Alaska needs fish quality standard

I recently presented the Alaska Manufacturers’ Association’s sea-food quality program to the state’s Salmon Task Force. As a result, I later received a very interesting question from a fisherman that will be the subject of this column.The question was: "I have read the recommendations you have made to the legislative salmon task force and agree with the quality guidelines proposed. My concern is that the troll fishery already follows these guidelines, yet continues to see our ex-vessel price drop. Why has the troll price fallen so much in light of our current quality standards?"Before the industry hangs its hopes on quality improvement leading to better prices, I think using the troll fishery as a case study to either support or refute this assumption would be important."This is a very interesting question and the answer highlights the problems and solutions for the Alaska salmon ondustry. As part of our quality effort, we have been spending some time talking to the buyers to see what their issues were. Several things became clear quickly: The market can roughly be divided into two groups -- very large buyers who can afford to conduct their own quality control and small buyers who cannot provide their own quality control systems. Small buyers away from the West Coast know very little about Alaska salmon. They do not know when it is available, or from who it is available. When they buy, they buy from distributors. Many of these small buyers are very interested in Alaska salmon, but find it hard to figure out who to buy from, how to find out what is available, and are cautious because they have been burned buying Alaska salmon in the past by getting bad quality.Some will not consider buying contain kinds of Alaska salmon because of consistently bad quality in the past. This seems to be mostly connected to chums and silvers. Total fresh and frozen salmon sales are growing rapidly in the United States. The United States is expected to pass Japan in total sales by 2003. There is a substantial and growing market for high-quality fresh fish. While price is always a consideration, for many of these buyers it is a lesser consideration than quality, and they are clearly uninterested in very low-priced fish.The market for Alaska salmon is changing. Many large foreign buyers in Japan or Europe are switching to farmed fish. Yet there is considerable market interest. Why the disconnect?Scott Miller of the McDowell Group once noted that sales are often lost because it is too hard to buy. This is the problem with Alaska salmon. The nature of the buyers has changed. The primary market is now hundreds or thousands of small buyers who do not understand the market and don’t have the time or money to learn about it. Yet those small buyers in aggregate are a very large market. A typical small buyer might be a supermarket chain of 15 stores.So how is the seafood quality program going to help this? Our goal at the Manufacturers’ Association is to make it as easy as possible for buyers to find reliable high-quality suppliers of Alaska salmon.The first and most important step is a standard grading and handling certification program. The idea is to reduce the uncertainty for buyers about the grade and the quality of the fish. Quality is defined in terms of visual characteristics and shelf life.Any buyer can buy from any certified supplier in the Alaska Quality Seafood program and be sure of the quality and grade they are getting. This greatly reduces the risk and the effort required to buy Alaska salmon.Secondly, the association will be marketing the grading and certification program to buyers so they know it exists. We will do this through mailings, publicity and trade shows. We are also creating a Web site that will help buyers find sellers with quality certified salmon.As for the question from the troller at the beginning of this article, prices are dropping because although most trollers may already be following good handling practices, many potential buyers don’t know this and find it is too difficult to find suppliers at all -- much less sort out the good suppliers from the bad suppliers.The association intends to fix this by making it easy for buyers to find processors who they know will supply good quality salmon.There is a theme here that appears over and over in all kinds of businesses: Variation and uncertainty cost money. Reducing the variation and uncertainty a buyer experiences will make the salmon more valuable to him and allow processors and fishermen to get higher prices. By extension, reducing the variation and uncertainty a buyer experiences in any product or service will make that product or service more valuable to consumers.David Arnsdorf is president of the Alaska Manufacturers’ Association in Anchorage. He can be reached via e-mail at [email protected]

Demand drives Southcentral port expansions

A $15 million harbor expansion at Seward is expected to lure more commercial fishermen, charter operators and Anchorage boat owners -- and their money -- to the community.But even after the slated 300 slips are added over the next 18 months to the east end of the harbor, the demand for boat parking spaces will still exist in the community, about 130 miles south of Anchorage."We have 400 people on our waiting list," says harbormaster Jim Beckham.Some folks have had to wait nearly a decade for a slip to open up, Beckham said.For more than a decade, city leaders have worked with state and federal agencies to expand the harbor facilities to meet the demand, Beckham said.About $5 million for the harbor expansion will come from state and federal sources; the city will fund the remainder of the slip construction, Beckham said.The current harbor, rebuilt a year after the 1964 Good Friday earthquake, has some 200 mooring spaces. Those slips and the adjoining main floats were upgraded two years ago at a cost of $7 million, Beckham said.About 70 percent of those who moor their vessels in the Seward harbor are from out of town, mainly Anchorage, Beckham said.Public meetings will be held Nov. 4 in Anchorage and Nov. 5 in Seward to get suggestions for the expansion project.The harbor’s spaces are divided evenly between charter operators, recreational boats and the commercial fishing fleet, Beckham said. Vessels average about 40 feet in length.Beckham said he doesn’t expect the ratio to change once the harbor expansion is completed.The city charges about $31 a foot per year to moor a boat at the harbor, one of the highest rates in Alaska, but about a quarter of what most West Coast harbors charge, Beckham said.The moorage rates will likely stay the same or increase only slightly after the expansion project, Beckham said.Outside of the increased moorage rates and personal property tax charged for new homeported Seward vessels, it’s hard to say how much revenue will be increased from boaters in the town once the expansion project is completed, Beckham said."Anecdotally, I personally have three friends in Anchorage who spend $800 to $1,500 each, every weekend they come down," Beckham said.Bill Abbott, Homer’s port director and harbormaster, said small boat harbors are an important part of a town’s economy, and in many communities, harbors are the main revenue generators."It’s an economic engine that drives a large part of our economy," Abbott said.A 148-slip, $3.8 million expansion was completed in May at the harbor, which now has 920 spaces.The city this summer also completed a $12 million dock upgrade, in part to accommodate the U.S. Coast Guard’s 180-foot buoy tender Sedge, Alaska ferries, and cruise ships as long as 850 feet.Leonard Jones, Whittier harbormaster, said he looks at Homer and Seward with envy, as his 432-slip facility is in serious need of upgrades and expansion."We are filled to capacity and have a 10-year plus waiting list," Jones said.The 2.5-mile Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel, which opened Whittier to road traffic in June 2000, is bringing even more boaters to the community who want to use Whittier as a permanent parking place, Jones said.Like Seward and Homer, many of the folks who moor their boats in Whittier are from out of town."We’re just trying to keep up with the harbor and keep it floating," Jones said. "’We’re trying to expand but it takes resources, time and energy. Our 30-year-old harbor is deteriorating under our feet."

Uncertain gas supplies threaten Agrium plant

$25 million payroll sizeable part of Kenai economy   Because its jobs pay so well, the "multiplier" effect of Agrium Corp.’s ammonia and urea fertilizer plant in the Kenai Peninsula economy is extraordinarily high, says Jim Calvin, managing director of McDowell Group, a Juneau-based economic consulting firm. A study of the economic impact of the Agrium plant on the regional economy was completed and released Oct. 23. The plant employs 292 people, either Agrium workers or company contractors doing maintenance. The employees live in the community and their spending employs another 700 people locally, or almost 1,000 direct and indirect jobs, Calvin said. Those jobs support about 2,150 people on the Kenai Peninsula, when families are included, Calvin said. Agrium’s payroll of about $25 million per year creates an additional $25 million in pay indirectly, for an annual total of $50 million, through the local spending by employees of the plant. This amounts to almost 9 percent of the Kenai Peninsula Borough wages and salaries paid in the Kenai borough, according to the study. The plant also results in about $4 million in annual funds to the Kenai Peninsula Borough and its schools, according to the McDowell Group report. This comes through $2.4 million in property taxes paid by the plant itself, $212,700 in residential property taxes paid by Agrium’s employees, and $1.4 million the borough receives in additional state education funds because children of Agrium’s employees are in local schools. Children of Agrium workers represent 3.3 percent of the students in schools on the peninsula. Agrium also spends $90.5 million per year on goods and services provided to the plant, although about $80 million of this is for natural gas, according to Calvin. Purchases were made from 118 businesses on the Kenai Peninsula and 129 firms in Anchorage, Wasilla and Palmer, the study said. "Besides the gas producers, the suppliers include construction contractors, engineering and environmental service firms, utilities, retail and wholesale firms and other types of businesses," Calvin said. It’s important to maintain "value-added" plants like Agrium’s, Calvin said in an Oct. 19 presentation to the Alaska Support Industry Alliance in Anchorage.   Agrium Corp. packs a big economic punch for the Kenai Peninsula economy, but rising natural gas prices and possible shortages of gas in Cook Inlet could threaten the plant’s viability. The company operates a major nitrogen fertilizer plant at Nikiski, north of Kenai, and is one of the peninsula’s major employers. Agrium workers earn an average of $83,000 per year, more than three times the $25,000 yearly paid on average by other private employers on the peninsula, according to a new report by McDowell Group, a Juneau-based economic consulting firm. "For good-paying jobs created by value-added manufacturing of raw resources, this is as good as it gets," said Jim Calvin, managing director of the McDowell Group. Directly and indirectly the plant creates 1,000 jobs on the peninsula, which support about 2,500 people, he said. Calvin presented the study Oct. 24 to the Alaska Support Industry Alliance in Anchorage. The problem Agrium faces is that natural gas is a vital raw material for the plant and rising prices for gas could make it difficult for the plant to compete in export markets, according to Mike Nugent, Agrium’s Alaska area manager. Agrium sells its ammonia and urea fertilizer mostly in export markets where its competitors in south Asia, the Persian Gulf and Russia make fertilizer from cheaper gas. Agrium now buys gas from Unocal Corp. for $1.60 per thousand cubic feet under a contract that expires in 2009. However, Enstar Natural Gas Co., the Southcentral gas utility, is now buying gas from Cook Inlet producers for $2.70 per thousand cubic feeet. "If we had to pay that we couldn’t afford it," said Nugent. "Gas is our biggest cost. It’s our largest raw material requirement," he said. The plant requires about 53 billion cubic feet of gas per year and is the third-largest user of gas in Southcentral Alaska. The liquefied natural gas plant next door to Agrium’s plant in Nikiski uses about 80 million cubic feet per year, and the gas and electric utilities in Southcentral use about 60 million cubic feet per year. Agrium’s contract price for gas was negotiated with Unocal when the company acquired the ammonia and fertilizer plant from Unocal in 1999, Nugent said. After 2009 the price will be renegotiated, Nugent said. If Agrium contracts for gas from other producers, or for additional supplies from Unocal even before 2009, the price may also be higher, Nugent said. The liquefied natural gas plant is in a different position because its owners, ConocoPhillips Alaska Inc. and Marathon Oil Co., are also gas producers. Gas for the LNG plant comes from the North Kenai gas field owned by ConocoPhillips. Agrium is in a dilemma, however, because the company recognizes there is a potential shortage of gas in Southcentral Alaska. There are only seven to nine years of gas left for all users in Southcentral unless additional discoveries are made, Nugent said. To encourage the exploration needed to find more gas, higher prices will have to be paid, which Agrium may not be able to afford. Approval of the Enstar price by the Regulatory Commission of Alaska, under which Enstar can buy gas for $2.70 per Mcf, has already stimulated new exploration for gas on the Kenai Peninsula, according to Mark Myers, director of the state Division of Oil and Gas. Gas discoveries have already been made, he said. Marathon and Unocal have found new gas reserves near Ninilchik and plan to begin construction of a pipeline next spring. Nugent strongly supports new exploration in Cook Inlet and the Kenai Peninsula. "We’re really optimistic that new supplies will be found. A number of people are now interested in new exploration and development," he said. But he hopes the producers of newly discovered gas will set a reasonable price for Agrium. "This plant cannot tolerate gas that is too expensive," he said. The problem is shared with the producers, he pointed out, because if the price for new gas is too high and the plant closes, a large customer for gas will also disappear. That will cause the gas surplus to appear again, bringing prices down. Meanwhile, the ammonia and fertilizer plant will be shut down and its jobs gone. Unocal built the ammonia and urea fertilizer plant in 1968 because there were large gas discoveries on the Kenai Peninsula, but no market, Nugent said. Making fertilizer for export with "stranded" gas was a viable proposition. Unocal expanded the plant in 1977. In 2001 the plant manufactured 1.4 million tons of ammonia and urea fertilizer. The Nikiski plant is the largest nitrogen fertilizer plant Agrium operates. It represents 23 percent of the company’s fertilizer-making ca-pacity and 6 percent of total North American fertilizer-making capacity, according to Lisa Parker, Agrium’s public affairs manager.  

High-tech courtroom of the future rolls out in Anchorage

A new firm in Anchorage is helping put high-tech into the state’s courtrooms -- and even provides a courtroom of its own to practice in.The service, called TrialWire, is owned by Downtown Legal Copies LLC, a long-established company that has been making copies for lawyers for many years."We wanted to take Downtown Legal Copies to the next step in helping attorneys," said TrialWire’s manager, Shawn Williams. "We wanted to provide full-service litigation support."These days, that’s a lot more than making copies. It includes everything from laptop computers to flat-screen plasma TV monitors and software to control them. As Williams explained it, the goal is to make documents and testimony easy for attorneys to find during a trial, and then to present the information in a way that’s understandable to judges and juries.Williams said Doug Lowry, the owner of Downtown Legal Copies, set up TrialWire only after being assured by several of the largest law firms in Alaska that they would use the service."We knew that if we built a courtroom and offered trial presentation software, they would come," Williams said. The primary reason was cost, since until TrialWire opened its doors, any lawyer wishing to go the high-tech route would need to import all the equipment and people to run it from Outside, at considerable expense.TrialWire officially opened its doors Sept. 1, and already it’s been used in two trials, one in Fairbanks and one in Kenai, Williams said. The company is currently preparing two more cases, both in Anchorage. Already, the company has had to turn away business, he said.The attorney who used the system in Kenai is Kneeland Taylor, who has a private practice in Anchorage. "I’d been hearing about electronic presentation software ever since the Exxon Valdez trial, but I was scared off by having all sorts of new things to learn," Taylor said. "It turned out to be easy to learn, and it was not very expensive compared to what lawyers put into trial preparation."Taylor said he paid about $2,000 to TrialWire to prepare his case. Williams said costs vary widely, depending on how many exhibits are needed and how long the trial lasts. He said that generally, about half the cost is for rental equipment and half is for document preparation.That preparation consists of converting paper documents, videotapes and audio recordings into digital files, which are then loaded into the trial presentation software. Every item is given a bar code and can be instantly displayed by running a scanner over a thumbnail representation of the document prepared in advance by the TrialWire team.Williams said that team currently consists of four people who have experience in scanning documents, preparing computer graphics and digitizing audio and video clips.The other half of TrialWire’s business is renting out rooms. One is a conference room suitable for depositions; the other is a three-quarters scale mockup of an actual Anchorage Superior Court courtroom.Williams said he built the mock courtroom from the actual floor plans of the new Anchorage courthouse. The room is eerily similar to the real thing, except for the computer monitors in front of every seat. "I’ve had people who had bad experiences in court get very uncomfortable in here," Williams said.The room can be rented for $450 per day by attorneys wishing to practice their trial presentations, or to go over testimony with witnesses so they are more comfortable when the real trial takes place.It’s also a way for Williams to show off the impact of the trial presentation software in a very realistic setting. "Everyone who sees this says it’s nice," he said. "For older folks on a jury, it puts documents right in front of them. Younger folks expect something technologically produced."

P&O Princess accepts Carnival buyout offer

LONDON -- P&O Princess Cruises PLC accepted a sweetened $5.4 billion takeover offer from Carnival Corp. Oct. 25, signaling that months of jockeying by the world’s top three cruise companies might be nearing an end.P&O Princess spent much of the past year fighting off Carnival’s approaches after agreeing to a "merger of equals" with rival U.S. cruise company, Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd.But P&O Princess chief executive Peter Ratcliffe said his company’s board had decided Miami-based Carnival’s latest offer was "financially superior" and that it was withdrawing support for the Royal Caribbean deal."Following our constructive negotiations over the past two weeks, we are pleased that Carnival has put forward a(n) ... offer that would allow all of our shareholders to retain an ongoing interest in a combination of Carnival and P&O Princess," Ratcliffe said."This is important to us given the growth potential of the cruise industry and the exciting prospects for a combined Carnival and P&O Princess group."The deal will create a powerful new company listed in both London and New York. Carnival is the world’s biggest cruise operator and P&O Princess the third. Royal Caribbean is ranked No. 2.All three companies operate in Alaska. Carnival’s holdings include Holland America Line-Westours Inc.The Carnival offer values P&O Princess at 3.5 billion pounds, up from its earlier bid of 3.2 billion pounds ($5 billion).Carnival made the offer on the condition that P&O Princess withdraw its recommendation of the Royal Caribbean deal within 48 hours and that P&O Princess recommend the Carnival bid to shareholders by Jan. 10.Richard Fain, Royal Caribbean chairman and chief executive, said the decision by P&O Princess to agree with the conditions was regrettable. P&O Princess first revealed in November 2001 that it had agreed to a deal with Royal Caribbean."We remain today as convinced as ever that the pairing of our two companies would be a great partnership and a great business," he said. "Ultimately, it is the shareholders of P&O Princess who must decide what is best for their company."Princess must pay Royal Caribbean a $62.5 million penalty as the price for breaking off their merger plans.-- The Associated Press

Seward coal terminal status uncertain

It was Alaska’s first deep-water coal port. It now appears to be the last.The status of Seward’s coal terminal, owned by the state and Hyundai Merchant Marine Co. Ltd., is still unclear after Usibelli Coal Mine Inc. lost its valuable export contract to South Korea.Officials from Hyundai and its subsidiary operator at the facility, Suneel Alaska, did not return phone calls from the Journal of Commerce.The South Korean-owned company also has not been in contact with the state, which seven years ago invested $6.9 million in the facility.The Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority made the investment to help lower the costs of the operation. Hyundai still owes $5.6 million on the loan, said Jim McMillan, AIDEA’s acting director and deputy director for credit."We have had no notification of anything," McMillan said.Hyundai is current with payments on the loan, which is due in 2005, he said."Financially, we don’t feel at risk," McMillan said.While AIDEA might be breathing easy over its ability to get its money back, the Alaska Railroad is choking on the loss of millions of dollars. The state-owned railroad in September hauled its last load of coal from Healy to the Port of Seward, marking an end to an 18-year relationship that provided millions in revenues for the railroad.The state-owned railroad’s revenues will be slashed by some $4 million annually, according to Patrick Flynn, railroad spokesman. The railroad also will lose about $230,000 on land it leases to the South Korean company for the operation, Flynn said.The company is current with its lease payments to the railroad, Flynn said.Hyundai also has kept its dozen employees in the dark over the future of the coal terminal, said Shelli Knopik, terminal office manager in Seward."It’s limbo land," Knopik said. "Some people are looking for new jobs."The coal terminal will be used as a gravel-loading facility for at least one barge to the Aleutians sometime in early November, Knopik said.Usibelli announced in late March that it couldn’t renew Hyundai’s South Korean coal export contract, which represents nearly half its 1.5 million ton annual production. The company has shipped some 12 million tons of coal to South Korea since 1984 and has been the only mine in the United States exporting coal to the country.The mining company has laid off a third of its 120-person work force since spring.Usibelli in January was underbid by two coal suppliers in Indonesia, which has grown from being virtually a non player in the world export coal market 20 years ago to the third largest today.

Denali Dreams owners rack up sweet-smelling profit

Barb Marsh and Janie Taylor are awash in the success of their soap-making business that started as a part-time venture.The Anchorage women now run their business full time, a handmade soap manufacturer called Denali Dreams Soap Co."We started it as a way to be home with our kids," Marsh said. "Now it has a life of its own."Denali Dreams now sells six herb and spice soaps, eight specialty soaps, gift packs, lip balm and bug repellent spray. Soaps cost between $5 and $6.50.The Denali Dreams partners have never borrowed money for the business, and they recorded a $100,000 profit last year.Sales in 2002 may climb with the recent addition of an online sales feature to their 3-year-old Web site."Now, we get three to four orders a week," Taylor said. "Before, it was three to four a year."Production, which has increased annually, now nearly exceeds capacity of a duplex unit at Marsh’s home. Denali Dreams sells its products from Fairbanks to Southeast through 100 wholesale accounts.Some leading retailers for the homemade soaps are Aurora Fine Art Gallery and Providence Alaska Medical Center gift shop, both in Anchorage, Taylor said.Two products, a dog wash shampoo and a kitchen soap, have acquired national interest. The Alaska-made products are now sold in Illinois, Kansas, Texas and Washington, Taylor said.Denali Dreams is an Alaska small-business manufacturing success story, said David Arnsdorf, president of the Alaska Manufacturers’ Association.He believes three ingredients are essential to small business success: product manufacturing know-how, access to capital, and marketing and sales savvy."Don’t do any of them, and you surely die," Arnsdorf said.Many businesses have deficiencies in one or more of these areas, but Denali Dreams’ Marsh and Taylor are competent at each business aspect, he said.Their products are well-priced, to catch a shopper’s eye and also for efficient production volumes, Arnsdorf said.He has seen Denali Dreams and other Alaska companies change the climate for small manufacturers."There are some unique products people are starting to make that are competitive and will stay that way," he said.Most Alaska manufacturing jobs are in the fish processing industry. U.S. Census Bureau statistics from 2000 show Alaska manufacturing had 12,635 employees, including 8,730 from fish processing. Manufacturing statewide payroll in 2000 was $390 million, with $211 million from seafood.Marsh and Taylor attended a class presented by a manufacturing association. FasTrac Manufacturing course is a 15-week nationally standardized program teaching business basics like accounting and marketing."The idea is that when you get all done, you have a completed business plan," Arnsdorf said.FasTrac Manufacturing helped the soap entrepreneurs map their company’s history and future prospects."We learned a lot from the class," Marsh said.Taylor first learned the soap-making process during a 1992 vacation in New Zealand. Taylor and her mother crafted soaps at Christmastime and gave them as gifts to friends. Marsh received one of the gift soaps and eventually learned the manufacturing process.The two women started Denali Dreams in 1996, selling six soap varieties at bazaars. In 1997, they began promoting the products to retailers and attended an Alaska-made products wholesale show.Production doubled each year for the first three years. One summer, Marsh and Taylor lacked enough soaps to meet demand when retailers reordered Denali Dreams products. Such orders couldn’t easily be refilled since the handmade soap-making process takes about a month, Marsh said.The process also includes careful wrapping in tissue paper or raffia. "It’s real labor-intensive," Marsh said. "It’s a labor of love, but we like the way it looks."Denali Dreams has increased soap production by 30 percent each year since 2000, Taylor said.In 1997, Marsh and Taylor produced 3,000 soaps. So far this year, they have crafted 35,000 bars, and that number may increase before year-end.Marsh and Taylor hired full-time soap-maker and friend Carol Hazeltine to help meet increasing production goals. They may add a part-time employee next year.The business partners have been coached by Anchorage retailer Jana Hayenga, who owns Cabin Fever Gifts and Up North."She’s always been a great helper and mentor," Marsh said.Hayenga says Denali Dreams’ high-quality products are a hit with customers. She also provides feedback about packaging, price point and best sellers.According to Hayenga, the Denali Dreams duo is perceptive."They’re smart in that they ask retailers like myself what’s selling."Marsh and Taylor are careful to introduce products for tourists and Alaskans. One new product, Manly Man soap, has been a big seller this year, Taylor said.The Denali Dreams owners are now preparing for the statewide holiday bazaar season, which serves as a test market for new products. Then, from January through July, soap-making is in high gear.

Alaska can benefit from rapidly expanding China market

Across the Pacific, China, the long slumbering big dragon of Asia, has awoken. The country’s economic liberalization and expansion that commenced 20 years ago is now steaming ahead at a torrid pace. China’s accession to the World Trade Organization last year has paved the way for even greater integration of China’s economy with the rest of the world. For Alaska, China’s growth and modernization represents the next best opportunity to expand exports of the state’s natural resources and technical services. Alaska has a proven track record of successfully getting into emerging markets early and then benefiting from the subsequent rise of those economies as they grow into developed markets. For example, when the state opened its trade office in Japan in 1965, Alaska’s exports to that country were $30 million. Today, the state exports more than $1 billion of goods to the Japan and at one point during the country’s boom years in the 1980s, exports exceeded $2 billion. In South Korea, the story has been the same. In 1985 when the state opened its trade office in Seoul, exports amounted to $85 million. Last year, Alaska’s exports to South Korea reached $463 million, a five-fold increase. In 2001, China was ranked as Alaska’s fifth-largest trading partner. Exports to China, primarily seafood, totaled $110 million last year. Other Alaska exports to China include fish waste, which is used for animal feed and aquaculture, petroleum products and wood. This level we consider as the "starting gate" and this number should steadily increase in concert with the growth of China’s economy. Analysts project China’s gross domestic product to grow 7-8 percent annually for the foreseeable future. Indeed, many anticipate that China will surpass Japan as the world’s second largest economy sometime within the next 10 to 15 years. Already this year, during the first six months, Alaska’s exports to China have risen 30 percent from the previous year. Two years ago, Gov. Tony Knowles led a group of business and government leaders on a trade mission to China. Twenty business leaders accompanied the governor and the mission focused on several promising export sectors, including energy, seafood, environmental engineering and oil and gas support services. The mission members returned to Alaska with a much better understanding of opportunities for Alaska companies to do business in China. They also encouraged the state to establish trade representation in the country to help Alaska firms identify and pursue these opportunities. In response, the Division of International Trade and Market Development, the state agency responsible for trade promotion, is moving ahead with selection of a representative to promote Alaska’s trade interests from a post in Beijing. In addition to providing information and assistance to companies seeking to export natural resources such as seafood, energy, wood products, fertilizer and minerals, the representative will also assist the state’s professional and technical service companies explore business opportunities. One huge opportunity is the upcoming 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. The Chinese government has announced its intentions to spend more than $26 billion during the next six years on a wide array of infrastructure projects, including roads, stadiums, convention centers, hotels, power plants and telecommunications. Numerous Alaska companies with world-class expertise in construction, engineering, project management and other services may be able to participate in this work if they can successfully bid on the projects. The state’s trade representative will help these firms to seek, and hopefully secure, a piece of the action. During the past several years, an increasing number of Chinese government and business leaders have visited Alaska. Their message has been clear and consistent: As China looks around the world for suppliers of natural resources to support an expanding economy and protein to feed a growing population, they look to Alaska, a neighbor on the Pacific Rim and a reliable trading partner. There is an old Chinese saying that "a dragon is a dragon and no pond can hide him." China is rapidly becoming an economic powerhouse too big to hide or ignore. Fortunately, Alaska is well positioned to benefit from the rise of China and to play a role in the development of the world’s largest emerging market. Greg Wolf is director of the state Division of International Trade and Market Development.  

Business census to arrive in December

Some 13,000 Alaska businesses will be required to complete the 2002 U.S. Economic Census forms arriving in December.Robert Marske, U.S. Census Bureau spokesman in Washington D.C., said businesses will face a $500 penalty for not responding, or a $10,000 fine for giving false information.U.S. census forms are sent out every five years as a way to get new information on the way the nation does business, according to Marske.Census officials said 90 percent of the 6.5 million businesses in the nation are selected at random. About 70 percent have been selected in Alaska. Most businesses with five or more paid employees will receive a census form. Very small businesses with no payroll tax are exempt, Marske said.The surveys are confidential and should take no more than an hour to finish, Marske said.To make answering the survey faster, it was redesigned. Marske said the 2002 census forms have more than 600 different formats tailored to different industries or groups.This year, establishments can fill out the survey on a secured Web site with a password provided in the mailed packet, according to officials. Businesses also can verify when their report was received and get help from the site.Some questions companies will be asked how long they’ve been in business, and revenue and payroll information."Economic census results are very important," Marske said. "This is a census of the entire U.S. economy and each form ... helps provide accurate information about the industry and community in which that business operates."Joe Mehrkens, state Department of Community and Economic Development economist, said the census acts as a "barometer of economic activity at the community level."A measurement of the economy can eventually attract new businesses to the state, Mehrkens said.The state uses the census data in its Web site to outline the economic development of each Alaska community, Mehrkens said, adding the census helps policymakers gauge the effectiveness of programs designed to help businesses.Neal Fried, state labor economist, said the census provides the people of Alaska with a source of valuable economic data they cannot get any other place.Fried said the information gathered allows businesses to calculate market share and how it compares to similar businesses.And when it comes to sales, Fried said economic census is the best information for retailers. It shows retailers trends and helps them tailor products to customers, according to Fried."In a broader sense, people watch these numbers to access the health of the economy" in the state and nation, Fried said.According to census officials, the first census of the economy was in 1810. The U.S. Census Bureau was established in 1902.The forms are due by Feb. 12.Results will be published on the census Web site or on a CD-ROM in 2004.

Jet fuel demand sets records

While ports and ocean shippers suffer, the West Coast dockworker lockout has turned into a temporary bonanza for air cargo carriers, fuel companies, Alaska Railroad Corp. and the state’s two largest airports.Jet fuel at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport has flowed at record levels, reaching a peak of 3.3 million gallons a day Oct. 23, about 400,000 gallons more than the previously pumped daily record, according to Bert Mattingly, administration manager for Aircraft Service International Group.The company, formerly known as Signature Flight Support, is the contractor that operates Anchorage Fueling and Service Co., a consortium of 21 airlines formed in 1981 to provide fueling services at the airport.The company pumped more than 715 million gallons of jet fuel in 2001 at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport, leading the nation in the amount of fuel pumped into cargo planes, the company said.On average, Signature pumps about 2 million gallons of jet fuel daily. Alaska Airlines is the largest fuel user for passenger service; Korean Air, Federal Express and United Parcel Service use the most fuel for cargo planes.Jets take on anywhere from 6,000 to 44,000 gallons of fuel, depending on their size and destination. Most overseas cargo flights require more than 30,000 gallons per airplane, taking about 90 minutes to top off.Jet A fuel fetches about $1.10 a gallon, Mattingly said. The actual cost is determined by each participating airline in the consortium, which negotiates prices individually with suppliers.The company usually fuels about 4,200 jet airplanes in Anchorage monthly. In the summer, the numbers go up to more than 4,900.Mattingly said about 5,000 airplanes will have been fueled in Anchorage in October.Mattingly said the company is projecting 72 million gallons of fuel pumped for the month of October, a monthly record by about 15 percent.Last October, the company pumped less than 60 million gallons of fuel, Mattingly said."We’ve been stressing the suppliers," said Mattingly. Williams Alaska Petroleum Inc.’s North Pole refinery provides more than half of the jet fuel, which is shipped by rail to Anchorage. Tesoro Alaska Co. provides about 40 percent of the fuel for the airport via its Nikiski pipeline.The remainder comes from other producers in and outside Alaska and is shipped here in tankers and barges.Jeff Cook, vice president of external affairs for Williams, said his company produces about 1.4 million gallons of jet fuel daily for Anchorage. Another 210,000 gallons or so is produced for Fairbanks each day, he said.Cook said Williams has bumped production at its North Pole plant to just over 2 million gallons a day."We’re maxed out," said Cook. "We’re struggling with that much more demand, especially when we weren’t expecting it."Still, Cook said, more fuel is more money for the company."We love it," Cook said. "I think everybody is enjoying it while they can." The port shutdown ended Oct. 9 after a federal judge ordered 29 ports reopened and an 80-day cooling off period at the request of President Bush. The shutdown coupled with the start of the Christmas shipping season will create record revenue at the Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport , said Mort Plumb, airport director.Plumb said the increased activity at the airport should lead the airport to revenue increases of up to 20 percent."The first two quarters should be the best in the history of the airport," Plumb said.Dave Carlstrom, Fairbanks International Airport’s director of marketing, said about 20 cargo planes have been diverted from Anchorage to Fairbanks for refueling. "There has been an excess demand and a limited supply (of fuel)," Carlstrom said. "It’s been kind of an economic boomlet for us." Pat Flynn, Alaska Railroad spokesman, said the increased fuel hauling from North Pole to Anchorage will boost revenues for the state-owned railroad.Petroleum makes up most of the freight revenue for the railroad, about $35.7 million last year.

Torrid housing market pumps rental demand

Companies that lease heavy machinery are enjoying the housing boom low interest rates have been creating.But some rental business that depend on government-funded road and building work say it’s been their worse season in decades."The last two years have been great seasons for us," said Bert Blackadar, Airport Equipment Rentals sales manager."With the low interest rates, the housing market has been a major force in our rental sales," he said.Airport Equipment Rentals offers some 1,700 pieces of loaders, excavators, scissor lifts, bulldozers and backhoes throughout the state.Blackadar said during the summer, his company rented some 1,600 machines -- a record year. Close to 95 percent of the equipment Airport Equipment Rentals offers was leased to contractors and 4 percent was rented to homeowners.The company is just starting to tap into the homeowners market with this sudden surge in folks wanting to add on to their home, Blackadar said.Anchorage and Fairbanks each have 35 percent of Airport Equipment Rentals rental fleet and 15 percent is in Delta Junction, according to Blackadar. The remaining 15 percent are in Prudhoe Bay, he said.Blackadar did not disclose revenues or rates for leasing equipment.Contractors and homeowners are creating more business for some leasing companies, but others are dealing with the down side of the state’s economy.Dave Kelly, Kelly Equipment Co. owner in Anchorage, said this year has been the worst year for his one-man company.Kelly has been leasing heavy machinery for 36 years. And for 20 of those years, Kelly has leased to the state and federal government. According to Kelly, the year was slow because the state has been short on funding for highways and roads.About 20 percent of Kelly’s leasing revenues come from the state, the remaining 80 percent comes from facilities projects dealing with schools, sewer or water projects. He isn’t involved with housing contractors because his machines are too large.Kelly said 40 percent of his fleet is rented in Juneau, 40 percent goes to the Bering Sea and 20 percent stays in Anchorage.Kelly’s 60-piece rental fleet consists of bulldozers, barges, excavators, graters, loaders and cranes.The fleet can be leased in Juneau, Anchorage and around the Bering Sea area.Much of Kelly’s rentals are done off the Bering Sea coast and in Juneau since there is more competition in Anchorage.Only 40 percent of the fleet was leased this summer and only 15 percent will be leased in the winter. "It’s a slow winter for me" due to the lack of state and federal jobs, Kelly said.Most of the rentals for the Bering Sea coast are done in the winter, Kelly said, adding the tundra can be worked on without being damaged when it’s frozen.Kelly did not disclose revenues or rates for leasing equipment.Morry Hollowell, Yukon Equipment vice president and Alaska manager, said the amount of construction throughout the state has kept his company unusually busy for the past two years.For 50 years the company has leased heavy machinery in Alaska with shops in Fairbanks and Anchorage.Yukon Equipment, a division of Western Power and Equipment based out of Vancouver, Wash., has seen about a 3 percent increase in sales each year since 1989, Hollowell said.This year, the company has seen a 10 percent increase in leasing sales, according to Hollowell.The company sells more equipment than it leases to the state, Hollowell said."It’s cheaper to buy the equipment than to shell out the costs of having to haul it all over the state," Hollowell said.Most of the leasing Hollowell does with the state is with jobs on the main road system where it’s easy for the equipment to be hauled back and forth easily, he said.The $5 million of equipment leased by Yukon consists of backhoes, bulldozers, equipment trailers, loaders, sand spreaders, snow blowers, brush-chipping equipment and ground heaters.Hollowell said because Yukon offers more specialty machines, the company has consistent sales year round."We can be just as busy in the winter as we are in the summer, its just with different equipment," he said.

Around The World

STATETourism firm executive takes lead at ProvidenceANCHORAGE -- A tourism executive is taking the reins at Providence Health System in Alaska.Al Parrish, who has served as vice president of government and community relations for Holland America Line, will become chief executive of Providence Health System in Alaska on Dec. 15, hospital officials said Oct. 22. He’ll replace Doug Bruce, who is retiring.Providence operates hospitals in Anchorage, Kodiak and Seward, and provides home health, assisted living and skilled nursing services in various part of the state.As chief executive, Parrish will manage Alaska’s largest private employer, with a work force of 3,600 people.Parrish, 57, has a long history of involvement with Providence, having served on its board of directors since 1991. He was chairman of the finance committee for several years.Parrish has held executive positions in the hospitality industry in Alaska for decades.NATIONAlaska Air reports 58 percent drop in profitSEATTLE -- Alaska Air Group reported a 58 percent drop in its third-quarter net income, but avoided the deep losses that have wracked other airlines.For the three months ended Sept. 30, the Seattle-based carrier reported net income of $10.6 million, or 40 cents a share, compared with $25.3 million, or 95 cents a share, for the same period a year ago.Alaska Air, which operates Alaska Airlines and regional carrier Horizon Air, reported operating revenue of $620 million, up from $588 million a year ago.Alaska is one of only two major airlines to have reported a profit for the quarter. Southwest Airlines reported a profit of $75 million in mid-October. The industry as a whole, however, has been struggling, with United Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Northwest Airlines, Continental Airlines and America West collectively reporting more than $1 billion in losses for the period.Consumer confidence at its lowest since 1993NEW YORK -- Consumer confidence in the economy plunged in October to the lowest level since 1993, buffeted by a weak job market and the threat of war with Iraq, a research group said Oct. 29.The Conference Board’s Consumer Confidence Index dropped to 79.4, down from 93.7 in September. The fall was much sharper than predicted on Wall Street, where economists had been looking for a reading of 90.0.The financial markets dropped on the report.It was the fifth straight month of decline for the confidence index, which is widely watched because of the importance of consumer spending for the overall economy.The index fell past a recent low of 84.9 in November last year, when economic expectations were dampened by a recession and the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.The last time the index was lower was in November 1993, when it stood at 71.9. Then as now, the economy was recovering from a recession, but the labor market was still shaky.--Compiled from businesswire services.

Prepare for long-term health care

Long-term health care expenses could gobble up your nest egg.Most of us have known at least one person who has stayed in a nursing home or needed home health care. More people you know could end up in this situation in the future -- even yourself.If you live to age 65, there is a 60 percent chance that you will need some type of long-term care services, and a 40 percent chance that you will require a stay in a nursing home. As people live longer, those odds will increase.The financial consequences of long-term health care can have a significant impact on a family’s savings and lifestyle. According to the General Accounting Office, nearly 40 percent of long-term home health care expenses are paid, out-of-pocket, by the patients and their families. Those accumulated expenses can use up a major part of your savings.For people who enter a nursing home, the financial outcome can be worse. According to the Congressional Subcommittee on Aging, 70 to 80 percent of nursing home residents deplete their assets within twelve months.Times have changedFor many years, it was tradition for adult children to take care of parents during their "golden years." But changing times have brought an increase in dual-career families, job insecurity, family mobility, and divorce. Today, many adult children are not even in a position to stay home and look after their own children, let alone an aging parent.Add the increasing uncertainty of health care benefits for senior citizens, and a giant question mark looms on the horizon. This is why it is essential for individuals nearing, or in their retirement years to give consideration to the possibility of declining health and its potential financial repercussions.Limits of Medicare amd MedicaidAlthough Medicare provides health coverage for senior citizens, it is somewhat limited in the area of long-term care coverage. In 1996, Medicare paid a total of 11.4 percent of all nursing home care expenses in the country, and 13.6 percent of long-term home health care expenses.Medicaid, on the other hand, will cover the cost of long-term care, but there is one catch. To qualify, you must become indigent, or "spend down" your assets. Once you have depleted your assets, you have also lost a level of control over your own future.Also, because of state and federal budget cutbacks, the facilities close to your family and friends might not have openings for Medicaid patients at the time that you need care.Long-term care insuranceLong-term care insurance can help pay for nursing home care and a variety of home and community-based care services, including physical, speech, and occupational therapists, home health aides and visiting nurses, adult day care and hospice care.Since several companies offer long-term care insurance -- with a variety of coverages and options available -- it is important to carefully research the subject. Many articles and books have been written on long-term care; check your local library or bookstore. In addition, community or government agencies dealing with issues facing senior citizens can sometimes provide general information. You may also be able to find a local seminar dealing with this topic.No matter what your needs are, there are certain things to look for in long-term care insurance. Be sure that the company offering the policy is financially secure; research their ratings.Keep in mind that premiums will vary depending on age and benefits selected. Find the level of coverage that is affordable yet still offers the specific coverage most important to you.For example, if you are concerned about the possibility of being unable to independently care for yourself in the future, and you don’t feel comfortable having to rely on a stranger to do so, then make sure that your policy provides benefits allowing a paid friend or family member to come in and take care of you.Or, if you do not anticipate needing long-term health care for several years, you may want to take advantage of an inflation protection option. And, no matter what, you will want a policy that waives premiums while you are receiving nursing home benefits.Long-term care insurance may not be for everybody, so if you are considering a policy, read it carefully. Ask for an outline of coverage which describes policy features. If you have questions, ask them. With proper research, you will be able to make an educated decision.Kristin K. Hilderbrand is an associate at The Wilson Agency LLC in Anchorage. She can be reached via e-mail at [email protected]

Native law conference to address criminal justice issues

For the first time, the conference will address issues that Alaska Natives face when dealing with the criminal justice system. Previous conferences have typically fallen into one of four categories: economic development, subsistence, tribal sovereignty or resource management.This year’s conference will address cultural and legal issues as they are found in three distinct phases of the criminal justice system: Pre-arrest, arrest to trial, and sentencing and corrections. Subjects will include institutional and cultural barriers to effective justice, funding inequities, factors that contribute to higher arrest and conviction rates for Alaska Natives, and innovations in the sentencing and corrections process that address cultural concerns.The conference also traditionally includes a written update and discussion on recent developments in the field of Alaska Native law and federal Indian law. Discussion at this year’s conference will focus on specific issues, including ongoing litigation over funding and corrections issues, recent civil rights reports, and proposed legislation to address Alaska’s complicated cultural dynamics. Panelists will likely discuss the recent decision by Superior Court Judge Sharon Gleason, finding that funding for village and rural law enforcement did not violate the Alaska constitution.Those attending the conference will have a unique opportunity to discuss these complicated issues with attorneys, legislators and administrators who are "in the trenches" on many aspects of the criminal justice system. Guest speakers will include: Larry Aschenbrenner, Directing Attorney for the Native American Rights Fund; Sharon Lindley, former cultural navigator in Bethel for the Alaska Court System; Larry Cohn, Executive Director for the Alaska Judicial Council; Superior Court Judge Michael Jeffery, Second Judicial District, Barrow; Harold Gatensby, a Circle Peace Maker from Carcross, Yukon Territory; Magistrate Mike Jackson, First Judicial District; Commissioner Margaret M. Pugh, Alaska Department of Corrections; Rep. Eric Croft, Alaska House of Representatives; Eric Johnson, Association of Village Council Presidents; and Denise R. Morris, President and CEO of the Alaska Native Justice Center.Those interested in attending the conference should contact the Alaska Bar Association office at 272-7469 or visit the web at http://www.alaskabar.org.

Showing kindness to new employees will help them stay

Remember your first day on the job? Was it a good experience? Many organizations treat new hires poorly, or even worse ... like they have a disease. If your business is suffering from high turnover consider the first impression new people receive about your place of business.In one organization plagued with high turnover, half of the employees quit during their first week of employment. Everyone just scratched their head and hid behind the excuse, "Kids today just don’t have any work ethic." Not until we sat down and started asking why did the real problem emerge: their activities during their first week on the job.In this case, the first day on the job new hires were ushered into a conference room to watch about 20 training videos by themselves. The information was boring, technical and foreign to many of the employees who took jobs there. They didn’t get to meet any other employees. Their first impression of this company was negative. No one took them out to lunch. No wonder, at the end of the week, they opted not to return.Employee retention begins the first day on the job. In the larger scale, the first week on the job determines if a new employee stays or quits 90 days from now. The first week at work should stand in the memory of the new hire as a positive event, a celebration that makes him or her proud to have chosen this organization. Consider these alternatives.The Boys and Girls Club of America has a unique way to improve retention in their Atlanta office. Once a week, they gather to meet and greet new employees and share news of the good things happening in the organization. This helps tear down barriers, improves communication, and makes everyone feel part of the same team.In addition, a group of people are appointed as the "lunch bunch." Their job is to travel around the office inviting employees to eat lunch with them. They particularly target new employees and people working in other departments. This is an excellent way to build loyalty and team spirit. Each month a new group rotates as the lunch bunch.It is important to build relationships with co-workers during those impressionable first few days on the job. There are steps to take to ensure the first few days at work are successful and to eliminate resignations caused by unintentionally thoughtless behavior.Before the first day of work Appoint a person to call and welcome the new hire. It they are a teen-ager, call their parents and welcome them aboard. Have the new hire fill out forms on the company intranet if available. Send a form of greeting such as a card, welcome basket or other gesture. Have a human resources representative call and answer questions about benefits. Insure the new hire has information on how to and where to park their car, if applicable.The first two days at work Have a group of key employees sit down with the new person to discuss what it is like to work there. Everyone benefits from this. The new hire gets a support network and key employees build their leadership skills. Take a digital photo of the new person and create a flyer to hang on the wall about his/her hobbies, experiences and background information. Provide a "new employee" reserved parking spot. Provide a copy of the organizational mission statement. Make sure he or she has a telephone and e-mail directory of everyone in the organization. Assign an employee who enjoys working with people as a "buddy" to the new hire. This person is responsible for helping the new hire settle in and get acquainted with the office. Insure the new hire’s work area is properly equipped, loaded and stocked ready for the first week’s worth of work. Have a company T-shirt and/or company mug ready for the person. Have business cards ready. Take the new person out to lunch to meet the team. Have a welcome sign signed by the team. Have a spouse support group invite the person’s spouse out for coffee. Have a new employee lunch for spouses during the first month. Minimize the forms to be completed and signed and put off viewing videos until later on.The first week at work Have someone meet the new hire after the first week and find out what went right and what went wrong. Reward employees who go out of their way to help the new person. Put photos of the "go-to" people on a wall for the new person to see. Introduce the new hire to the chief executive or president. Put pictures of new hires in the local newspaper and company newsletter welcoming them to the team.Gregory P. Smith is the president of a management consulting firm called Chart Your Course International located in Conyers, Georgia. He can be reached at 770-860-9464.

Native contractors' fortunes vary on North Slope

Two Alaska Native corporations involved in the oil drilling industry face different outlooks for the upcoming winter season.A pair of drill rig operators focus on employing Alaska Native regional corporation shareholders. But those employment numbers change with the swings in the oil industry.Nordic Well Servicing Inc. recently scaled back operations. The company has a joint venture with Calista Corp., the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta’s Alaska Native regional corporation.Phil Snisarenko, operations manager, is doubtful about future drill work since major North Slope operator BP Exploration (Alaska) Inc. is reducing its spending.The drilling company in September idled one of its three rigs, citing little work on the North Slope. Forty-five employees, from rig hands to cooks, were laid off Sept. 13 as a result of the shutdown, he said.Annual employee payroll has dropped from $3.6 million to $1.2 million, Snisarenko said.Despite its joint-venture partnership with Calista Corp., Nordic Well Servicing no longer employs any of the Native corporation’s shareholders, Snisarenko said.Before the shutdown, the drill rig operator employed 73 people, 10 percent of whom were Calista shareholders, he said. Nordic Well Servicing now has 28 employees.Nordic Well Servicing retained some 18- and 20-year employees who had worked at rig No. 3 and transferred them to another rig, Snisarenko said.Calista through its subsidiary, Ookichista Drilling Services Inc., has a joint venture with Nordic Well Servicing to provide workover, completion and coil tubing services. Calista has worked with Nordic Well Servicing since the mid-1980s.Doyon Ltd., an Interior Alaska Native regional corporation, owns Doyon Drilling Inc.The drill rig operator now runs three of its five North Slope rigs, said Todd Driskill, drilling operations manager. Two rigs are working for BP, one at Milne Point and another at Prudhoe Bay, he said. The third rig is dispatched to the Alpine field for ConocoPhillips Alaska Inc.Doyon Drilling is now preparing a fourth rig expected to begin operating at BP’s Endicott field in January, Driskill said.He anticipates a steady stream of drill work this winter. However, the drilling forecast is hard to predict because BP and ConocoPhillips are now compiling operating budgets dictating spending for 2003, Driskill said.Doyon shareholders comprise more than one-third of Doyon Drilling’s 188 employees, according to James Roberts, Doyon Drilling personnel director. Doyon Drilling employs 68 shareholders, or 36 percent shareholder hire, Roberts said. The drilling subsidiary employs another six Alaska Natives from other regions, he added.Doyon Drilling expects to pay $17.2 million in payroll this year, with $5.4 million of that total paid to shareholders, said Dean Rampy, Doyon Ltd. chief financial officer."We’ve been pretty good at maintaining a high percentage of shareholder hire," said Ron Wilson, Doyon Drilling general manager.Doyon Drilling strives to uphold a mandate from the Native corporation board "to employ as many shareholders as possible," Wilson said.One important element is the drill rig operator’s roustabout training program to prepare rig employees, Wilson said.Doyon Drilling started in 1982 as a joint venture between Doyon Ltd. and Nugget Alaska Inc. In 1993, the Alaska Native corporation bought out Nugget Alaska to become the sole owner of Doyon Drilling.Fairbanks is home for most of Doyon Drilling’s shareholder employees, Roberts said. A few others live in Anvik, Huslia and McGrath.Rig employees typically work for two weeks and then have two weeks off, Wilson said. Such a schedule allows time for many Alaska Natives to pursue a subsistence hunting and fishing lifestyle, he said.

Retail center of gravity moves slightly in South Anchorage

Several South Anchorage retailers are pulling up stakes and replanting them just a stone’s throw away.Retailers are betting their new nearby locations will increase profits.Grocery giant Safeway is constructing a larger Carrs Quality Center on Abbott Road. The store replaces the company’s building at Dimond Boulevard and the Old Seward Highway.McDonald’s, once operating adjacent to the older Carrs store, has already opened its new location just four blocks south on the Old Seward Highway."These retailers are making adjustments to keep up with changes in the market," said Chris Stephens, associate broker at Bond Stephens & Johnson Inc, who has worked with the transactions.Safeway officials decided a new 64,000-square-foot replacement was needed, rather than the 40,000-square-foot store, to stay apace with current market conditions. Grocery rival Fred Meyer opened a store a few blocks away in February. With the new location at Abbott Road and 88th Avenue, Carrs/Safeway moves closer to the new Portland, Ore.-based Fred Meyer.The new Carrs store is scheduled to open early next year.Safeway, based in Pleasanton, Calif., is now looking for a tenant to lease the older store, said company spokeswoman Cherie Myers.Once empty, that property will join an already vacant retail building in the area.The 37,215-square-foot building was constructed for Seattle retailer World Lighting. But the company backed out of the once-bright idea and never opened at the Abbott Road site adjacent to local retailer Decor Lighting Inc.The property has generated some interest but there are no takers yet, according to Stephens, who is marketing it.Construction is under way for an expanded Animal Food Warehouse to supersede the store owners opened more than a year ago. Both sites are located on Brayton Drive, within a quarter mile of each other.The 19,850-square-foot store with 100 parking spaces will replace the 10,000-square-foot building, which has a 33-space parking lot."We have been doing more business from that building than it was designed to do," said Larry Tallman, who owns the company with Alaskan Tim Sonnentag.Employees have turned away shoppers during busy weekends and promotional events due to limited space, Tallman said.The new store, being built for less than $2 million, is scheduled to open in late November, Tallman said.Animal Food Warehouse has operated a retail store in Wasilla, on the Parks Highway at Mile 37.7, for about 10 years. A wholesale division, Sunny Day Distributing LLC, has operated in Wasilla for 15 years.Wells Fargo Bank Alaska is financing construction of Animal Food Warehouse’s new building, Tallman said.He penciled out the numbers, weighing the building costs against expected profits, before beginning the project. The analysis looked promising, and the bankers gave a nod to the project, Tallman said."The business has been developing a pretty significant cash flow, and it’s profitable," he said.A larger facility will accommodate more inventory storage space plus a new live pet section, Tallman said. Animal Food Warehouse will soon sell fish, birds, reptiles and other small animals to fulfill customer requests."We want it to be not just a shopping experience but a place where kids can get their first touch or feel of these animals," he said.Animal Food Warehouse has already sold its original location to another growing Anchorage company, Polar Wire Products.Company president Marvin Kuentzel was looking to build and own a new facility, switching from leased property. Instead, when he visited Animal Food Warehouse and queried Tallman about the pet store’s construction, Kuentzel discovered the possibility of buying the to-be-vacated Animal Food Warehouse.Kuentzel decided purchasing a property would save time rather than pursuing a construction project.The new location should provide increased visibility, although that wasn’t a major consideration for the wholesale wire distributor, Kuentzel said.Polar Wire Products plans to relocate from its current building at 4109 Old Seward Highway to the new site by mid-December, he said."We closed this on a handshake agreement," Kuentzel said.

AFN convention brings $4 million to Anchorage

The state’s largest convention, the Alaska Federation of Natives annual meeting, scheduled for Oct. 21-26 could land $4 million in economic impact for Anchorage businesses.The event, held at the Egan Civic & Convention Center, has been growing and now attracts up to 4,000 participants to Anchorage.The Youth and Elders Conference Oct. 21-23 is expected to draw 1,000 participants, said Nance Larsen, Anchorage Convention & Visitors Bureau communications director. That event should have an estimated economic impact of about $839,000, Larsen said.The AFN convention Oct. 24-26 is expected to attract 3,500 participants who could spend roughly $3.3 million during the Anchorage event, Larsen said.Sharing the culture of Alaska Natives is another result of the convention, she said."It has a significant impact to the city in many ways," Larsen said.AFN convention delegates also conduct other business during their Anchorage visit, including trips to the city’s retailers. Timing for the convention also falls just after the Alaska Permanent Fund dividend payout and provides a retail surge for businesses.Convention delegates and other Alaskans spending their dividends produce significant traffic at the Anchorage 5th Avenue mall. It’s difficult to decipher how the convention increases traffic counts at the mall, said manager Gary Wells."I think it’s something all of downtown views as a pretty busy time of the year," Wells said. "All the businesses look forward to it."Mall merchants stock up for the October spending surge, which is a boost to Alaska businesses, he said."I think it’s certainly healthy for the economy," Wells said.Alaska Mining & Diving Supply Inc. of Anchorage also sees an increase in customers visiting the store during the convention, according to sales manager Chuck Maas."It’s a boon to our business," Maas said. "We do a tremendous amount of shipping to rural Alaska. We have a lot of customers we see once a year when they visit Anchorage."

Supreme Court hears Native Wireless case

WASHINGTON -- The Supreme Court debated Oct. 8 whether the government was out of line when it seized unused wireless licenses from a young company that had promised to provide better, cheaper cell phone service.Among the parties in the suit is Arctic Slope Regional Corp., the Barrow-based Native corporation. As part of a group called Alaska Native Wireless, ASRC teamed up with Doyon Ltd., Sealaska Corp. and industry giant AT&T Corp. to win several of the disputed licenses.Now, they’re arguing before the court they have the right to keep them.The Federal Communications Commission and NextWave Telecom Inc. have been battling over the airwaves slices since the New York company won them in an auction in 1996, then filed for bankruptcy protection before paying for them.Some justices seemed skeptical of claims that FCC rules allow it to cancel licenses owned by a company that is reorganizing its finances.

Eleventh annual mock trial competition enters planning phase

The committee that organizes the competition hopes to implement some major changes. First and foremost, members plan to recruit more high schools from the Anchorage area and remote areas of the state. While in early years, teams came from as far as Juneau, recently the teams have come from within driving distance of Anchorage. In addition, participation by Anchorage schools has decreased.Committee members plan to actively recruit students from Anchorage schools, as well as from towns such as Nome, Barrow, and Juneau. They are asking members of the Anchorage Bar to help by contacting schools with which they have connections or by offering to legal advise or coach a local team. "One of the barriers to school participation is the lack of a coach or legal advisor," says Krista Schwarting, who is co-chairing the competition for a third year. "We hope that attorneys will step up and help students with acquiring the basic legal knowledge necessary to present a solid case."The committee will announce and distribute this year’s problem in late October. Schwarting says the topic will interest high school students, as the committee has made an effort to choose topics to which students can relate. Last year’s problem concerned a hate crime against a student of Middle Eastern descent, and was chosen in the wake of the terrorist acts of September 11, 2001.For the first time, the problem will also be available on the Internet. The Anchorage Bar website will allow students to download the problem and access the rules. Alaska follows in the footsteps of a number of other states that have posted the current problem, as well as past problems, on the Web.Co-chair Michael Schaeffer and committee member Michelle Higuchi attended the national mock trial competition in St. Paul, Minnesota with the Chugiak High School team this past May and returned with the idea of making the problem available in an electronic format. Schaeffer also observed that the Chugiak team was competitive with teams from states that received significantly more funding for their mock trial programs, including some states that have paid attorney advisers for their mock trial teams.Attorneys interested in recruiting, coaching, or legal advising teams should contact Schwarting at 274-0666.

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