Sterling manufacturer meets Bush transportation needs

Mike Kunz has a freight-hauling answer for Alaska’s vast expanses where there are no roads, rails, runways or riverboats -- at least for most of the year.Kunz’s snowmachine sleds are a hot item in Alaska and news about them has spread through Canada and to the snow states of the Lower 48.Kunz, owner of Mike’s Welding in Sterling, started building the sleds a dozen years ago for himself. Word of the smooth-riding, straight-tracking sleds spread quickly in Alaska, where previously the standard snowmachine sled was little more than a plywood box with runners. Kunz’s sleds are aluminum, slide on skis and come with a suspension as an option."My sleds can haul eggs up to a cabin and be unbroken when they get there," said Kunz, who, in addition to building sleds, specializes in making aluminum boats, all-terrain vehicle trailers and salmon dipnets.A single freight sled with a 30- by 60-inch tub can hold as much as 1,200 pounds and can be pulled at up to 70 miles an hour. Kunz says he’s built more than 600 to date, and shipped them all over Alaska and the Lower 48, including one to New York state.Kunz and two other employees make between 30 and 75 sleds a year, mostly in the summer months.Basic sleds start at around $750 each. Options include pin striping, tail lamps, and extended skis and handlebars for someone to ride musher-style on the back.He also builds a pop-up sleeper sled, complete with heater for Bush expeditions.Kunz has used his sleds to support dog mushers and snowmachine expedition members for the annual Norman Vaughn Serum Run. The 776-mile journey from Nenana to Nome has been held each year since 1997 to commemorate the historic 1925 diphtheria serum run to Nome.With four of Kunz’s sleds, Joe Giffo considers himself a collector."I’m waiting for them to go up in value," joked the retired Anchorage dentist.Giffo got his first sled with the purchase of a remote cabin. He negotiated the sled in with the cabin’s price.He and his wife Margaret pull the sleds in tandem to their cabin, hauling barrels of fuel and supplies to the cabin."They are beautifully made and are really fantastic sleds," Giffo said.Kunz prides himself in craftsmanship."Anything I make has a lifetime warranty," Kunz said. "It’s no big deal if you do it right the first time. "If there is a problem with something I fix it and send the guy back down the road."

Oil field cleanup costs could reach $6 billion

WASHINGTON -- The Interior Department should give oil and gas companies specific requirements for cleaning up any damage from drilling in National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, congressional auditors said.A report released July 9 by the General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress, said businesses face potential cleanup costs of $2.7 billion to $6 billion from drilling for oil and natural gas in the 23 million-acre tract in northwest Alaska. The GAO cautioned that those figures are preliminary since they are based on industry estimates.Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., who requested the report, described the possible costs as "a world-class accounting scandal in the same league as WorldCom and Enron" since taxpayers could be left to pick up the tab.GAO’s figures are based on what industry says its total investment in oil and gas drilling will be and the Interior Department’s formula that assumes abandoning a project will cost roughly 5 percent of the original investment cost.Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, said Markey’s comments were irresponsible."The GAO report, if anyone bothers to read it, does not allege a scandal, let alone a scandal on the scale of WorldCom or Enron. In fact, I wonder where Mr. Markey got the basis for his allegations because it’s not in the report," Young said.Markey, who has been a leading opponent of the Bush administration’s proposal to drill in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, said Harvey Pitt, Securities and Exchange Commission chairman, should require a public accounting of the costs from companies.Markey also said Interior Secretary Gale Norton should require industry bonds that cover more than just a fraction of the cleanup costs.The Clinton administration opened 4 million acres of the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, federally owned and managed by Interior’s Bureau of Land Management, to oil drilling in 1998 with stringent environmental restrictions. The government’s latest estimates say the tract contains roughly 9.3 billion barrels of technically recoverable oil.Interior Assistant Secretary P. Lynn Scarlett said in a letter to the GAO that her agency generally agrees with the report’s findings and the BLM would now review whether companies’ financial assurances provide enough protection for the environment and taxpayers.Alaska officials said the concerns are misplaced since cleanup may not occur for 30 to 50 years from now."The state does not believe it is self-evident that it is better to adopt specific standards today for ... activities that may not take place for half a century," said Pat Pourchot, commissioner of Alaska’s Department of Natural Resources, in a letter to the GAO.-- The Associated Press

Firms should prepare for provider flameout

Technology companies have been flaming out at an alarming rate.The implications for today’s businesses that rely on information technology -- and who doesn’t? -- are equally alarming.How do you find technology partners who won’t go bankrupt a year from now and disrupt your own business?In years past, simply going with a big company was enough. Sure, you paid for the bureaucracy and sometimes ended up with mediocre service, but at least you knew they would stick around.Of course, Enron and WorldCom have invalidated that approach.There are some questions every business can ask to help mitigate the risks.Are they creative, yet practical?Business cycles have continued to accelerate over the past several decades, and companies must adapt to change faster than ever.Before you hire a company that can do exactly what you need today, ask yourself the question: What will they be doing tomorrow?I can’t count the number of business leaders I’ve met who struggle to upgrade their core business systems because their vendor hasn’t kept pace.Doing business the same way, day in and day out, producing basically the same products and the same services, isn’t called stability any more. Today, it’s called stagnation.That doesn’t mean that you should hire a bunch of theorists who can’t distinguish between what is truly useful and what is just a neat idea.You need a company with balance. Statements like "I think we will have an Internet module in the 2003 release," and "Check out our artificially-intelligent virtual reality goggles for your receptionist," are equally dangerous.Evaluate their work. Watch for the sustained use of leading, not bleeding, edge technologies.Do they use industry standards?If you buy a product based on proprietary technology and the company that produced it flames out, you may be up a creek.If the product is based on open standards, on the other hand, you can transfer the data from the dead company’s software to one of their surviving competitors.Go with solutions built on accepted industry standards whenever you can.If the vender you are considering will provide mission-critical systems, you may want to hire a consultant to provide this level of technical evaluation.What are their business values?I hear all the time that you shouldn’t mix your personal and business affairs. I would argue, though, that the same values that create strong personal relationships equally apply to business relationships.Honesty, respect, integrity and trust represent a commitment to one another’s success and to building relationships that stand up in times of trial."You shouldn’t do business with friends" is a phrase that holds true only if people don’t conduct their business relationships as they would those with their friends and family.When you evaluate a potential technology partner, ask them about their values. Better yet, ask their clients. Business is about making money, but it has to be more than that.Be wary of companies that can’t articulate their values and aren’t intellectually, and dare I say, emotionally invested in their clients.Are they or will they be profitable?You can’t have a long-term relationship with an IT company that doesn’t have a business model that’s viable for the long term.New technology businesses are built based on market speculation all the time, and there’s nothing inherently wrong with that.But speculation has to turn into future revenue. In today’s economic climate, that must be sooner rather than later.Beware of IT companies that have not learned how to be profitable. Start-up companies funded by venture capital are particularly susceptible.Can they succeed without another round of investment? Venture capital is no longer free money.Profitable today doesn’t mean profitable tomorrow, either. What is their model for future viability?Do they have a diverse client base, or will they sink if they lose a big contract? Do they offer a range of products or services, or will they tank during an industry recession?Predicting viability can be a challenge, especially when corporations have begun reporting expenses as income to skew their market evaluation.Still, make the effort. If you’re really good, please call me with stock tips.Are you planning your own future?Perhaps the most critical component of long-term success with information technology vendors lies not with the IT firms, but with your own company.If IT is core to your critical business processes, then recognizing the ever-changing nature of IT is vital for long-term survival.The software you use to perform daily business and the company which provides it will change dramatically, so plan for it.Budget for hardware upgrades, training for your staff and systems integration work at least every three years.Research demonstrates that firms which resist IT change and maintain outdated equipment and software end up paying more in the long term.Know your contingenciesDespite all your best efforts, eventually you’ll partner with a company that folds. Have a contingency plan in place that defines your strategy if this happens.Review your contracts and know all your options. Do this, and you won’t get burned by someone else’s flameout.Scott Gere is chief executive of Impact LLC, a communications and technology company. He can be reached via e-mail at [email protected]

Communities say Exxon still owes them $12 million in spill costs

ANCHORAGE -- Thirteen years after the Exxon Valdez ran aground, spilling 11 million gallons of crude oil into Prince William Sound, six communities say Exxon Mobil Corp. stills owes them $12 million in costs associated with the spill.A trial on the claim is under way in state Superior Court in Anchorage.Winds, currents and tides carried the crude oil out of the Sound, around the outer coast of the Kenai Peninsula and southwest to Kodiak Island and beyond. The plaintiffs are Kodiak Island Borough, Seward, Cordova, Old Harbor, Larsen Bay and Port Lions."People were working hard on the spill, and Exxon continues to nickel and dime them to death," said attorney Brian O’Neill, who is representing the cities.Exxon Mobil disputes the claim and says it has paid what it owes, more than $2 million.The case is independent of the main unsettled spill question: How much will Exxon Mobil be ordered to pay in punitive damages to thousands of commercial fishermen, Alaska Natives, property owners and others harmed by the spill?The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found the $5 billion award levied against the international corporation by an Anchorage jury in 1994 to be excessive and ordered the Anchorage federal district court to reduce it. Exxon Mobil has since told the court the award should be no more than $40 million.The case in state court involves a far smaller amount, with Port Lions looking for as little as $98,000. Thousands of hours spent on cleanup by city employees that took them away from their regular duties were not reimbursed by Exxon, O’Neill said in the first week of trial.Darryl Schaefermeyer, deputy city manager of Seward at the time of the spill, has testified that during the summer of 1989, he received spill-related calls every day, including weekends. That led him and other city employees to underestimate the amount of time they worked on cleanup when reporting the hours, he said.But Exxon attorneys, who opened their case July 2, said that cities can’t ask for reimbursement years later."If I felt like we owed any money, we wouldn’t be here," said Chuck Diamond, an Exxon attorney. "We paid them all. They don’t get to come back 13 years later and submit an invoice."The state Superior Court initially dismissed the case in the early 1990s, saying municipalities and villages could not ask for money for services they were hard-pressed to provide to residents during the cleanup.But on appeal, the state Supreme Court said the cities’ claims were valid and ordered a retrial in Superior Court.

Small businesses can get a slice of the government pie

For anyone who has ever perused the federal budget, it becomes obvious that the United States government acquires a vast quantity of goods and services. In 2001, federal contracting totaled approximately $215 billion covering everything from diapers to nuclear reactors.In fact, there are 1,140 categories, or codes, of goods and services that the government contracts to buy, at least one of which probably fits the product offering profile of most American small businesses. The codes are derived from the North American Industrial Classification System. The best place to locate the listing in on the Web at www.naics.com.As a review of the top 20 purchasing categories reveals, research and defense related spending are the biggest ticket items, chewing up more than 40 percent of the available contracting pie. Yet it’s the less exotic, more mundane categories that offer hidden opportunity for the average business next door.For example, a contracting pool of approximately $26 billion is available for such services as "facilities support," "computer systems design," "custom computer programming" and "commercial and industrial buildings." In the latter case, the federal government requires massive facilities support simply because it’s the largest holder of commercial and industrial property in the country.Despite the common perception that the promised land of government contracting is the exclusive and private domain of a relatively small cadre of large corporate insiders or "beltway bandits," the truth is that small- to medium- sized enterprises are currently active suppliers to a full range of government agencies.In 2001, small businesses accounted for about 20 percent or $43 billion in direct contracting dollars. Interestingly, the government departments most accepting of small business participation were not the heavyweight spenders such as the departments of Army, Navy and Air Force, but the less visible entities such as Public Buildings Services, U.S. Coast Guard, Agricultural Marketing Services, Forest Service, Drug Enforcement Administration and National Park Service. Which raises the question: Is there room in your revenue stream for a piece of the government spending action?Not as impenetrable as it seemsAlthough there are more than 30 million small businesses filing tax returns in the United States, most are discouraged from the bidding process for two reasons: lack of knowledge of the opportunity itself, and the perception that the bidding process is both complex and resource-intensive, resulting in a situation where only the experienced and well-connected can succeed.It is undeniably true that the bidding process is infected with politics, excessive paperwork, long decision cycles and abstruse contracting rules. In many cases, it’s impossible to determine where the final decision is made and who makes it. And many so-called open bid competitions are already a fait accompli even before the request for proposals hits the street.Yet according to Matt Nussbaum, principal at consulting firm Thomas Associates International, "Government contracting need not be as daunting a process as many believe. Federal and many state programs have explicitly mandated procurement procedures that are intended to favor small business." How it worksIn general, a company can identify itself as a small business, either directly or as a subcontractor, through a simple process of self-certification. As Nussbaum notes, many federal contracts may have small business participation requirements, but the only demonstration of a small business credential takes the form of checking a box and appending a signature on the big proposal documents. Only in the case of a subsequent challenge would a small business have the need to further document its small business status.In its efforts to promote small business participation in government contracting, the federal government has also established programs that provide mandated benefits to small businesses but require more paperwork and the meeting of stricter certification requirements in order to partake in the programs. The Small Disadvantaged Business and the 8A are two such programs. Both favor small businesses that meet specific criteria with respect to size and disadvantaged status.Nussbaum also points out that large contractors should not be ignored as a source of government largesse. These contractors actively seek small business subcontractors in order to satisfy their own small business participation requirements, also know as "set asides."Notes Nussbaum, "Subcontracting to the larger prime contractors can be an excellent way for a small business to enter the government arena because the main burden of the bid preparation and submittal process is typically born by the prime contractor. A good prime may also mentor the small business contractor through the preparation of its own bid materials."Admittedly, seeking a piece of the government pie is not for everyone. But the truth is that there are enormous dollars at stake, especially if state and municipal contracts are factored into the equation.In these tough times, when traditional revenues streams have dried up, now may be the time to learn the ropes, fill out the paperwork and endure the pain of applying for some of that government money. It’s going to be spent and if you don’t get it, somebody else will. Alf Nucifora is an Atlanta-based marketing consultant. He can be reached via e-mail at [email protected]

State, federal agencies evaluate new Tok visitor center

State officials are considering several sites to build a new Alaska Public Lands Information Center in Tok, which may share facilities with the Tetlin National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center if funding is approved.Project leaders have recommended the sites to community members for review, said Odin Brudie, tourism planner with the state Department of Community and Economic Development."We want it to complement existing businesses and complement Tetlin or Tanacross (both near Tok) for cultural tourism," he said.The new visitor center would measure up to 12,000 square feet on a site measuring at least 2 acres, he said.Design of the new facility could begin this year on the public lands information center portion, Brudie said.However, funding has been delayed for the Tetlin National Wildlife Refuge portion, said deputy refuge manager Cris Dippel. Planning for fiscal year 2005 or 2006 may bring funds for the wildlife refuge visitor center, he said.Refuge managers are still discussing the possibility of sharing a facility, Dippel said.U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials are looking for new refuge offices in Tok, he said. Likewise, operators of the public lands information center there require a new center, according to state officials.A combined center would feature an information counter, an exhibit area, parking, restrooms, public phones, a theater/auditorium, indoor and outdoor interpretive displays, and information and tickets for the Alaska Marine Highway System.State officials have been working since March 2000 to develop a combined public lands information center and Tetlin refuge visitor center near Tok. Both operate under a dispensation from the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, which designated millions of acres as national parks, forest and wildlife refuges.The law stipulated that Alaska Public Lands Information Centers serve the public on behalf of state and federal agencies.Public lands information centers are located in Anchorage, Fairbanks, Ketchikan and Tok.The new Tok public lands information center, which will serve Alaska Highway visitors, is eligible for federal aid highway funding.The current program should provide construction funding for the center and highway rest stop facilities in federal fiscal year 2005, according to state officials. Additional funds will be needed for Fish and Wildlife officials to build the wildlife refuge portion of the joint facility.

TOTE shuffles Alaska-based executives

Totem Ocean Trailer Express Inc. has promoted Bill Deaver to senior vice president and chief operating officer.Deaver, 54, will be the shipping company’s first-ever senior vice president and will relocate to Seattle. Deaver will be replaced by John Parrott, who most recently was general manager of Sea Star Stevedoring in Tacoma, Wash.Deaver joined TOTE in March 2000 as general manager of TOTE’s Alaska operations and was promoted a year later to vice president and Alaska general manager. He has 30 years of transportation experience and has held management positions on nearly every continent. Prior to joining TOTE, he held a variety of senior management positions with Sea-Land, now CSX, and Maersk. At Sea-Land, he held positions in California, Korea, Republic of China, Philippines, Canada, Hong Kong, Alaska, Ireland and Georgia. From 1995 to 1998 Deaver was Sea-Land’s general manager for Alaska. Deaver said he still will be in Alaska at least one week each month. He will continue to be responsible for all operations, sales and marketing, traffic and administration in TOTE’s Alaska division, including Fairbanks and activities on the Kenai Peninsula."Alaska is TOTE’s business," he said.Parrott, 37, began his career with Pacific Gulf Marine as a third mate. Parrott joined Interocean Management in 1989 and advanced to the position of chief mate, sailing on a variety of vessels including TOTE’s S.S. Great Land and the S.S. Northern Lights.Parrott has a bachelor’s degree from the United States Merchant Marine Academy and a master’s degree in business administration from Seattle University.

Doyon Ltd. awards exploration contract

North Star Exploration Inc. has been awarded an option to explore 1.2 million acres of Interior Alaska lands owned by Doyon Ltd., the Alaska Native regional corporation covering the Interior.Doyon owns 12.5 million acres of land in Interior Alaska.The new agreement, which is for three years, follows an earlier five-year contract under which North Star was given rights to explore 7 million acres of Doyon-owned lands."The new agreement comprises those land blocks where North Star has identified or assessed mineral occurrences and considers these blocks to have good potential for hosting economic mineral deposits," the company said in a press release.The company spent $10 million in its earlier assessment of Doyon lands. Under the new agreement, North Star will make annual payments of up to $225,000 each year, depending on how many land blocks are retained under option as exploration proceeds.Provisions for sliding-scale production royalties and conversion of specific properties into mining leases are also in the new agreement.North Star is owned mostly by EMEX Corp., but 10 percent of its stock is owned by Doyon.Meanwhile, another EMEX subsidiary, Zeus Exploration Inc., has signed an exploration and mine development agreement with AngloGold North America Inc. that will allow Zeus to earn a 65 percent interest in AngloGold’s West Pogo properties in eastern Interior Alaska.Zeus has agreed to make exploration investments of $800,000 during a six-year period and to pay AngloGold $170,000 during the same period.West Pogo is a mineralized area near the Pogo gold discovery that is now being developed by Teck Cominco. The discovery of Pogo set off a rush of new exploration and claims-staking in the eastern Interior region.Pogo is about 25 miles northeast of Delta, which is east of Fairbanks.

Chukchi Sea fishermen count crabs for study

KOTZEBUE -- A survey of the potential of the Chukchi Sea crab fishery indicates the fishery is looking up after a slow start."We’re coming back with anywhere from 50 to 60 crabs a day," said Bobby Richards, who is participating in the survey.The Bering Sea Fishermen’s Association is conducting the survey, which will continue into late July.Richards described how his catch has improved. "We had a slow start, but they’re starting to pick up. All the crab are from the shore to five miles out," he said. "Commercial’s been doing pretty good, but the subsistence pots have really been nailing ’em."Will Barber, a biologist hired by the association to run the survey, said there have only been about five or six crabbing days so far. The nine boats participating in the survey have been crabbing since June 16 but strong winds have kept the boats from venturing out."It seems like the crabbing is picking up," Barber said.The survey is focusing around Sealing Point. The nine crabbers fish the area for three days and then take a day off to evaluate the data.The survey results will be analyzed to decide whether a small-boat commercial crab fishery makes sense.

Health care continues its fast growth

Alaska’s fastest growing job sector is services, and health care has been leading that charge as the state’s senior population grows.In 2001 the services sector added 2,700 new jobs, accounting for almost half of the 6,100 new jobs added across all industries, according to the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development.As an official statistic, the services sector decreased slightly because federally recognized tribes were moved from the services sector to local government last year. But within the services sector, health care climbed from 17,000 jobs in 2000 to 18,100 last year.State labor economists expect that trend to continue in coming years as an aging population of Alaskans will require additional health care services."We have the fastest growing senior group in the U.S.," said Laraine Derr, president of the Juneau-based Alaska State Hospital and Nursing Home Association.That demand will require more nurses, she said. It also will require assisted living centers and home health care services, which require nurses’ aides, personal care attendants, certified nursing aides and nurses. That includes licensed practical nurses who have a one-year nursing degree and registered nurses with a two-year degree or bachelor’s degree in nursing, she said.The health care industry association has developed a plan, along with University of Alaska leaders, to remedy a statewide nursing shortage. A new program aims to double the number of nursing graduates per year from 110 now to about 220 by 2006.Major components of the program call for expanding the University of Alaska Anchorage School of Nursing and increasing distance delivery courses for rural students.Alaska’s health care industry also needs pharmacists, Derr said. Radiology technicians also are in short supply, she said.Increasing demand for radiological services is partly a result of technology advances, she said. The field, once specializing in X-rays, now regularly uses magnetic resonance imaging machines, with the newer Positron Emission Tomography scanner technology on its way.Providence Alaska Medical Center in Anchorage is due to install a PET scanner next year."As technology improves you need technicians who can run that kind of machine," Derr said.

Eateries poised to top $1 billion

Alaska’s burgeoning eating and drinking industry has served up a decade of uninterrupted growth and shows no signs of faltering.Industry employment has grown 2.8 percent annually for 10 years, faster than the total statewide job growth of 1.8 percent, according to the state Department of Labor. The state’s performance mirrors a national trend of restaurant industry growth, according to the National Restaurant Association.The amount of money from the total food budget the public is spending in restaurants has grown to 46 percent, up from 25 percent in 1955.The association expects more than 858,000 restaurants to tally $408 billion in sales this year, up nearly 4 percent from 2001. The association projects Alaska’s restaurant sales to top $1 billion this year, up from an estimated $982 million in 2001, when the state had 1,811 establishments.Last year eating and drinking establishments in Alaska provided 17,300 jobs, surpassing total statewide employment in the oil and construction industries.The industry is dynamic and new locations are opening, mainly on the road system, said state labor economist Brigitta Windisch-Cole. She helped analyze the sector’s growth for an article in the July issue of Economic Trends, published by the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development.Four in five jobs in Alaska restaurants and bars are in Anchorage, Fairbanks, the Kenai Peninsula and the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, the report found. In 2001, Anchorage had almost 600 bars and restaurants.Almost half of Anchorage restaurants are in a "general category," which includes steak houses and seafood specialists. About one in seven specialize in Asian cuisine. About one in 10 focus on pizza and one in 12 on burgers.Alaskans spend about $1 in every $3 of their food budgets eating away from home, just below the national average. Measured in terms of per capita sales, though, the tourism industry helps boost the state to second place, behind Hawaii."We expect tourism growth and therefore growth in eating and drinking places," Windisch-Cole told the Journal.Monthly restaurant employment peaked last year in August at 19,800 jobs. January marked the low point at 15,200 jobs."We go from 30 in winter to 110 employees in summer," said Michael Klopfer, assistant general manager at Anchorage’s Snow Goose Restaurant & Brewery, which opened in 1996 and has been growing.Klopfer attributes the industry’s expanding employment to a trend of adding employees to improve service."These days there’s more focus on customer service," he said. "It’s a small circle in the industry up here. Overall, everybody has made that transition."Peter McGlashan, manager at the new Chili’s Grill & Bar in Anchorage, has seen customer service improve during 17 years in the restaurant industry. Today, a server handles five tables at one time, down from about eight tables several years ago, he said.Chili’s opened its first Alaska location in May. McGlashan employs 55 servers, 45 cooks and more than 30 bussers and others to tackle the busy first summer season. "We’ve been open seven weeks and it has not let up," he said.Name recognition of national chains is helping Alaska franchisees, and chain restaurants record significant volumes, McGlashan said.Alaska’s population growth was also a factor during several years of increases in restaurant industry employment, said George Tipton, president of the state Cabaret Hotel Restaurant & Retailers Association.Tipton operates the 22,000-square-foot Ketchikan Entertainment Center with a bowling alley, an indoor miniature golf range, an arcade and the 200-seat Roller Bay Bar & Grille. He also runs two Godfather’s Pizza restaurants in Ketchikan, although one is open only during summer.The eating and drinking industry has grown because of changing lifestyles in which both parents work outside the home and families are more active, Tipton said. He expects that trend to endure, further stimulating the strong restaurant sector.Klopfer sees room for further eating and drinking industry growth. One reason he cites is that diners today have less time to cook and more money to spend eating out."I think it caters nicely to our industry," he said.

University to increase engineering graduates

Engineering is one of the fastest-growing fields of employment in Alaska and demand is likely to outstrip supply for some time to come.For the short term, federal funding for transportation and defense projects is likely to keep business brisk for providers of engineering services and for engineers.In the long term, the demographic time bomb that will affect the entire work force -- a decline in the numbers of young people entering universities -- will affect engineering as well as other professions, according to Tom Miller, interim director of the University of Alaska Anchorage’s School of Engineering.For its part, the University of Alaska is doing its best to ramp up engineering programs on all three of its main campuses in Fairbanks, Anchorage and Juneau, Miller said. For years Alaska-based engineering firms have had a tough time finding qualified staff.If the state university can produce more people trained in the various engineering disciplines, private sector recruiting costs will fall, he said. There’s also a correlation that has been documented between economic development in a region and the number of people there who are educated and trained in sciences and engineering.More people with university degrees in science and engineering seems to translate to a faster-growing, more prosperous economy, Miller said.Within the state, the University of Alaska Fairbanks has been the backbone of the engineering program, with undergraduate and graduate programs in electrical, mechanical, civil, petroleum and minerals engineering.The University of Alaska Anchorage has had a graduate program in engineering management and an undergraduate civil engineering program for years. An associate degree program is also offered in geomatics, dealing with surveying, geographic information systems and related fields.A collaborative program between the Anchorage and Fairbanks campuses began in 1997. The program allows students in mechanical and electrical engineering to take their first two years in Anchorage and the final two years at the Fairbanks campus.Graduate-level engineering programs in Anchorage have also been expanded. Master’s programs are now offered in civil and environmental quality engineering and in arctic engineering, a subset of civil specializing in cold regions.An effort is also now underway to expand engineering programs to the University of Alaska Southeast in Juneau. What’s being considered there is a focus on transportation engineering."The university is doing some good things in engineering," Miller said.University of Alaska Anchorage, for example, has developed an innovative program for minority, mainly Alaska Native students in engineering and science that is reporting success.Herb Schroeder, a former civil engineer for VECO Alaska Inc., a local construction and oil service company, is a UAA associate professor in charge of the Alaska Native Science and Engineering Program. The most notable accomplishment of the program, now 5 years old, is that 70 percent of the students are still in the undergraduate engineering program three and four years after starting, a striking difference with the national average of 27 percent for Native Americans and about 35 percent for all students in engineering."Herb is really onto something here. There’s something significant going on," said Miller.Schroeder is now working to find ways to apply the program’s successes to the entire university. "The techniques he is developing to retain Alaska Native students in engineering and sciences, very difficult areas of study, can be applied to all fields," Miller said.Another innovative thing the program is doing is reaching out to rural high schools to stimulate an early interest in science and engineering.A National Science Foundation grant has now allowed the program to be expanded to the Fairbanks campus and also to First American students at the University of Hawaii and the University of Washington.UAA’s School of Engineering is also reaching out to local employers to determine their needs. One recent survey, for example, found a need for computer systems engineers, or people with training in both electrical engineering and computer science, Miller said.These skills are needed across a broad range of industries. One example is in health care, Miller said. This is a real growth field, where a high degree of training and skill is required to operate and maintain sophisticated biomedical instruments and equipment, he said.UAA is now trying to determine how many people are now employed as technicians in jobs that normally require an engineering degree, Miller said. The university could offer these people a way to upgrade their skills and obtain a degree.The profession faces big challenges, however. In an effort to increase the supply of engineers, one of the problems facing all universities, not just Alaska’s, is improving the dismal retention rate in engineering schools, Miller said.On a national average, only about 35 percent, about one in three, students who enter university engineering programs finish their programs. Almost all of them graduate, but with degrees in other fields.Why do so many beginning engineering studies switch to other fields? Partly because studying engineering is hard work and the program is long, Miller believes.While it’s possible to get an undergraduate degree in engineering in four years, it means taking five to six classes per semester, he said. This translates to workweeks of 60 to 80 hours."You have to be really committed to be working at the library when all your friends are out playing," Miller said. Most engineering students need four and a half or even five years to finish.The payoff comes after finishing school and an engineering graduate lands a good job and begins a rewarding career.But it’s hard for an 18-year-old beginning university student to see that, Miller said. It’s possible in other fields to take general exploratory courses during the freshman and sophomore years and then specialize, to get a degree in, for example, business or education.That’s not so in engineering, Miller said. Engineering studies begin in the first year.Given these challenges, there’s a lot of thought being given in engineering schools about how to make these programs more attractive. Some thought is being given to "outcome based" curriculums, where progress through a program is based less on "seat time" in classes and more on demonstration of proficiency at various levels.This has to be done without diminishing the quality of engineering education, however. "One difference between engineering and other fields, like business, is that your work affects life and safety," Miller said. "There are real risks in decisions made by an underqualified engineer."

Delta Junction stunned by veto of loan

DELTA JUNCTION -- Gov. Tony Knowles’ veto of a $1 million interest-free loan to the city of Delta Junction caught city officials off guard.The loan would have allowed the city to finish paying its $1.1 million breach-of-contract settlement with Allvest Inc. and Delta Corrections Corp. stemming from a failed effort to build a private prison at Fort Greely. The money was due July 1.Gov. Tony Knowles signed into law a $2.4 billion budget that did not include a legislative request for the $1 million loan."I don’t understand how we’ve been such an evil community we can’t even get a loan," said Councilman Lou Heinbockel.Councilman Mark Weller said some of the council members joked about a possible veto as they waited nearly a month for the governor to take action, but they didn’t come up with contingency plans."We could not fathom a loan would be cut from a budget," Weller said.Knowles’ spokeswoman Julie Penn said a provision in the loan bill would have converted the loan to a grant if the city became part of an organized borough. A state bailout of a city’s lawsuit could set a bad precedent, she said."The state was not a party to the litigation," Penn said.But Delta officials say the state did have a role in what transpired.Allvest had brokered a deal with the Delta Community Coalition organized to look for alternative uses for Fort Greely Army Post, which was slated for closure. Because the coalition was not a government entity, the state told the city it would have to sign any agreements.After the deal went sour, some legislators pushed the city to settle out of court, Heinbockel said."Certain key legislators convinced the city to settle with Allvest with the veiled promise, ’We’ll bail you out,’ " he said.Heinbockel said one thing is clear: The city is in default."I don’t know what’s going to happen from here," Heinbockel said. "I know one thing. We don’t have the $1 million."

Earnest money agreements lay out terms of home sales

When a prospective buyer of unimproved or improved real estate agrees to purchase that real estate, the buyer and seller normally execute a contract, typically called an Earnest Money Receipt and Agreement to Purchase. The agreement sets forth the terms under which the buyer agrees to purchase and the seller agrees to sell the relevant real property.Upon the closing of the earnest money agreement, additional documents implementing the transaction are executed, delivered and in some cases recorded.Like all contracts, among the key features of an earnest money agreement from a contract law point of view are an offer, typically made by the buyer to the seller, the acceptance of the offer, and consideration or value to support the mutual promises of the parties. Also of particular significance in an earnest money agreement are the conditions to the parties’ respective duties to perform the contract and complete the conveyance of the real estate.There are certain aspects of real estate earnest money agreements that are of key importance in nearly any transaction. They include the following:PriceThe earnest money agreement must set forth the price for the property and whether it is payable in full in cash on closing or on a deferred basis with the seller financing a portion of the purchase price.In the case of seller financing, the terms of the purchase money loan should be set forth in detail, including the amount of the loan, the term of the loan, the interest rate and the amount of the periodic, usually monthly payments.The description of the purchase money loan should also set forth whether the loan will be secured most likely via a first priority purchase money deed of trust, whether the note will be escrowed at a bank escrow company and in a commercial deal, whether the note can be prepaid without penalty.ConditionsOne of the most common and significant conditions required to close the transaction is often the procurement of financing to purchase the property. Generally, the buyer’s procurement of third party financing is set forth as a condition to the buyer’s duty to close. It is prudent to specify in as much detail as possible the terms of the lending facility that the buyer desires to procure.InspectionsEarnest money agreements often provide that the buyer’s duty to proceed is also conditioned upon the completion of a satisfactory inspection of the property by the buyer, the buyer’s agents or the buyer’s experts. Generally those inspections must be completed within a relatively certain short time.If the results of the inspections are not acceptable to the buyer, the agreement might provide that the buyer’s duty to proceed is excused. Some agreements, however, give the seller the option to reduce the price of the property by the cost of the relevant repairs.AppraisalAlthough not terribly common, some agreements provide that a condition to the buyer’s obligation to close is the buyer’s receipt of an appraisal of the property showing a value not less than the purchase price.TitleThe earnest money agreement should describe the status of the title to the property that the buyer is expecting to receive. Earnest money agreements may provide, for example, that title shall be clear of liens and encumbrances except any conditions, restrictions, reservations and rights of way easements, and covenants of record.Title insuranceAnother typical condition to the buyer’s duty to close is the receipt at closing of a standard owner’s title insurance policy in a face amount equal to the purchase price insuring the status of the title as described in the earnest money agreement.DeedProperty in Alaska is often conveyed via a statutory warranty deed. Under the Alaska statutes, the language "conveys and warrants" contained in a deed basically means that the title being conveyed is owned outright by the seller, that the seller has the right and power to convey the property, that the property is free from encumbrances except as provided in the deed, and that the seller warrants the buyer will have quiet and peaceable possession of the property.Alternatively, title in Alaska can be conveyed via a quitclaim deed which essentially conveys the seller’s interest in the property, whatever that interest is, to the buyer.Allocation of expensesEarnest money agreements commonly allocate various closing costs and other expenses as between the buyer and seller. For example, escrow closing fees and recording fees are typically split equally by the buyer and seller. The standard owner’s title insurance premium is normally paid by the seller.ClosingThe earnest money agreement should set forth a specific closing date and provide that if the transaction does not close by that date the parties are entitled to exercise whatever remedies the contract might provide.RemediesThe parties have broad discretion in negotiating the remedies available upon any breach of the earnest money agreement. It is not uncommon for an earnest money agreement to provide that if the buyer breaches its obligations under the earnest money agreement, the earnest money deposit is forfeited to the seller.Similarly, if the seller breaches the earnest money agreement, the buyer is normally entitled to a refund of its earnest money deposit.Some agreements, particularly in the residential setting also provide for possible mediation or arbitration of disputes or entitlements to the earnest money deposit.Normally neither residential buyers nor residential sellers are interested in engaging in protracted litigation or being exposed to significant additional damages. It is usually better to unwind the transaction, decide promptly who gets the earnest money deposit, and go on to a better deal.LeasesIn transactions involving rental property, including commercial property, the buyer’s duty to close is often also subject to the receipt of copies of all of the leases pertaining to the property, representations and warranties from the seller as to the existence and continued validity of those leases, and the assignment of the seller’s interest as landlord in those leases to the buyer.DisclosuresIn earnest money agreements pertaining to residential real property, there are certain state and federal statutory concerns that need to be considered. Disclosure statement: Under Alaska law, the seller of residential real property is required prior to the making of an offer by a buyer, to provide the buyer with a particular form of disclosure statement prepared by the Alaska Real Estate Commission pertaining to the condition of the real property.The negligent making of a statement by the seller to the buyer in such a disclosure statement can give rise to a claim for damages, and in the case of a willful misstatement, triple damages might be recoverable by a buyer. However, the buyer can waive in writing the right to receive such a disclosure statement. Lead-based paint warning statement: With regard to housing constructed before 1978, federal law requires that a particular form of warning about the possible hazards of lead-based paint and lead-based paint hazards must be provided to the buyer and the buyer must be provided a ten day period to test for lead-based paint issues. Water wells and septic systems: The Anchorage Municipal Code provides that prior to conveyance of a privately owned water well or on-site wastewater disposal system, the seller shall obtain from the Municipality of Anchorage a certificate of health authority approval. Disclosure of other issues: In the interest of full disclosure, some residential earnest money agreements also go beyond the statutorily prescribed disclosures and identify any particularly noteworthy or notorious circumstances affecting the property.An example would be if the property had been the scene of a serious and well publicized crime. Making such disclosures should help reduce the risk of a claim by the buyer of fraudulent concealment of a potentially material fact.The terms and conditions in an earnest money agreement define, and to a significant degree, set in stone the terms of a commercial or residential real estate transaction. As a result, the preparation and analysis of such earnest money agreements should be approached with as much seriousness and care as the execution of the closing documents that implement and complete the transaction.Frederick J. Odsen is a member of the law firm of Hughes Thorsness Powell Huddleston & Bauman LLC in Anchorage. He can be reached at 907-274-7522.

Sheep Creek Lodge caters to tourists, residents

MILE 88.2 PARKS HIGHWAY -- At Sheep Creek Lodge, a University of North Carolina instructor has taken on a new project. John Kartesz, who has a doctorate in botany and has compiled databases of North American plant life, bought the lodge three years ago and is planning ways to expand the business.The summertime Alaska resident recognizes the importance of the season to his lodge operation, likening it to tourism business on the North Carolina coast."You have to make it from May to September," he said.Although Sheep Creek Lodge is open year-round, business is slow in winter months, when two managers run the business for him, Kartesz said. Poor snowfall for snowmachining kept many riders away last winter. "We really struggled," he said.The lodge, located on the Parks Highway 88 miles north of Anchorage, is a highway landmark between Willow and the Talkeetna cut-off. After a fire the current building was rebuilt in 1986 using 30-inch diameter Alaska white spruce logs from Nenana, Kartesz said.At 10,000 square feet, the new lodge is about three times the size of its predecessor, he said. Sheep Creek Lodge services include a bar and restaurant seating 75 people, a gas station, 15 cabins and guided tours.Kartesz, who serves as director of the university’s North Carolina Biota of North America Program, was attracted to the lodge in the late 1990s. At the time he was returning from research for the National Park Service at Denali National Park and Preserve. Kartesz led the multiyear work, begun in 1996, which created an inventory and computer database of all park plants.One year after discovering the lodge was for sale, Kartesz bought the object of his fascination."I have never seen a building so awe-inspiring as this building," Kartesz said. "It is a grand, beautiful building."Since then he has added features at Sheep Creek Lodge. Last year an upstairs gift shop was created plus five rooms downstairs. Later this year work should be finished on a new shower facility and public restrooms. Also, the lodge owner has acquired 10 new 16-by-20-foot cabins to nestle beside five existing cabins.Kartesz estimates he has invested up to $400,000 in facility upgrades. "We put every penny back into the lodge," he said.As a highway-related tourism business, Kartesz looks for ways to draw more people to the lodge. "We feel we need to expand. There are too many missed opportunities," he said.The property at Sheep Creek Lodge encompasses 25 acres and has an advantage because perimeters border the highway, railroad and creek, Kartesz said.He plans to develop a recreational vehicle park on 12 creekside acres. More than 100 spaces, including full hookups or rough sites, could be built depending on the septic system capacity, he said.During summer, tourism accounts for 90 percent of business, while in winter community residents and visitors from Anchorage, typically snowmachiners, each make up half of overall business, he said. The lodge is open daily except Christmas.Summer tour buses from eight different lines stop at the restaurant and compose an important part of business, Kartesz said. He estimates about 200 to 300 tour buses stop at the lodge each summer, bringing up to 10,000 people.Sheep Creek Lodge employs 19 full- and part-time workers with Kartesz pitching in to cook, wash dishes and greet customers as needed. "It’s a pretty demanding 16-hour day," he said.Of the services the lodge offers, the bar leads in annual gross sales, followed by the restaurant then the gift shop, Kartesz said.So far this year summer Sheep Creek Lodge’s business appears slower than in 2001, probably due to economic concerns in the Lower 48, Kartesz said. However, a Kenai River king salmon fishery closure and subsequent restriction drew fishermen to fish for kings on the Parks Highway, boosting business at the lodge, he said.The run of silver salmon in early August also should bring a wave of lodge customers, he said.Like other tourism businesses, Sheep Creek Lodge is subject to changing customer numbers as a result of various factors."You have peaks and valleys all the time," he said.One effort may smooth those extremes. Kartesz is working with universities to establish the lodge as a biological field station where students can earn credit for summer courses in botany and other studies. Faculty and students would live at the lodge. University of North Carolina faculty members lined up to visit Alaska as soon as Kartesz bought the lodge, he said.Kartesz is negotiating with university officials from UNC, Duke, Harvard and the University of California at Berkeley. He hopes to finalize the arrangement this fall in order to offer it next May.As a college student, Kartesz took a course in hotel management and another in bartending. However, understanding the lodge business and related regulations is a challenge, he said."As a scientist I approach problems in a methodical way," he said. "In the lodge business, there are so many uncertainties."

Residents protest Steese closure

If complaints were dollars, Joe Perkins wouldn’t have a problem maintaining the Steese Highway next winter.Perkins, commissioner of the state Department of Transportation and Public Facilities, has announced cuts in winter road maintenance next year, including on the Steese Highway from Mile Post 44 to Circle, a community of about 100 people, 130 miles northeast of Fairbanks.The cuts to the Steese Highway winter maintenance program and many others throughout the state is the result of the Legislature’s failure to fund the agency’s requested budget, Perkins said. The reductions total just $180,000, but residents in Central and in the nearby smaller towns of Circle City and Circle Hot Springs say the lack of snowplowing will effectively destroy the communities, as the highway is their only link to the rest of the world."This is major, major stuff here," said Circle resident Karen Hamilton. "People are going to lose their homes, and businesses will go under if this goes through."Hamilton along with husband Don have led letter-writing campaigns to the state and federal government, the media and nearly anyone else they think might listen.Letter texts from residents to Perkins and Gov. Tony Knowles are full of capital letters and exclamation points, emphasizing frustration and fear of the highway closure.Strong consensus exists in the communities that residents are being used in a fight between a Democratic administration and a Republican-led Legislature."We all know that this is a political ploy to make the (Republicans) look bad and pawn the blame for these cuts off on them," Don Hamilton wrote in a letter to Perkins.Perkins said he feels the communities’ pain, but says it’s not about politics."It’s horrible what we have to do the Steese and I have great sympathy for everyone," said Perkins, who has read many of the letters from the community and has even visited a Web site established to save the highway’s winter maintenance. "They’re singing to the choir with me. "There is a lot of finger-pointing but the simple fact of the matter is we’re $6.3 million short and we just don’t have it." Perkins said the budget shortfall also will close maintenance stations on the Kenai Peninsula, at Chitina, on the Richardson Highway and on the Denali Highway. Some 70 positions statewide are expected to be cut, including a deputy commissioner.The state’s general fund pays for personnel and maintenance costs. And while those functions were not funded at the level Perkins had hoped, the department’s overall budget increased in the form of more federal construction dollars.Perkins said the agency is prohibited by federal law from using the federal construction dollars for snow removal and other winter maintenance efforts."The bottom line is we’ll enjoy a substantial flow of federal money to build roads, trails, airports and even a restroom," Perkins said. "But cuts in state general funds will deprive us of the ability to properly maintain that infrastructure."Perkins said a remedy to the problem is to increase the state’s gasoline tax from 8 cents a gallon.Alaska has the cheapest gas tax in the nation, Perkins said. Most states tax gasoline anywhere from 15 cents to 23 cents a gallon.For each penny-per-gallon increase to the tax, about $4 million would go into the state’s coffers. Earmarking that money for road maintenance would cure state’s road maintenance shortfall, Perkins said."It’s like having a Cadillac and not having the gas money to drive it," said Cliff Hendrickson, of the state’s expanding road infrastructure but lack of maintenance money.Hendrickson owns Central Electric Inc., the power plant that serves Circle. He said if the road is closed in winter, and folks move out of town, he’ll be out of business.Hendrickson and Hamilton said the state’s budget woes are confusing to most of their neighbors.This summer major repair work is being done on the Steese Highway."What good is a newly paved road to a ghost town?" Hamilton said.Hendrickson said government should look at budgets as a whole and prioritize projects. He points to a government-funded peregrine falcon study under way this summer in the area, which likely cost taxpayers many times what it would take to keep the Steese Highway open in the winter."I like birds," says Hendrickson. "But in these tough times, which is more important: people’s lives or peregrine falcons?"

Alaska senators could regain chairmanships

FAIRBANKS -- Alaska Sens. Ted Stevens and Frank Murkowski could once again serve as chair- men of key committees if Republicans regain control of the Senate, following the November election.Republican U.S. senators decided June 25 not to curtail opportunities for senior colleagues to serve as committee chairmen in the future.The Senate Republican conference, voting at its weekly meeting, approved language that clarifies how it will apply term limits to its chairmen and ranking members.The decision leaves Stevens in line to reclaim the chairmanship of the Senate Appropriations Committee without penalty for his time spent as ranking member of the committee, should Republicans obtain a majority in the coming election.Stevens lost the top spot last year when Sen. James Jeffords of Vermont declared himself an independent and joined the Democratic caucus. Stevens remains ranking member, the top minority position on a committee.Earlier this year, some Republican members, including Pennsylvania Sens. Rick Santorum and Arlen Specter, began asserting that time spent as a ranking member should count against the six-year term limit on chairmanships that the caucus imposed on its members.They based this on an interpretation of the original caucus rule.Others, such as Sen. Gordon Smith, R-Ore., wanted to do away with term limits entirely.The June 25 decision was a good compromise, Stevens said. The version that passed was proposed by Sen. Robert Bennett, R-Utah. The amendment states that "a senator shall serve no more than six years, cumulatively, as chairman of the same standing committee."Time served as ranking member will not be counted as time served as chairman.Stevens assumed the reins of the Appropriations Committee in 1997 after Republicans won a majority in the 1996 elections. He had served about four and a half years as chairman when the Democrats regained control last year.Murkowski is ranking member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. He obtained that post in 1995 and held it until control shifted to Democrats in June last year. Murkowski is currently in the race for Alaska governor. If he loses the race and remains in the Senate, he would have only about six months remaining in his chairmanship if Republicans regain control this fall.

Executive took media colossus Vivendi on wild ride

PARIS -- His drive and dreams were huge. Take a workaday French utilities company with a dull-as-dishwater name and transform it into a zippy media giant plugged into customers worldwide.The man was Jean-Marie Messier, a boyish-looking French former civil servant turned businessman. His brainchild was Vivendi Universal, a media and entertainment behemoth. Now, Messier says he’s resigning, forced out by shareholders who have come to doubt whether his vision can work.Messier announced his departure in an interview published July 2 in the French daily Le Figaro. For him and for Vivendi, it marked the end of a wild ride.In six short years, he remolded France’s Compagnie Generale des Eaux -- the General Water Company -- into a complex empire of Hollywood film studios, Internet, mobile phone and music ventures, TV networks and publishing houses.The dull name was changed to the sparkier Vivendi, and then to Vivendi Universal after a $30 billion merger in 2000 with Seagram Co., owner of the Universal movie and music studios.The transformation saw Messier, a 45-year-old father of five, hailed as a new icon of French business, even nicknamed "Master of the World."Messier trained as a civil servant at the Ecole Nationale d’Administration, a prestigious school that has produced many members of the French political elite.Although still in his twenties, he was made a financial inspector at the Finance Ministry and then adviser to Finance Minister Edouard Balladur. But he quit government for investment banking in 1988 and took over Compagnie Generale des Eaux in 1996.According to Messier’s vision of an interconnected business world, Vivendi was meant to work something like this:A customer sees a Universal movie and likes it so much, he buys the soundtrack and book. The soundtrack is sung by one of the many singers in Vivendi’s stable -- say Elton John or Eminem -- and a Vivendi publishing house puts out the book.Finally, the customer chats about the movie with friends, on a Vivendi-run mobile phone network, and reads about its stars on a Vivendi Internet site."Our strategy is to be No. 1, the leading global media and communications company of the digital age, to provide consumers with the best content anywhere, at any time," Messier said at a meeting of shareholders on April 24 this year."Our strategy makes sense," he said. "We are building a new kind of company, a truly international media and communications company, the like of which has never been seen before."But investors weren’t so sure. They grew nervous about Messier’s ability to mesh Vivendi’s businesses, and about the firm’s mounting debts. Jitters increased in March, when Vivendi reported a massive net loss in 2001 of 13.6 billion euro ($11.81 billion at the exchange rate then) -- the largest ever amassed by a French company.Vivendi shares and Messier’s reputation as a visionary took a beating."He took far too many risks," said Frederic Parrat, a professor of management at the University of Paris."In the General Water Company, he had a group that had no debts, that was a real pearl ... He transformed this pearl into a firm that is heavily in debt and in dire circumstances."Parrat said he owns several hundred Vivendi shares and that they have lost 80 percent of their value.Nor is it just Messier’s business dealings that have raised concerns.In December, Messier scandalized his countrymen by remarking that "the French cultural exception is dead." While seemingly innocuous to outsiders, the comments were seen in France as an attack on the country’s efforts to safeguard its movie industry from competition from Hollywood.Government ministers responded with assurances that culture was a priority and a far-right politician, Bruno Megret, accused Messier of "betraying his country."Messier sparked further outrage in April when he sacked Pierre Lescure, a leading supporter of French film who headed Vivendi’s loss-making television network Canal Plus.At the April shareholders’ meeting, protesters wore T-shirts that said "Messier mega liar" and chanted for his resignation.In late June, Messier was targeted by Les Guignols de l’Info, a popular French television show that uses rubber puppets of public figures to poke fun at them.The show portrayed Messier as an officer aboard the stricken Titanic. Even as the ship sank, he blithely continued assuring passengers that everything was fine.

Highway tourism hits the skids

Fewer visitors each year are reaching Alaska via the highways, and so far this year border crossings show declines or little growth. Instead, more summer visitors travel north aboard cruise ships or airliners.Border crossings from the Alaska Highway and Poker Creek on the Taylor Highway have declined for the past three years. In 1999, 158,472 passengers crossed the border; in 2000 crossings dropped to 156,027. Last year 147,600 passengers crossed at the two outposts.Highway travel to date this year lags behind 2001, according to Tina Lindgren, Alaska Travel Industry Association president.A study released this spring shows summer 2001 highway arrivals ranked a distant third, at 8.6 percent behind domestic air passengers at 45.3 percent and cruise ship travelers at 41.6 percent.For May this year, entries at the Alaska Highway office of U.S. Customs were down 25 percent from 2001 for a total of 9,868. Through June 24, 20,408 people had arrived, compared with June 2001, when 25,247 people entered.This decline is probably due to a national trend of shorter vacations, which allows less time to drive to Alaska, Lindgren said.According to a report issued in mid-June by the State Tourism Office, passengers crossing at Poker Creek were off by 8 percent this May compared with last May. But arrivals at Haines increased 5 percent, and Skagway arrivals were up 8 percent.Historically, July is the busiest month for passenger vehicles to cross the Alaska-Canada border.The summer 2001 visitor survey showed declines in arrivals via the highway, ferry and international airlines between last year and 1999. Cruise arrivals increased, spurring a slight gain in domestic air arrivals, the report noted. The Alaska Visitor Statistics Program survey recorded 1.2 million summer visitors last year, up 1 percent from summer 1999.Of those 1.2 million visitors, 8.6 percent arrived via the highway, according to the study. Last summer 72,900 visitors entered Alaska by personal vehicle while another 9,200 came by tour bus.Despite May’s drop in border crossing numbers, recreational-vehicle traffic has been stronger than other tourism sectors in the Interior, said Deb Hickok, president of the Fairbanks Convention and Visitors Bureau."It’s one of the few sectors I’m hearing is decent," she said.Lindgren said some tour operators are encountering a difficult year. Fairbanks tourism businesses have reported a harder summer than coastal communities, she said. Cruise passengers appear not to be purchasing additional land tours, she said.But some tourism operators may do better, while other areas face challenges. "Things like fishing closures will hurt places like Kenai," she said.One aspect of highway travel is on the rise, Lindgren said. More people are flying to the state and renting vehicles, she said.Tourism along Alaska’s road system, including out-of-state visitors and vacationing Alaskans, is vital to many businesses."If your business is not in one of the larger communities, it’s very important," Lindgren said.Business along Alaska’s roadways includes cruise ship passengers touring via bus, recreational vehicle traffic from in-state residents and visitors, and people relocating by driving the Alaska Highway.Lindgren says Alaska’s short and intense construction season, which coincides with summer tourism, affects highway travel.Customers at Sheep Creek Lodge have told lodge owner John Kartesz they would have made more trips to the area, but didn’t because of construction on the Parks Highway between Big Lake and Nancy Lake.

Princess boosts local firms

The opening of the new 84-room Copper River Princess Wilderness Lodge earlier this summer has boosted business for other tourism operators in the area.Located in the Glennallen and Copper River area, the hotel provides accommodations in a new region for Princess, the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve, which is America’s largest national park.The new hotel has been a boon for Glennallen-based Backcountry Connection LLC and Edward Wilson, who has owned the 11-year-old business for two years."Basically, it doubled our business," he said.Backcountry Connection provides shuttle service between Glennallen and Chitina to McCarthy and Kennicott.The company also started a new service that offers historic tours at the McCarthy-Kennicott community, primarily for Princess hotel guests, Wilson said."It’s really going to make our little town boom," he said.One aspect of the additional tourism businesses around the hotel is that the change may reduce some crowding around Denali National Park and Preserve, he said.Mark Keogh, co-owner of Copper River Tours, relocated a tourism business to serve Princess guests. After six years he decided the long-term business opportunities were better alongside the new hotel, Keogh said."Our business is here because of Princess," he said. "There isn’t enough business to support our organization without them here because they bring in the flow of traffic."Copper River Tours offers a three-hour jet boat tour on the Tazlina River and 20 miles down the Copper River, he said. The trip is geared to accommodate all ages, he said.So far this year business has met Keogh’s early season expectations. The lure of the new Princess lodge has proven to be a draw for customers, he said.Keogh also aims to develop business from other travelers as well."We’re real optimistic about the future," he said.

Pages

Subscribe to Alaska Journal RSS