1995 to protect the Cook Inlet watershed and the life it sustains.

GUEST COMMENTARY: Biden manufacturing plan requires major increase in U.S. mining

As a contentious presidential campaign fades, the incoming Biden administration will face serious economic challenges. Among them is the large number of Americans left unemployed by the COVID-19 pandemic. In response, the president-elect should initiate his “Build Back Better” program immediately after taking office in order to strengthen America’s industrial base. During the early months of the coronavirus recession, U.S. manufacturing lost 1.4 million jobs, and has only regained roughly half through October. This decline has walloped America’s workforce because each manufacturing job supports roughly seven other jobs throughout the economy. The pandemic has also awakened the nation to the risks of over-dependence on global import supply chains. President-elect Biden appears ready to address the concerns of America’s manufacturers and their workers. He’s already pledged to award government contracts only to domestic manufacturers, explaining, “From autos to our stockpiles, we’re going to buy American.” This would be a good start. However, his ‘Build Back Better’ plan also proposes to create 1 million new auto jobs through large-scale investment in America’s electric vehicle, or EV, industry. To reach that goal, his administration will have to tackle a major challenge. In recent years, the United States has become heavily dependent on countries such as China to supply the metals and minerals needed for EVs and other advanced technologies. In fact, China is now the dominant supplier for 23 metals and minerals critical to U.S. national security. EVs and their batteries require a wide array of these key metals and minerals. Beijing is using control of them to jump ahead in the EV manufacturing race. China will soon be home to 107 lithium-ion battery mega-factories. In contrast, the U.S. has only nine in the pipeline. The story is bigger than just EVs or batteries, though. Wind turbines need rare earths like neodymium and dysprosium, plus aluminum, zinc, copper, and molybdenum. And solar panels use plenty of cadmium, tellurium, gallium, selenium, and silver. Ramping up production of electric vehicles and renewable energy systems will require massive new supplies of metals and minerals. Fortunately, the U.S. possesses an estimated $6.2 trillion in mineral reserves. However, Washington has long pursued policies that have pushed mining investment overseas. As a result, America’s reliance on imported minerals has nearly doubled in the last two decades. It’s time for the U.S. to begin ramping up production of its vast mineral reserves. Instead of increased reliance on mineral production in China, a major polluter, Washington should encourage domestic mining under world-leading environmental and labor standards. Turning a blind eye to China’s pollution, labor abuses, and human rights violations should no longer be tolerated. To succeed in the clean energy revolution, Washington must commit to rebuilding domestic mineral production and processing. U.S. firms can both mine critical minerals and be good environmental stewards. With bipartisan support already coalescing around reshoring, it’s time to bring home the supply chains that affect every aspect of our economic and national security. Kevin L. Kearns is president of the U.S. Business and Industry Council.

Meeting the challenge of securing talent and engagement during a pandemic

Now, as much as ever, employers are faced with the development and engagement of their work force. Challenges have only been intensified with a global pandemic. As we saw in the medical industry when transitioning to electronic charts just over a decade ago, small and midsize businesses are faced with sharpening operations and investing in virtual workspaces. In so doing, operational blemishes are only amplified. Here are five ways that employers are coping: 1) Using natural attrition to revisit job duties and leverage high caliber employees with use of temporary staffing. Temporary staff can focus on routine duties while direct hire talent leverages their strengths and organizational knowledge. This affords the organization an opportunity to improve efficiencies and take on projects without replacing higher ranking staff. Maintaining continuity while modifying and improving workflows. 2) Adjusting document management and access to platforms that create a more unified and collaborative approach to work. The integration of new software platforms allows virtual workspaces that improve collaboration and access to pertinent information, on-demand, anytime, and anywhere. 3) Introducing and training employees on how to better use the tools and teaming resources the organization already has, but just did not take the time to leverage. Utilizing existing technology to enhance efficiencies and save money. 4) Improving how Key Performance Indicators, or KPI, are monitored. With so much of the workforce at home, and often home schooling children, employees have to adjust work life balance and collaborate with supervisors in new ways. Looking at the goals and desired outcomes over the “9-to-5” availability allows employees to feel accomplished while under the pressure of restrictions, home schooling, and delivering. 5) While some things have been relaxed, such as “business casual,” others have been heightened. Communications is far more intentional. With the rapid evolution of virtual meetings and teaming concerns, with the millennial workforce in particular, communication has improved between generations, each adapting to their audience. You can’t under value the passing conversations at the water cooler, we all miss them, this is where creativity happens. Organizations are learning to monitor morale via virtual meetings. These meetings are not always business, sometimes they are intentionally not business. Staying connected and maintaining relationships will build trust and engagement. Evaluating processes, leveraging technology, improving efficiencies, monitoring KPI, and equally monitoring morale and engagement are not easy tasks for leaders during a global pandemic. However, minding to these areas will most certainly contribute to a successful transition to what, for now, is our new normal. Paula Bradison is the President of Alaska Executive Search and Bradison Management Group.

FISH FACTOR: Bambino’s launches Bristol Bay baby food

Frozen sockeye salmon strips bring tasty nutrition and relief to teething babies. The lightly seasoned salmon strips, made mostly from Bristol Bay reds, are the third product made by Bambino’s Baby Food of Anchorage that is aimed at getting more seafood into the mouths of babes. “I always kind of giggle because it’s not going to be just for the little ones. I’m sure mom and dad and elder brother or sister are going to be gnawing on those as well,” said Zoi Maroudas, Bambino’s founder and operator. “I also wanted to honor our indigenous families and traditions and share how natural, nutrient-rich omega strips can be so good for a little one to enjoy. Instead of a cookie or cracker, a frozen salmon strip.” “Seeing our community and friends near and far now having the option to find Pivsi (Inupiaq for “dried fish”) at Bambino’s is very exciting and a healthy new option for kiddos,” said Lars Nelson, president of TRIBN construction company at Utqiagvik, and parent of six. Maroudas, who was born in Greece and came to Alaska as a child (her family owns Pizza Olympia in Spenard), launched Bambino’s first seafood item, Hali-Halibut, in 2017 followed shortly after by a Sockeye Salmon Bisque. The pouched meals feature frozen, star-shaped portions that are perfect for baby-sized hands or for thawing into puree-style meals. Each contains “the perfect balance” of proteins, grains and vegetables for optimal nutritional content, she added. The baby seafood items are among 20 Alaska grown products that are made in Maroudas’ store and production facility in Anchorage. Bambino’s has resonated with some big names and won notable awards. Maroudas has been featured on the Today Show, Fox News, numerous magazines, by hip hop artist Uncle Murda, and she was personally honored by both Martha Stewart (she brought her sockeye salmon) and President Trump. The Bambino’s line also won the American Choice Award for Best Organic Brand and Alaska’s Top Manufacturer in 2019. Bambino’s is filling a void by America’s baby food makers who continue to completely snub seafood in their protein lines, despite its proven health benefits (they offer seafood items in Asia and Europe). And that is despite the fact that starting in 2021, new federal dietary guidelines go into effect that say along with eating two portions of seafood each week, fish should be included in babies’ diets starting at six months old. “The omega-3s found in seafood are to a developing retina and brain what calcium is to bones. But it is not just the omega-3s, it is these great minerals that are in some cases rare in other foods. The zinc and iron and selenium and iodine…and these are just not as high as they need to be in diets that are missing seafood,” said Dr. Tom Brenna, professor of pediatrics, chemistry and nutrition at the University of Texas and at Cornell University. Bambino’s is now shipped from Anchorage to customers in all 50 states and can be found at all Safeway/Carrs stores, Amazon and at Baby Vend machines at Alaska Airline terminals. Maroudas said she doesn’t strive to be the No. 1 baby food in sales; she aims to be the best on the market. Above all, she said feeding more children with the purest Alaska ingredients is her biggest reward. “It’s an absolute honor to represent our state for its quality, for its nutrition,” she said. “And working together with our farmers and our fishermen to create that beautiful plate as an extension of their home, for their families wherever they are, is the most humbling, most rewarding. And at nighttime. I pray that tomorrow’s even better for everyone around the world.” Up next for Bambino’s: an Alaska pollock product! Fishing updates Lots of fishing updates and wrapups continue across Alaska from Ketchikan to the far reaches of the Bering Sea. And lots of outlooks for next year’s fisheries are starting to trickle in from state and federal managers. The Pacific halibut fishery for this year, for example, ended on Nov. 15 and early estimates peg Alaska’s take at just less than 15 million pounds out of a 16 million-pound catch limit. Results from the yearly halibut survey have raised cautious hopes for a possible uptick in some fishing regions in 2021. “Pacific halibut appears to be holding its own, with an encouraging — if small — indication that overall weight of catch per unit of effort, a proxy for abundance, went up by 6 percent coastwide, reported Peggy Parker, executive director of the Halibut Association of North America. Catch per unit of effort, or CPUE, refers to a standard “skate” of gear that is 1,800 feet long bearing 100 hooks. Of note, the total weights per skate increased by 24 percent. Of note, the total weights per unit, or WPUE, increased by 24 percent in the Central Gulf, the largest halibut fishing hole. The other Alaska areas did not fare as well: the WPUE at Southeast was down 5 percent, the Western Gulf dropped 6 percent, at the Aleutians, weights were down 2 percent near Dutch Harbor but up 3 percent at Adak; and the Bering Sea fishing regions increased by 8 percent. Coastwide, the WPUEs were up 6 percent. The final halibut catch limits for next year will be revealed at the International Pacific Halibut Commission virtual meeting set for Jan. 25-29, 2021, and the fishery will open in March. The deadline to submit halibut regulatory proposals is Dec. 26. Homer held onto its title of America’s No. 1 halibut port for landings, followed by Kodiak and Juneau. Alaska’s sablefish fishery (black cod) also ended on Nov. 15 with 71 percent of its 31.7 million-pound quota crossing the docks. Kodiak, Seward and Sitka were the top ports for landings. Another blockbuster sockeye run is projected for Bristol Bay next summer, topping 51 million reds if projections by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game hold true. That means the fishery will average over 48 million reds annually for the past 10 years. The 2021 forecast calls for a sockeye catch of 36.35 million fish. ADFG also is predicting an “average” pink salmon harvest for Southeast Alaska next year of 28 million fish, below the 10-year average of 34 million but better than the 2019 catch of 21 million. Meanwhile, Southeast trollers are still out on the water fishing for winter Chinook salmon. A few areas of the Panhandle remain open for pot shrimp and the harvest had reached 540,670 pounds. Divers also continue pulling up geoduck clams; they have also taken 1.2 million pounds of sea cucumbers out of a 1.7 million-pound catch limit. The region’s Dungeness fishery is ongoing through Nov. 30 and nearly 200 crabbers have landed 6.4 million pounds in the combined summer and fall fisheries. A sea cucumber fishery at Kodiak and the westward region has a small quota of 165,000 pounds. A herring food and bait fishery opened on Nov. 14 at Kodiak with a 319-ton limit. The nation’s biggest fishery — Alaska pollock — just wrapped up in the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska until Jan. 20, producing more than 3 billion pounds of the popular whitefish. Cod fishing is mostly over for the year except for a small reopener in the Gulf on Nov. 23 for pot or jig boats. Other boats also continue to target various rockfish and flounders. Catches for 2021 Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska fisheries will be revealed when the North Pacific Fishery Management Council meets virtually from Nov. 30 to Dec. 12. Bering Sea crabbers have taken 99 percent of their 2.38 million-pound red king crab quota. They also are tapping on more than 2 million pounds of Tanners and more than 6 million pounds of golden king crab. Find links to Alaska fish catches at Sea cuke cures Sea cucumbers have been considered a delicacy in Asian cuisine for centuries and also have been used in traditional Chinese medicine to help aid in many different health problems. In his book Cancer: Step Outside the Box, author Ty M. Bollinger calls the spiky, slug-like creates a miracle cure for cancer. “You can cook them for various dishes, but the way it’s found in local health food stores is dried and powdered and in capsule form,” he said, adding that dried sea cucumber extract is anti-viral, anti-bacterial and also has anti-inflammatory properties. “Another of the fascinating things about sea cucumbers is that they are very high in chondroitin sulfate, which is commonly used to treat joint pain and arthritis. To my knowledge, they have the highest concentration of chondroitin of any animal,” Bollinger said in an interview. While customers likely won’t see it on the labels, he added that powdered sea cucumbers also have many cancer curing abilities based on studies over the past 15 years. “Number one, it’s cytotoxic, which means it kills cancer cells, and it also is immunomodulatory. So it has both sides of what I call the cancer killing coin,” he explained. “If you are going to defeat cancer, you need something that regulates your immune system to where it works properly but you also must have something that is going to kill those cancer cells. The sea cucumber does both.” Sea cucumber extract also is used as an adjunct treatment for those undergoing chemotherapy, Bollinger said, because it’s very effective at mitigating the side effects of that cancer treatment. There are more than 1,250 species of sea cucumber in the world. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit or contact [email protected] for information.

STARTUP WEEK 2020: We need each other, now more than ever

The Techstars Alaska Startup Week op-ed series features entrepreneurs and entrepreneurial ecosystem builders sharing their thoughts and ideas on a variety of  topics related to startups and innovation. Techstars Alaska Startup Week is a week-long series of events hosted by entrepreneurs and business leaders from across the state. In 2020, all events are virtual, and you can find them here: Startup Week Schedule. All are welcome, please join us! As I look back on Techstars Alaska Startup Week 2020, the first fully virtual startup week in Alaska’s history, my biggest lesson — one that I learned again and again — is how much we need each other, now more than ever. Entrepreneurs, investors, consultants, ecosystem builders, dreamers, community champions, and more, despite being physically distant from one another, none of us exist in a vacuum.  This week we’ve seen subject matter experts share their knowledge in marketing webinars, business owners give a tour of their spaces, entrepreneurs tell the stories of their experiences with failure and resilience. We’ve met people who have been in the startup world for years, and people who are just getting started. We’ve “traveled” from Juneau to Kodiak to Anchorage to Fairbanks and more, all within the span of a few days. And through it, we’ve learned, we’ve celebrated, we’ve challenged, and we’ve grown.   Most of all, we’ve connected. When I was organizing the Facebook premier of The Failure // Resilience Project, Ben Kellie — a seasoned entrepreneur whose startup, The Launch Company, is being acquired by Voyager Space Holdings — wrote me a note that said, “I’m starved for community right now so I was stoked to get the email invitation for the event.” Earlier this month I collaborated with HairVoyage, a beauty tech startup that offers paid peer mentorship experiences to beauty professionals around the world. Founder MaryAlice Turletes told me that, “In the process of building HairVoyage we learned that connectedness drives everything — you can be a part of many communities but igniting individual connections is what brings to life the power of any community.” HairVoyage most likely wouldn’t exist, and certainly not in its current iteration, without this community. It was born during a Startup Weekend, and gained investment during the Alaska Angel Conference. Along the way, Turletes and her business partner Dana Herndon have built relationships with and learned from numerous local entrepreneurs and engaged with ecosystem building organizations like the University of Alaska Center for Economic Development, 49 State Angel Fund, Juneau Economic Development Council, and the Alaska Small Business Development Center. On Wednesday, I had the privilege of being invited to Spruce Root’s Master Class as a mentor, and “speed dated” a handful of Southeast Alaska companies. My major takeaway was how much each founder cares about and invests in their community, and how in turn, their community cares about and invests in them.  Launch Alaska, a startup accelerator in Anchorage, held the second session of their Tech Deployment Tract, where panelists open up their figurative roledexs to help startup founders make connections with subject matter experts and potential customers in Alaska. This is motivated in part by excitement around innovative new solutions to challenging problems, but mostly out of a genuine desire to help, to share in someone else's success.   At each event, whether a webinar where experts freely shared information that they could charge hundreds of dollars for, or founders excitedly touring us through their workshops and explaining the many, often laborious, steps they’d taken to ensure their spaces were safe for employees and customers alike, the investment in each other was clear. We’re not going to make it out of the pandemic unchanged, nor should we. As we move closer to what appears to be a successful vaccine, I hope that a return to “normal” does not mean a return to “same.” Instead, may we all learn from our experience and emerge stronger, smarter, and better - as a community. There’s still time to join Startup Week! November 20 4:30 PM - Business and Brew: The Uncle Leroy’s Coffee Story November 21 10:00 AM - Alaska BIPOC Business Development Summit 10:30 AM - K-12: One Tree Alaska Participatory Action Research Collaborative  Details: Techstars Alaska Startups Week 2020 Gretchen Fauske is a marketing-minded economic developer fueled by a passion for innovation and entrepreneurship. She is the associate director for the University of Alaska Center for Economic Development, Board President for Launch Alaska, Vice Chair for Anchorage Downtown Partnership, and a Gallup-certified CliftonStrengths coach.

BROWN'S CLOSE: A Modest List of Things to be Thankful for in 2020

Off the top of my head, a list of catastrophes that have occurred in 2020 include: Global pandemics; Wildfires in Australia, California, Washington, and Oregon; Tornadoes in the Southern United States. These also struck roughly one month after COVID-19, which frightened everyone away from the designated tornado shelters; An invasion of murder hornets; A jet plane collided with a bear; And, of course, the death of James Bond. With all of this upheaval, Thanksgiving may be subdued. In such times of tribulation, will Americans feel gratitude? State and local governments might even prefer citizens not give thanks, taking it upon themselves to restrict the number of guests permitted per Thanksgiving feast. Enforcement measures remain unclear; it’s hard to imagine even the most officious mid-level bureaucrat will want to be the designated government representative to knock on neighborhood doors, verifying the number of approved party guests. On the other hand, Thanksgiving may be raucous; perhaps Americans may count their blessings more generously than usual. I believe we continue to be blessed, despite what President-elect Biden has dubbed “a dark winter” ahead. In a quest to prove the point, I conducted some market research. Based on an anonymous survey, respondents consider themselves thankful for many items: “I’m grateful for chips.” “I’ve forgotten what work pants feel like. I’m grateful for that.” “You know what I’m grateful for? I discovered I can still somehow manage to be late for work. Even though I don’t commute. Nothing is impossible for me!” “I’m thankful that Costco installed checkout lines for shoppers with only a few items. I only ever have a few items.” “I'm grateful for Grubhub. Not even a pandemic can get me to cook apparently.” “I'm grateful I am not married. Explaining 2020 to a Quaranteen would be rough.” While limiting Thanksgiving dinner sizes struck me as churlish—“I’m thankful that I have an excuse to not go to Thanksgiving dinner. I can’t stand listening to my family argue about the election.” “I’m thankful for masks. I like the anonymity.” “I’m grateful the toilet paper shortage is over.” “I’m grateful for the toilet paper shortage. I finally learned how to use my bidet.” I personally have much to be thankful for. The second season of Haunting of Hill House was released on time on Netflix without incident. Also, grown adults have finally learned how to wash their hands. I am also thankful for the endless insights into the lives of other people, which I can glean through Zoom. One particularly memorable Zoom meeting early in the pandemic featured a participant with chains hanging from his walls. He happily sat on a meeting with fifty strangers, seemingly unaware that his choice of decor could be considered a tad radical. I am grateful that the world has finally embraced the wonders of telemedicine. I’ve been a frequent user of Teladoc ever since I discovered that I no longer have to physically go to the doctor’s office to have my rashes examined, or pervasive pink eye diagnosed. I’m pleased to welcome everyone else to this new, glorious, shame-free reality. Finally, I am thankful for the downfall of makeup generally, and Big Lipstick specifically. I have not worn makeup in eight months, thus gaining hours cumulatively back into my life. For years I resented the extra minutes per morning I was expected to spend painting on a face. In particular, I found lipstick to be insidious in nature; the constant application causes your lips to become addicted to all of the added moisture. Without lipstick, your lips soon become egregiously chapped. No longer will my lips be slaves to Big Lipstick! I’ve broken my addiction lo these eight months, and will never go back. I’m not alone. A study from late July proclaimed the death of the “lipstick index,” an economics measure previously used to measure how women spend money during lean economic times. My fellow sisters in arms have also broken free. Count your blessings folks, including what may be the most significant blessing of all –  that it is almost 2021! Sarah Brown is a grateful person. She would be so thankful should you choose to contact her at [email protected], and on Twitter @BrownsClose1. “Close” is a British term for alley or cul-de-sac. For more of Sarah’s musings, visit

STARTUP WEEK 2020: Partnering for Purpose Greater than the Bottom Line

The Techstars Alaska Startup Week op-ed series features entrepreneurs and entrepreneurial ecosystem builders sharing their thoughts and ideas on a variety of  topics related to startups and innovation. Techstars Alaska Startup Week is a week-long series of events hosted by entrepreneurs and business leaders from across the state. In 2020, all events are virtual, and you can find them here: Startup Week Schedule. All are welcome, please join us!   People, profit, and planet: these three words speak to a business purpose greater than the traditional financial profitability of a business.  The Triple Bottom Line concept isn’t new but what’s new is how this trio of words are the underpinning features of a model to deliver business education, and invest in the emerging activities of new businesses in Bristol Bay.  Path to Prosperity, or P2P, a business plan competition model that recently expanded from southeast Alaska to Bristol Bay – its design a framework of supportive resources from a community of statewide practitioners, topical experts, and a peer network of rural business owners was founded by Southeast Alaska’s Spruce Root Inc. and brought to Bristol Bay through a supporting partnership with The Nature Conservancy, or TNC, P2P aims to nurture emerging and existing businesses in Bristol Bay.   Bristol Bay Development Fund, or BBDF, recently announced the 11 finalists selected from a pool of 20 applicants for the second cycle of the P2P competition. The cohort is comprised of a diverse group of local entrepreneurs from six Bristol Bay communities, and comprised of business types such as mobile food services, multi-location retail store, micro fish processing, mobile food services, aviation instruction, health and fitness, and coffee outlet to share a few.     Despite the many challenges businesses are facing during this unprecedented health crisis,  telecommunications included in the region, the finalists persisted in completing a multi-day, virtual boot camp where finalists experienced step-by-step instructions to developing a financial model based on their unique product sales and expenses, navigated the multi-facets of marketing, human resources, and developing public speaking confidence by creating one-minute pitch videos that succinctly share their business story or purpose.  After the boot camp, participants retreat to writing a business plan to compete for one of three financial awards to be used to further their business plan objectives such as implementing accounting systems and best practices, acquisition of equipment, or seeking professional services to implement marketing strategies like website or brand design. In the last P2P cycle, BBDF awarded a total of $50,000 to three finalists located in Dillingham and Naknek and we look forward to seeing the business plans developed by this year’s finalists.   While P2P is a traditional business incubator, its sponsors do not make up a traditional partnership. However, bolstering economic vitality and providing support to small businesses in rural Alaska is something BBDF, TNC and Spruce Root agree on and have united to support when implementing the expansion to Bristol Bay.  Why does this matter? Business success is a means of creating local jobs and boosting the burgeoning economy in Bristol Bay. At BBDF, we support a number of projects to infuse knowledge, create opportunities, and support entrepreneurs in our communities, including the P2P competition.  BBDF, a subsidiary of Bristol Bay Native Corp., or BBNC, was created in 2014 to invest in businesses that directly benefit our shareholders. Our goal is not only to infuse $5 million into the Bristol Bay economy over an 11-year period, but to prepare local entrepreneurs and businesses for long-term success with a mindset that can be described in three words: community, connection, and capital.  Small businesses are the heartbeat of our state and nation. However, the idea of starting a small company can be intimidating. Even as a new venture starts to grow, there is often a barrage of pitfalls and roadblocks.  Encouraging business owners to accept failure as a fast learning exercise to get to the next best opportunity is a priority in nurturing businesses. Our efforts are to provide a boost to organizations that need an enthusiastic but honest cheerleader to bring their big ideas to fruition.   BBDF’s purpose is larger than just business; we’re motivated by our cultural values that have been nurtured in Bristol Bay for millennia. Our shareholders and our corporation are defined and connected by our Alutiiq, Dena’ina, and Yup’ik cultures and our shared drive to protect our Native way of life. This drive motivates us to support shareholder-owned businesses, allowing them to expand and provide new employment opportunities for other shareholders.  Our commitment to community is also a fundamental part of BBDF’s mission. In the Bristol Bay region, our culture is built upon the benefits of working together to provide for our local communities. Supporting each other, whether it’s in sharing salmon with elders or coaching a local start-up towards its business readiness goals.  Business success isn’t guaranteed just with cash or improving the bottom line take a “nurture capital” approach that combines access to the financial capital with access to non-financial capital such as investing in knowledge growth, offering tools that demystify the business planning process, and facilitating meaningful connections within a vast ecosystem of support in Alaska. The non-financial capital continues to be a crucial resource for our businesses particularly in this phase of economic recovery.  Bristol Bay Development Fund acknowledges the hard work of small businesses supporting their communities. Alaska Start Up week reminds all of us that the diversity of our economy is dependent on the ideas of people across our state. We say quyana (thank you) to Path to Prosperity applicants who step outside their comfort zone to invest their time, talent and inclusion of sustainability practices. There’s no shortage of entrepreneurial spirit in the Bristol Bay region. Partnering for a purpose greater than bottom line.   Cindy Mittlestadt is the manager of the Bristol Bay Development Fund, a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Bristol Bay Native Corp.  The Fund is a catalyst for in-region business start-up, survival, success, and growth through the deployment of financial and non financial capital. 

STARTUP WEEK 2020: A Gap in the Market: Young Entrepreneurs Are Missing Opportunities

The Techstars Alaska Startup Week op-ed series features entrepreneurs and entrepreneurial ecosystem builders sharing their thoughts and ideas on a variety of  topics related to startups and innovation. Techstars Alaska Startup Week is a week-long series of events hosted by entrepreneurs and business leaders from across the state. In 2020, all events are virtual, and you can find them here: Startup Week Schedule. All are welcome, please join us! As the number of Americans under 30 who own private businesses continues to dwindle into a 24-year-low, the opportunities for entrepreneurial investment increases. In 1989, the number of young entrepreneurs was at 10.1 percent. In 2017, that number was just 4 percent. Yet in one year alone, businesses in America increased 4.4 percent — from 770,000 to 804,000. Small business America continues to grow without our youth. Alaska is no exception to this inverse effect. Entrepreneurs over 65 are found three times more often than entrepreneurs under 35. It’d be easy to blame it on an older population, but the average Alaskan is 34-years-old. So where have all the young entrepreneurs gone? Were they even there to begin with? Of course we are. But we face considerable hurdles to overcome including systemic disadvantages even after we find our footing. Adultism (assuming young people are inferior to adults simply because of their young age) and lack of experience aside, young adults are less likely to have substantial personal savings, access to loans or credit, or a robust enough network to rely on for capital, mentorship, and opportunities. For the largest and most educated generation of youth in history, we’re certainly spoonfed one single path to success—which, as any entrepreneur knows, doesn’t mirror reality. And with student loan debt now at about $1.56 trillion, the youth are starting to explore their options—with or without help. The simple truth is that the world has changed since 1989. There are hundreds of businesses you can start with less than $100, and there are millions of more avenues to making money for yourself because of the internet. Challenging the existing perspectives and assuming leadership roles where we normally wouldn’t isn’t the only way forward, but it’s certainly a good start. Naivety and gullibility don’t have to coexist — in many ways, naivety is the best place to learn. The number one reason we’re afraid to take the leap is the fear of failure. Roughly 90 percent of millennials think entrepreneurship isn’t just starting a business — it’s an entire mindset they’ve got to learn. And that mindset starts sooner than we think. The seed is planted very young by supportive communities, encouraged creativity, and ushered problem-solving. Programs like Lemonade Day from Alaska’s Small Business Directory and nonprofits like Junior Achievement of Alaska help cultivate this mindset, but the solution lies at a larger scale. The reality is you don’t have to go to college to be successful, and the trends showcase that: 16 percent fewer college freshmen have enrolled this fall compared to last year. The majority of entrepreneurs have a college degree of some sort, but only 9 percent have a bachelor’s in business. The general consensus is go to college because you should, but don’t assume you’ll actually use your degree. Programs like the Center for Economic Development’s Upstart Alpha (open to the community but with a preference given to student applicants) and Center ICE’s Students2Startups are wonderful opportunities for students of UAA and UAF respectively, but they showcase a gap in the ecosystem: Where is the support for young entrepreneurs uninterested in secondary education? Ultimately, it’s not just a matter of plug-and-play programs. The solution lies in a cultural shift—one that needs to take place in order for Alaska to continue to innovate and move quickly. For young and new entrepreneurs, the barriers of entry are lower than you think. There are thousands of established businesses eager to collaborate with young minds and naive leadership. And there are millions more waiting to be founded by you. The old paradigm tells us, “Wait until you’re ready.” It tells us to slow down, think before you act, and consider the future consequences. All things the “invincible” youth are terrible at. The new one asks us, “Aren’t you ready now?” It challenges our perspectives in the same way we should challenge others. Everything that’s set up for you doesn’t have to be the path you accept — whether that’s in employment, relationships, or the place that you live. Our biggest strengths as young entrepreneurs is our naivety, our ability to become a sponge and learn from everything around us. It isn’t in spite of it. And the sooner we encourage this way of thinking for every person individually—youth or not—the sooner Alaska can begin to attract opportunities as much as we export them. Sarah Katari is a 22-year-old writer and entrepreneur. They’ve worked on projects with the Municipality of Anchorage, Silicon Valley startups, and a variety of local small Alaskan businesses. They do not hold a degree of any kind, and rather opted to spend two years abroad living and working in Australia. You can find them on LinkedIn or email them directly at [email protected]

STARTUP WEEK 2020: A Journey of 4,000 Miles Begins with a Single Zoom Call

I commute more than 4,000 miles to work every morning. 4,001 if I take the scenic route and venture to Kaladi Brothers for my hat trick of morning iced brews.  I near my destination, five minutes early, primed with caffeine, ideas, and energy. I boot up my laptop and open Zoom, Slack, my notes, and Canva. As I open my Zoom call and wait for the other party to join, I cannot help but think how much easier this is than riding the packed, Manhattan subway nine months ago.  A picture pops up on my screen and my commute is completed. It’s Mark Pruhenski, the Town Manager of Great Barrington, Mass., my hometown and we’re ready to get down to work.  I’ll say it outright: I love working in local government and believe in its incredible, untapped innovative potential. My work in this field began during the summer after my sophomore year at Harvard when I accepted an internship with the Great Barrington Town Manager’s Office after my original summer plans fell through.  At first, I felt that in taking this position, I had failed. After all, I was spending the summer working at home while my friends from school were working at Goldman, Google, and Bain. Yet, after a week, I realized that I had the capacity to drive real change in local government, by bringing my academic and work experiences, fresh ideas and a youthful energy to the table.  My first boss, Jennifer Tabakin, was incredible, and immediately provided me with real opportunities to grow and employ my skills and ideas. I left my summer internship knowing that I wanted to continue supporting my hometown through innovation, and a little over a year later, signed up to be a Lead for America Hometown Fellow, supporting the Town Manager’s Office on projects ranging from environmental policy to zoning. After graduating and moving to NYC, I spent my days working at a boutique PR firm and my evenings and weekends working for Great Barrington.  Then COVID hit. Everything changed. In the span of one month, I lost my PR position due to financial challenges that the company faced due to the pandemic and moved back home. It felt like everything had been turned upside down.  Yet, despite this sudden, unexpected change of plans, I found redemption and opportunity working in local government. Jennifer’s successor, Mark, invited me to work with his office full time, and provided me with a number of fascinating projects, great freedom in carrying out this work, and, perhaps most importantly, a place to find personal meaning. On a warm May evening, I sat on my back porch on a Zoom call with Great Barrington’s Economic Development Committee and discussed the impact that the pandemic was having on our community. The outlook was anything but positive. Businesses were hurting and needed support.  Cultural centers, the backbone of our community were shuttered and needed support. People were uncertain and concerned about the source of their next paycheck and needed support. As we neared the end of the call, I asked “and what about youth in town?”  While we did not have the time to address this point, an answer was sorely needed. Other recent graduates had, like me, lost jobs due to the pandemic and moved home. Students who were in higher ed programs were sent home when their schools moved to virtual learning, and many had summer internships and job plans cancelled or put on hold due to the uncertainty of the pandemic.  As I signed off the call and went for a run, I reflected on the three questions that local government needed to answer in this challenging time: How can Great Barrington improve resident and visitor experiences to support the local economy and mental health? Are there new ways through which we can market and promote the town to foster economic development and increase regional diversity? While we have long spoken of the need to retain young talent, now that they're here, how can we aid in their professional development and make the most of their talents? After a night of careful thought and consideration, spent in front of my TV with a PS4 controller in hand, I had the answer: establishing a municipal innovation lab in Great Barrington, with a summer fellowship program for area youth, called @GBLabs. Coming up with the idea was one thing. Gaining approval from a pandemic-rattled monolith that was my local government was another. After a Zoom conversation with Mark and our Assistant Town Manager, and their subsequent approval, I launched the lab amid the unknowns of the pandemic and of my ideas for the program.  Long story short, it was a resounding success! @GBLabs launched in early June and quickly recruited four area youth, with varied life experiences, backgrounds, and interests, ranging from teaching to journalism to poetry.  The five of us spent the summer working with town staff, committees, and the community, maintaining, creating, developing, and launching projects focused on town policy, economic and cultural development, municipal marketing, and, sometimes, just plain fun. While we originally supported just active projects, after two weeks, the Town Manager challenged us to create our own initiatives and programs.  This decision unlocked the true creative potential of the Lab and allowed for local government to reach new levels of innovative capacity. Beyond our work on projects, the Town Manager shared that our presence in the building and the work we did inspired other staff members to take a more creative, energized approach to their work.  Our Lab space, originally an abandoned meeting room, transformed into our office, by employing posters and modern furniture from my NYC apartment, against the ambient backdrop sounds of muffled classical music, a humming Nespresso machine, and phone calls all serving as the official Lab soundtrack. Town staff frequently dropped in to share their thoughts and ideas, which morphed into a number of our projects that resulted from these conversations.  At summer’s end, I sat down with Mark to discuss the future of the Lab. Did the town view the Lab as valuable? Would the project be allowed to continue? If so, could I run the Lab from Anchorage?  A resounding “yes”, on all points! Since arriving in Anchorage two months ago, I have continued running the Lab and overseeing its work. Last week we passed Great Barrington’s first land acknowledgement, and have been working with an area business owner, Robin Helfand, on creating a training program for businesses and their staff, establishing effective COVID-safety protocols and communicating them to their customers.  Our fellows went back to school on campuses or in living rooms. While the negative impacts of the pandemic continue to mount, the COVID outbreak spurred a community, a group of displaced students, and a budding entrepreneur to take on municipal government and community challenges and succeed with flying colors. As you participate in Startup Week, I encourage you to be invested, and attend as many sessions as you can and ask every question that comes to you. I also encourage you to not simply view entrepreneurship and innovation, as elements exclusive to the private sector. Our institutions of government, particularly on the local level, are seeking creativity and innovation at this uncertain moment in time. The responsibility to improve our communities begins with us. Do not be afraid to engage with your local government, and bring your ideas to the table. If I can travel 4,000 miles every day, then you can drive change in your community. Joseph Grochmal is a member of the Alaska Fellows Program at the University of Alaska Center for Economic Development. Hailing from Great Barrington, Mass., Joe’s experience is in government, working at the intersection of people, policy, and press on the local, state, federal, and international levels.

ConocoPhillips to resume drilling in December

ConocoPhillips Alaska leaders announced Wednesday that they will soon get back to what largely makes an oil company an oil company: drilling for oil. Joe Marushack, president of ConocoPhillips Alaska said the company plans to resume drilling at its productive CD-5 North Slope drill site before the end of the year. It would mark the first development drilling for the largest oil producer in the state since April when ConocoPhillips suspended its entire North Slope drilling program in response to extremely low oil prices at the time. The price for Alaska North Slope crude averaged $16.55 per barrel in April, according to the state Revenue Department. Oil prices have rebounded since and are generally stable in the $40 per barrel range . Marushack, who spoke during a virtual edition of the Resource Development Council for Alaska’s annual fall conference, said oil prices still need to increase further and the company believes they will but the fact that Alaska voters rejected Ballot Measure 1, a citizen-led initiative to significantly increase oil production taxes on the Nov. 3 ballot was a prominent factor in the decision to resume paused work. ConocoPhillips Alaska representatives previously said the company wouldn’t decide its future drilling plans until the ballot measure was decided. “With the ballot measure defeated ConocoPhillips can get back to what we do best: putting oil in the pipeline and putting Alaskans back to work,” Marushack said. ConocoPhillips leaders have said since 2018 that the company has an internal breakeven price target of approximately $40 per barrel for all of its production. This year was once supposed to be the busiest drilling year ever on the North Slope for ConocoPhillips, according to Marushack, who said that while most of that work was shelved the company hopes to continue gradually ramping up activity. “In 2021 we plan to get drilling back and we need to keep our workforce healthy and COVID in check to achieve our plans,” he said. Suspending drilling was part of roughly $400 million in cuts ConocoPhillips made to its 2020 North Slope capital plan in response to the economic disruptions caused by the pandemic. In addition to restarting Doyon Drilling Rig 25 at the CD-5 drill site — a satellite to the large Alpine field — in the first half of next year ConocoPhillips expects to start development drilling at its $1.4 billion Greater Mooses Tooth-2 oil project in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska; and begin drilling the Fiord West prospect within Alpine with the new extra long-reach Doyon Rig 26 next summer, according to Marushack. According to Doyon, each rig requires about 100 workers, 54 of which are Doyon Drilling employees and the company has started filling those positions. "This is a significant bit of positive news for (Doyon Drilling) and our employees as we enter the holiday season," Doyon Ltd. CEO Aaron Schutt said in a statement to the Journal. "We are pleased that the defeat of Ballot Measure 1 will result in increased opportunities for our company and for our employees." According to Marushack, other coil tube drilling and workover rigs that will start back up in the Kuparuk field next year as well. The four rigs between the large fields are three more than would be scheduled for work if Ballot Measure 1 had passed, he claimed. The tax increases in Ballot Measure 1, dubbed the Fair Share Act by its supporters, were specific to the large North Slope fields of Alpine, Kuparuk and Prudhoe; ConocoPhillips holds more than a 90 percent operator interest in both Alpine and Kuparuk and a 36 percent stake in Prudhoe, where Hilcorp Energy is the operator. “While this is not the level of activity we anticipated at the start of 2020, it’s a good start,” Marushack said, also adding that he will be retiring from ConocoPhillips at the end of January. Marushack has led ConocoPhillips Alaska since 2015. He will be succeeded by Erec Isaacson, a vice president in ConocoPhillips’ Gulf Coast business unit with prior experience working in Alaska for the company. Finally, Marushack downplayed the likelihood ConocoPhillips will be a major player in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge coastal plain lease sale the Bureau of Land Management is moving ahead with in the final days of the Trump administration. “We really like what we’re doing in NPR-A, so we’ll probably focus on what we’re doing there,” Marushack said in response to a question from an audience member. Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected]

STARTUP WEEK 2020: Could the pandemic lead to more entrepreneurship?

The economic news these days is mostly terrible. The pain caused by the pandemic is real and visible, and the numbers we can put to it are staggering: the highest unemployment since the Great Depression, hundreds of thousands dead, and $16 trillion in economic damage in the US alone. Yet there glimmers of good news if you pour over the data. New businesses are being formed at a higher rate than last year, both nationally and in Alaska. Over the last five years, the state has fit a particular pattern of growth and decline, according to the Census Bureau’s Business Formation Statistics. When the economy was in recession from 2015-18, business starts were up. When employment growth resumed in 2019, they fell. In 2020, business formation started off slowly and shot up by the middle of the year. Nationally, the spike in 2020 is even more dramatic. Clearly, some people are responding to a dismal economy by taking matters into their own hands. In fact, some of the largest firms in the U.S. started during past recessions. Uber kicked off during the Great Recession; Microsoft during the oil embargo in the 1970s. In Alaska, Northrim Bank formed during the deep recession of the mid-1980s. In fact, a majority of the companies in the Fortune 500 started either during a recession or during a bear market. So the importance of today’s garage tinkerers and guest-room-to-office converters shouldn’t be overlooked. It seems entrepreneurship during recessions is fairly normal. But why? The headwinds to entrepreneurship during a downturn seem obvious: consumers spend less and investment dries up. In the aftermath of the Great Recession that lasted from 2007 to 2009, economist Robert Fairlie studied this phenomenon in detail. Fairlie examined several different variables to see which were most closely related to rates of entrepreneurship in localities around the U.S. He looked at home ownership, home prices, local unemployment rates, and whether the entrepreneur themselves was employed prior to starting a business. Of these, the local unemployment rate showed the strongest effect on entrepreneurship. The worse the local job market, the more likely you were to start a business. Home ownership also mattered — after all, drawing home equity is an important means of obtaining capital — but less so than a lousy job market. Why would high unemployment cause individuals to turn to entrepreneurship? The simplest and most likely explanation is that some people respond to a poor economy by creating their own job by starting a business. The security of a stable job might cause a would-be entrepreneur to postpone their dream of starting a business if it means giving up a paycheck to start a venture that might just fail. Entrepreneurship during COVID-19 has important implications for our eventual recovery. New businesses are the major job creators of the economy. In a report two years ago, the Center for Economic Development found that a staggering 89 percent of all private employment growth in Alaska between 2005 and 2014 was the result of young firms in existence for five years or less. As a group, mature firms tend to plateau in terms of job creation. Some may add jobs in a given year, but others contract, and the net effect is a wash. Without new firms, private sector employment is doomed to be flat, even in relatively good years. Despite that, I think we would have been ecstatically happy with flat employment in 2020, a year that has numbed us to sharply declining indicators of all sorts. One of the most worrisome trends has been failure rates of small businesses. We don’t know exactly how many businesses have permanently closed, but the signs aren’t good. The data tracker website Opportunity Insights indicates that the number of open businesses in Alaska has declined by a third or more since the pandemic began. We don’t know how many of those closures are permanent, but we do know that a shuttered business can’t hire anyone. That puts more pressure on our entrepreneurs to fill the gap when the economy recovers. That’s a tall order. The hole left behind by the loss of nearly 40,000 lost jobs won’t be filled in during the next few months by today’s brave entrepreneurs. But neither can we rebuild a healthy economy without them. Entrepreneurs are the people who make things happen even when the conventional wisdom seems to be against them. It takes courage, and lots of it, to start a business in 2020. Let’s cheer for those who do it. Nolan Klouda is the Executive Director of the Center for Economic Development at the University of Alaska Anchorage Business Enterprise Institute. He is an expert in Alaska’s economy and deeply involved in COVID-19 economic recovery efforts in the state.


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