Special session nets regulatory commission another year

JUNEAU -- A one-year extension of the Regulatory Commission of Alaska apparently concludes the work of the 22nd Legislature.Lawmakers adjourned early June 28 after passing the RCA bill.The Republican majority refused to take up the second issue of the special session, an appropriation for the Pioneers’ and Veterans’ Homes.Democratic Gov. Tony Knowles, who called the special session, gave no indication that he would call the Legislature back on funding for veterans or any other issue.Democratic lawmakers were willing to have another special session on veterans, the governor said during a news conference June 28. But when Senate Republicans, who had supported a smaller appropriation last month, reversed their position, it became apparent that they were making the issue partisan, he said.As for other issues that weren’t resolved in the 2001-02 session, such as a long-range fiscal plan and a constitutional amendment on subsistence, Knowles said that it’s up to voters this fall to set the stage for future legislative action."If you take a list of all the needs that were not addressed, the work of this Legislature is not over," he said. "Their session has been adjourned, but the accomplishments fall far short."Senate Finance Co-Chairman Dave Donley, an Anchorage Republican, said that the Legislature acted on "the No. 1 constitutional priority" of preparing an annual state budget. The task of containing spending has been complicated for eight years by the governor’s cumulative proposals to increase the budget by $1 billion more than was finally approved, Donley said.And Republicans contend that it was Knowles who was playing politics in the special session."This has got nothing to do with vets," House Speaker Brian Porter said June 26, as Senate Democrats made a last stand on the issue. Porter, an Anchorage Republican, contends that Knowles was laying groundwork for an eventual U.S. Senate bid.Knowles achieved his minimum goal on the RCA issue, averting a one-year "wind-down" of the commission that would have begun June 24. That endangered consumers of public utility services, he said.The bill that was finally approved puts off the wind-down year until July 1, 2003.Senate Judiciary Chairman Robin Taylor, who originally opposed any extension, called the final RCA bill "a very workable compromise."Taylor, a Wrangell Republican and candidate for lieutenant governor, said he acquiesced on the extension because of the new ethical safeguards in the law. He also said the official record compiled during his committee’s 30 hours of testimony and deliberations this month will put the next Legislature in a better position to decide the commission’s structure.Porter and House Finance Co-Chairman Eldon Mulder, also an Anchorage Republican, persuaded the Senate leadership to remove most of Taylor’s proposed restrictions on "ex parte" or non-official communications between RCA commissioners and company executives with pending cases. The final version says generally that such communications concerning active cases should not be allowed, and commissioners are advised to be mindful of the "appearance of impropriety."The concern about appearances stems from a trip that Nan Thompson, RCA chairwoman, once took to a private lodge owned by General Communication Inc. Thompson and GCI Vice President Dana Tindall testified that no pending cases were discussed.The bill sets up a seven-member task force to do a comprehensive review of RCA operations. The group will issue a recommendation next January on whether telecommunications should be handled by a separate commission, a proposal that Taylor included in a draft of the bill June 26.But the Knowles administration, House Republican leaders and GCI immediately objected to the idea. When Taylor emerged from a closed-door Senate Republican caucus, the Telecommunications Commission was removed from the RCA bill.The final bill was approved by the Legislature with only two dissenting votes.On the veterans issue, Republicans noted that they earlier agreed to adding veterans to the name of the Pioneers’ Home system, approved a $250,000 study of veterans housing needs and set up a pilot project aimed at getting federal funds for veterans in the state-run assisted-living facilities."We have already done many things to achieve this end," said Sen. Pete Kelly, a Fairbanks Republican. "The Legislature has a lot of reasons to be proud of what it’s done for vets."But spending $2.6 million to hire more staff isn’t a pressing issue, Republicans said.Until the national secretary of veterans affairs approves the pilot project, the state isn’t ready to spend the money, said Sen. Ben Stevens, an Anchorage Republican.Meanwhile, Alaska Republican Sen. Frank Murkowski is working on federal funding of separate wings for veterans in the homes.Knowles says that will just create a bigger funding challenge for the state."There’s no operating dollars in that whatsoever, so you’re going to build more empty beds," he said.But Republicans questioned how quickly the 100 beds currently vacant could be filled, anyway.Porter said the current staff at the Anchorage home could handle 18 more residents, but the beds are vacant because of high prices.

Business Profile

Name of the company: Downtown Bicycle RentalEstablished: 1989Location: 333 W. Fourth Ave., Suite 206, Anchorage, 99501Telephone: 907-279-5293Web site: www.alaska-bike-rentals.comE-mail: [email protected] focus of services: Downtown Bicycle Rentals offers various bikes to tour Anchorage’s paved trails. Available bikes include tandems, hybrids, mountain, touring and children’s bikes. The company also rents trailers to carry children and, for children age three to six, tag-alongs, which have a single-wheel and attach to an adult’s bike. Rentals include helmets, locks and maps and are available for three hours, five hours and 24 hours. Downtown Bicycle Rentals is open daily from May through October.History of the company: In 1989 Pete Roberts was operating a bed and breakfast at Sixth Avenue and B Street and offered bikes to his B&B guests who wanted to ride the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail. The bike rental business began as demand increased. Roberts added more bikes every year, renting them from his driveway at the B&B until 1993. After the lease expired on the B&B, Roberts ran a T-shirt sales and screen-printing business until 1998. In 1999 the bicycle rental business moved to its current location.Roberts employs two other people during summer. The business is seasonal and also depends on weather conditions.The firm is especially busy in mid-June, serving out-of-towners and others attendng the Mayor’s Midnight Sun Marathon.Customers have often told Roberts the bike trip in Anchorage was a highlight of their visit. Most customers ride the 11-mile Coastal Trail.Top accomplishment of the company: Roberts attributes Downtown Bicycle Rentals’ success to his zeal for the sport and Anchorage. "I really like bikes, and I’m really enthusiastic about the Coastal Trail."Major player: Pete Roberts, owner and president, Downtown Bicycle Rental.Roberts moved to Anchorage in 1981 to attend the University of Alaska Anchorage where he earned a degree in journalism. This spring he earned a law degree from the New England School of Law in Boston.-- Nancy Pounds

July-Issue-1 2002

Shipyard unhappy with lease plan

Alaska Ship & Drydock Co. officials are unhappy with a decision by the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority’s board to extend its lease for the Ketchikan shipyard for three months instead of approving a long-term lease the company had sought.The short-term extension creates uncertainties for the company at its peak for bidding on ship repair contracts for 2002 and 2003, according to Doug Ward, business development manager for Alaska Ship.But AIDEA executive director Bob Poe defended the decision, saying that the authority had actually offered the company a five-year lease last year.Alaska Ship, a locally owned firm, was preoccupied at the time with a contract dispute with the state over repairs to a state ferry vessel and did not respond to the offer, Poe said.This prompted the state authority, which owns the $17 million shipyard, to consider issuing a request for proposals, or RFP, from other shipyard operators. Alaska Ship’s current lease ends July 15.Three Lower 48 shipyard operators have expressed interest in bidding on the contract if an RFP is offered, Poe said.At its June 13 meeting, AIDEA’s board voted to extend Alaska Ship’s lease three months to allow time to negotiate an agreement with either the Ketchikan Gateway Borough or the city of Ketchikan to take over the lease, and then negotiate a long-term sublease with the shipyard company."It was a difficult choice for the board, whether to go out with an RFP or follow the wishes of the city fathers and continue this company’s contract," Poe said."We have a responsibility to manage assets on a commercial basis, but we also recognize that this project is important to Ketchikan. They’re having to work hard to get some economic success. We want to do what Ketchikan wants," he said.Poe said AIDEA is anxious for the shipyard to grow because the authority needs a better return on the authority’s investment in the yard. Alaska Ship and Drydock leases the facility for only $18,000 per year, he said.AIDEA has about $4 million invested in the shipyard, Poe said. Previous investments were made by the Department of Transportation and Public Facilities, and from other sources.Alaska Ship has invested $3 million of its own in the facility, according to its president, Randy Johnson. Of that, $1 million was in startup costs in 1993 and 1994, with another $2 million spent for tools and other equipment.The company has also invested $700,000 in marketing, Johnson told the AIDEA board at its June 13 meeting.Meanwhile, the decision to limit an extension to three months puts the company in an awkward position, Ward said.One major project Alaska Ship hopes to land is a contract to perform modifications and upgrades to the Fairweather, a federal ocean-research vessel. Proposals are due July 26.Alaska Ship’s proposal may be disqualified because of the uncertainty over extension of the lease, he said.Poe acknowledged that the short-term extension would create problems for the shipyard operator, but he said that would have occurred in any event if the authority’s board had decided to go forward with an RFP.Poe credited Alaska Ship with doing a good job at the shipyard, and said the company’s success in the last eight years was what prompted interest from the three Lower 48 yards when word got out that AIDEA might put out an RFP."They made that shipyard work" despite limitations in facilities at the yard, Poe said."When the Department of Transportation and Public Facilities (which previously owned the yard) asked for proposals for operators, there were no offers from the big Lower 48 yards," he said.Alaska Ship took over the yard in 1994 after it had been shut down for two years. Two previous local operators failed.The shipyard was built by the state in the early 1980s to perform winter overhauls and repairs on state ferries.The idea was for a private contractor to operate the yard and work on other ships, building the yard’s capabilities and reducing costs for Alaska vessel owners, including the state marine highway system.The state transferred ownership of the yard to AIDEA in 1997.A problem that has plagued the shipyard is that the initial investment was inadequate to create efficiencies and to develop the ship repair business.The yard has a floating dry dock that is very efficient with large vessels, such as state ferries, Ward told the AIDEA board June 13. Consultants have long recommended the addition of a shiplift, which would allow the yard to work efficiently on smaller ships of 250 feet in length or shorter.The lack of the shiplift means the yard essentially can repair only one vessel at a time, Ward said.The shiplift would also be more efficient with smaller vessels, too. Ninety five percent of the vessels in Alaska waters are 250 feet or shorter.Alaska Ship and AIDEA have just applied for a $5 million federal grant that, when matched with local contributions and other funds, would pay the $12.5 million to add the shiplift.Ward said the yard has built a good reputation with customers since 1994, including the marine highway. There were problems with repairs to the state ferry Columbia, which Alaska Ship said were due to inadequate specifications from the state.

Weak labor market erodes consumer confidence

NEW YORK -- Consumer confidence declined in June to a four-month low, hurt by corporate scandals and concerns about jobs, a private research firm said June 25.The New York-based Conference Board said its Consumer Confidence Index fell to 106.4 this month from a revised 110.3 in May. Analysts were expecting a reading of 106.0.The industry group’s index, based on a monthly survey of some 5,000 U.S. households, is closely watched because consumer confidence drives consumer spending, which accounts for about two-thirds of the nation’s economic activity."Weak labor market conditions, generally soft business conditions and waning public confidence in questionable business practices have helped erode consumer confidence," said Lynn Franco, director of the Conference Board’s research center.Still, she said, the figures pointed to "continued spending and moderate economic growth."The index compares results to its base year, 1985, when it stood at 100. June’s figure is the lowest since February, when consumer confidence stood at 95.0 amid congressional hearings investigating the Enron scandal.Economists said the figures remained encouraging, despite being dampened somewhat by terrorism fears and concerns about alleged corporate improprieties."The economy is in a soft spot right now, but it’s not necessarily as weak as it was last year after the terrorist attacks," said Gary Thayer, chief economist for A.G. Edwards & Sons Inc. "Consumers are still feeling better about things than they did six, seven months ago."The Conference Board said consumers’ assessment of the current economic climate was less favorable in June. Consumers rating current business conditions as good declined to 20.1 percent from 21.2 percent.Meanwhile, consumers who felt business conditions were bad rose to 19.1 percent from 18.5 percent last month, the board said.Regarding employment, those reporting jobs were currently "hard to get" increased to 23.1 percent from 21.8 percent in May. Those claiming jobs were plentiful decreased to 20.1 percent from 21.2 percent.Americans also were less optimistic about the near future. The percentage of consumers who expect business conditions to improve declined to 23.6 percent from 24.9 percent in May, the report said. Those expecting conditions to sour rose slightly from 6.8 percent to 7.0 percent this month.The jobs outlook for the next six months also weakened. Fewer consumers, 20.1 percent in June, expect more jobs to become available in the next six months, compared to 21.2 percent in May. Those expecting fewer jobs to become available rose to 14.2 percent from 13.6 percent.The Conference Board is a nonprofit research and business group, with more than 2,700 corporate and other members around the world.

Researcher travels state gathering stories about fishing days past

The call is out for old timers to share their fish stories and wisdom at a special gathering later this year. Dubbed the "Old Timers Mug Up," it will be a convening of Alaska and Pacific Northwest commercial fishing elders who helped build the salmon industry -- fishermen, processors, policy makers and managers.Event organizer Leslie Smith said the idea stemmed from her own experiences as a salmon fisherman, and listening to the stories of old timers. "Now many of them are gone, and it’s important to hear and retain the stories from those who are still around," Smith said.She added that the multicultural and multigenerational gathering will focus on the things shared by everyone in the salmon industry, which is a community in and of itself."No matter if you’re in Ketchikan or Kotzebue, everyone who is involved in the salmon industry shares a common bond," Smith said. "This will be a time to remember how fishing life used to be, mark its changes and celebrate the resiliency of fishing people. It will strengthen the idea of the fishing community as economically viable, culturally vibrant and politically empowered."The one-time event will include two components, a storytelling symposium and a seminar of the "who’s who" in the fishing industry. "(It’s about) the people who made the industry what it is today," Smith said. "It will be reflective about past challenges and how their experiences and wisdom might be applied to today’s challenges."Smith will travel to Alaska coastal communities this summer to search out "local treasures" for the Old Timers Mug Up. The event is scheduled during the Seattle Fish Expo in early November. Expo is a sponsor of the project, along with the advocacy group Fishing for the Future.For more information, contact Smith at 208-333-0919 or via e-mail at mugup [email protected] in the USAScientists at the University of Maine have been successful in spawning America’s first halibut in captivity. According to the Bangor Daily News, a 65-pound fish, part of a 70-fish brood stock taken from the Gulf of Maine, released eggs four times last month at the aquaculture research center.The facility also has several hundred larval halibut that were hatched from a small batch of eggs from the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans in New Brunswick. These eggs were fertilized by the adult male fish and kept in absolute darkness under strict temperature control to simulate the cold, deep waters that are habitat for wild larval halibut.The fish were then moved to brightly lit tanks where they now are feeding on live zooplankton that was reared at the research center. Operations manager Nick Brown said the spawning event and the fact the larval fish have moved on to live feed marked a milestone in the development of a U.S. halibut aquaculture industry.The halibut project will determine the feasibility of raising halibut in land-based systems, as is also being done in Nova Scotia. Last year the U.S. Department of Agriculture earmarked $25 million to assist the University of Maine’s aquaculture programs.Coast Guard says it does enoughA Coast Guard admiral has urged Congress to derail an effort that would expand the Guard’s duties.According to the Associated Press, Rear Adm. Harvey Johnson told a transportation subcommittee that an expansion would place "unnecessary requirements on our search and rescue system that could consume our limited resources, but more importantly, possibly endanger the lives of Coast Guard personnel."Johnson said it’s the wrong time to add more tasks to his already stretched force.According to the Associated Press, spurred by the deaths of three men in a December 1998 sinking of a fishing boat in Lake Michigan, Rep. Mark Green of Wisconsin has proposed that Congress require the Coast Guard to search for a passenger boat or fishing vessel until it is found or the transportation secretary determines that a search is no longer appropriate.Green’s bill would cover the loss of, or a collision involving, passenger boats transporting at least two passengers, and fishing boats carrying at least two people.The Coast Guard also would be required to facilitate the recovery and identification of fatally injured passengers and to designate an employee to serve as a liaison between the federal government, surviving families and vessel operators.Currently, federal law authorizes but does not require the Coast Guard to aid distressed persons, vessels and aircraft. The Coast Guard conducts more than 40,000 search-and rescue missions a year but has wide discretion in deciding how many personnel, boats and aircraft to put on a case and for how long.It is not responsible for salvaging sunken vessels or recovering the bodies of those lost in marine accidents.Since Sept. 11, homeland security was added to the Coast Guard’s traditional duties of search-and-rescue, fisheries enforcement, immigration and drug law enforcement, and navigational aids maintenance.President Bush wants to roll the Coast Guard into the new Homeland Security Department and has requested $7.3 billion for the agency in the 2003 budget year, a 36 percent increase.Drowning in lawsuitsThe National Marine Fisheries Service now dedicates 10 per cent of its 2,500 staff members to lawsuits. The service, which is the federal agency that manages fish stocks in U.S. waters, has more than 100 lawsuits pending against it. That’s more than six times the number the service had six years ago, according to the Fish Information Service.In 1996, the service faced around 16 cases. Now there are 104, mainly filed by environmentalists or fishermen seeking changes in fishery management.Some observers say the lawsuits now dictate how U.S. fisheries are managed, and the service’s limited resources must now be spent on fighting lawsuits rather than doing research and enforcement.Another change worrying regulators is that the service now loses more lawsuits than it wins. An independent draft report being prepared for Congress by the National Academy of Public Administration says that before 1997, the service won 83 per cent of the cases brought against it, but by 1998, the service began losing more than it won, 23 losses and 19 wins between 1998 and 2001.Officials of the service said its own figures show the agency is actually ahead on wins, and new filings are now on the decline. In the most recent case, the service lost to environmental groups that claimed it failed to protect New England groundfish stocks.Kodiak-based free-lance writer Laine Welch can be reached via e-mail at [email protected]

Texas firm gets first dibs on sale of CargoPort

While Williams Cos. has announced it prefers to sell all of its Alaska assets as a package versus piecemeal, a Texas-based firm has first shot at the air cargo transfer facility at the Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport. Lynxs Alaska CargoPort is a joint venture between the Lynxs Group of Austin, Texas, and Williams Alaska Petroleum Inc.’s subsidiary, Williams Air Cargo Properties LLC.Williams Cos., the parent company of Williams Alaska Petroleum, and Lynxs Group are equal partners in the cargo port; Lynxs is the managing partner.Lynxs has right of first refusal on the venture, said Ken Lythgoe, the CargoPort’s general manager, and Jeff Cook, vice president of external affairs for Williams.Lythgoe said the Austin-based company would not immediately announce if it would exercise the option. He emphasized Lynxs is committed to the project for the long run, whether as a partner, or as sole owner."Lynxs is grounded in the cargo business and has no desire to pull out of Alaska," Lythgoe said.Lynxs runs about a dozen similar facilities across the United States, and most are partnerships with other limited liability companies.The $22 million Williams Lynxs Alaska CargoPort opened in late 2000 and was operating at near capacity less than a year later. Airlines operating at the CargoPort are Northwest Airlines Cargo, Atlas Air Inc. and United Airlines.The 105,000-square-foot commercial warehouse and cargo transfer facility has more than 500,000 square feet of tarmac, enough parking space for six Boeing 747 wide-body air freighters.A planned multimillion expansion, which would more than double the size of the facility, had been put on hold due to a slumping worldwide economy, particularly in Asia, Cook and Lythgoe said.The CargoPort currently is operating at about 85 percent capacity, said Lythgoe.Cook said Williams has been relatively pleased with the performance of the CargoPort."It’s been an OK investment and certainly provided us some value, but it didn’t fill up to capacity as we had hoped when the Asian economy tanked," Cook said.A deep downturn in the Asian economy two years ago decreased the amount of cargo landed at the airport from 13.4 billion pounds in 1998 to 12.8 billion pounds in 1999. Despite the decrease, Anchorage still led the nation in all-cargo landed weights.Lythgoe said it’s only a matter of time before the worldwide air cargo industry takes off again and enjoys healthy growth as it has for the past three decades.Industry analysts predict U.S. cargo traffic growth will average 6.4 percent a year, until 2020. And state studies show there will be a need for a four-fold increase in cargo facilities, as well as a 25 percent increase in other aviation-related facilities during the next 20 years in Anchorage.According to aircraft maker Boeing Co., the world air cargo industry is in its worst slump in more than 30 years, more from ailing Asian and domestic economies than from the impact of the terrorist attacks on the East Coast.But the slide should be short-lived, as growth levels are projected to increase to historic levels of 6 percent to 8 percent by next fall. Despite the largest dip in three decades, the Seattle-based aircraft maker still expects air cargo traffic to triple in the next 20 years.The CargoPort in the future may face competition from Chicago-based VOA Associates Inc., which wants to build a staging area and transloading facility on 40 acres of airport land near the Federal Express facility at Anchorage International.The $43 million facility would have enough parking room for a dozen of the largest wide-body freighters in service, according to the company, which has refused to release specifics on the project since it is still in the early planning stages.

Global economics drive use of foreign steel in Alaska

Alaska Republican Sen. Ted Stevens is the first to admit he doesn’t like the idea of using foreign steel to construct major projects in Alaska, including a quarter-billion dollars worth of expansion work at his namesake airport in Anchorage."We don’t like it," said Stevens of using foreign steel on major public projects in the state. "We’d like to do business with domestic producers."But Alaska’s senior senator, who has brought billions of dollars in construction projects to Alaska with his political muscle, says the ailing steel industry can no longer provide much of the material needed for those projects."We’ve lost 32 steel companies in the last three years," Stevens said. "The capacity of the (domestic) steel industry is very low."And if steel can be produced domestically, the waiting period for the material is lengthy and it’s more expensive, Stevens said."When you have deadlines to meet, you can’t stand in line and wait for it," said Stevens. "Contractors are the ones who buy it and they still have to do business on the basis on the bottom line."Stevens said he expects that most of the structural steel to be used in the proposed $12.5 billion national missile defense system project in Alaska will come from Canada, since domestic mills won’t have the capacity to meet the timeline or price requirements.Stevens points out he’s tried to help the U.S. steel industry. He and Republican Sen. Frank Murkowski, Alaska junior senator, in April tried to broker a deal with steel-state Democrats in the Senate for their support of oil drilling in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge.The Alaska senators offered support of heath-care costs to retired steel workers and contracts with natural-gas pipeline work in return for support of drilling in ANWR.A more than 3,000-mile natural gas pipeline would have required a $5 billion order for domestic steel. The deal fell through less than two days before the ANWR vote, which was six votes short of the 60 needed to break a Senate filibuster."We tried," Stevens said. "People have to wake up."Korean-produced steel is being used for the framework at a six-year, $230 million renovation project at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport. Federal dollars also are bankrolling a $28 million rail station at Anchorage International, much of which also is being constructed with Korean-made steel.In addition, several thousand tons of Korean-made steel is en route for the construction of a $200 million U.S. Army hospital at Fort Wainright. The steel is expected to arrive at the Port of Anchorage in August and will be trucked to Fairbanks.A recently completed $250 million hospital at Elmendorf Air Force Base in Anchorage used Canadian-made steel in its construction, said John Killoran, spokesman for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Anchorage.The use of foreign steel is allowed under the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, or GATT, that encourages free trade among nations, Killoran said.Instead of free trade, U.S. steel makers prefer to call it illegal dumping.Foreign producers like Korea have for years been dumping steel in the United States at the cost of American jobs and national security, said Bette Kovach, spokeswoman for Pennsylvania-based Bethlehem Steel Corp.Kovach said it would make sense to use domestic steel for federally funded projects, like military hospitals, but nothing prohibits it. And new tariffs imposed this year on foreign steel by President George Bush doesn’t cover structural products, like that used on Alaska products, Kovach said."It’s a massive problem," Kovach said.The dumping of foreign steel has driven half of the American steel makers to bankruptcy, and prices have fallen to 20-year lows, said Mike Dixon, spokesman for U.S. Steel Corp. in Pennsylvania."Imported steel has run a lot of us out of business," Dixon said.U.S. Steel, which provided structural material in everything from the Empire State Building to the Golden Gate Bridge, can’t compete with foreign makers and has stopped producing structural steel. Bethlehem Steel also quit producing structural steel a few years ago for the same reason, Kovach said.Dave Ford, business manager of the International Association of Bridge, Structural & Ornamental Ironworkers Local 751 in Anchorage, said nearly three-quarters of steel used in major projects in Alaska over the last five or six years has come mostly from Canada, where it is cheaper to buy and ship to Alaska.Ford said welders and others who work with structural steel prefer Canadian or U.S.-made product, because of its higher quality and ease of welding. From an economic standpoint, his membership prefers American-made steel."The real problem is with the pricing," Ford said.Outside of Alaska, efforts have been made to demand American-made steel.The ironworkers’ union in the Pacific Northwest, along with steel company executives, currently are fighting plans to purchase 20,000 tons of foreign steel for the bridge deck for the second Tacoma Narrows bridge and have it built by Japanese and Korean companies.In the mid-1980s, New York’s Throgs Neck Bridge between the Bronx and Queens was slated to use South Korean steel to reconstruct the roadway, but after a series of protests, steel was instead purchased from domestic mills, adding $3 million to the $33 million price tag of the project.

Petrochemical plant may die with sale

One consequence of the Williams Cos.’ June 18 decision to sell its Alaska refinery and gasoline marketing outlets may be the shelving of a plan to build a $1 billion petrochemical plant near the company’s refinery in North Pole, near Fairbanks.Williams has had the project under study for the last year and a half, and it is contingent on a North Slope natural gas pipeline being built that would supply natural gas liquids to the plant for the manufacture of petrochemical products. The company envisioned exporting the products to Asia.Without the refinery to share infrastructure, the project is likely to be less attractive to the Tulsa-based company, market analysts say.Jeff Cook, spokesman for Williams Alaska Petroleum Inc., the Alaska subsidiary, said he expects a decision to be made shortly on the future of the petrochemical plan and Williams’ possible participation in a consortium of pipeline companies to build a gas pipeline.But John Olson, an analyst with Sanders Morris Harris in Houston, Texas, said he thinks Williams will stay in the gas pipeline consortium if it moves forward. "Pipelines are their core business. They know it well," Olson said. He was less optimistic about the Fairbanks petrochemical venture, however, because it depends on sharing land and infrastructure with the refinery, which will be sold.Williams was slammed on Wall Street when investor confidence in the entire energy sector sank and federal regulators began looking into the company’s energy trading practices, a fallout of the Enron scandal.In an ill-timed development, the company was also saddled with $2.2 billion in debt after a former subsidiary, Williams Communications Group, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.Williams’ shares fell 80 percent in value and rating agencies reduced its debt rating to near the value of junk bonds.The company will shed $1.5 billion to $3 billion in assets and possibly issue more stock to bring its debt-equity ratio down from 70-30 to 50-50, Olson said.Williams hopes to net $1 billion from the sale of its refinery, pipeline and marketing assets in Alaska and Tennessee by the end of the year, the company said in an announcement.Olson said the refineries and retail outlets are outside Williams’ core business, which is in pipelines. He thinks the Alaska assets, which include the refinery, two petroleum product terminals and 29 convenience store gasoline retail outlets, could sell for $300 million to $500 million.Williams would prefer to take its time with the sale, but heavy pressure from financial-rating agencies may push the company into selling faster than it would like, he said."Williams is a good company," Olson said. "They’re in the ditch now, but I’ve seen them in worse situations."Cook said he expects few changes in the refinery work force. Most workers in the plant went through the acquisition of MAPCO, the former owner, by Williams in 1998, and a few were there when MAPCO bought the refinery from Earth Resources in 1981, he said.The refinery was built in 1975 and 1976 by a group of Alaska and Texas investors, and was sold to Earth Resources, a Texas energy firm, soon after it started operation in 1977."An important point is that each time the refinery has changed owners there has been new investment and expansion" as new owners brought different expertise that allowed the refinery to develop new market niches, Cook said.The plant now processes about 215,000 barrels per day of crude oil to make roughly 70,000 barrels per day of petroleum products. Unused portions of the crude oil are returned to the trans-Alaska oil pipeline.Sixty percent of the plant’s output is jet fuel, which is mostly transported to Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport for sale to air carriers. A smaller portion is gasoline, half of which is marketed through the company’s retail outlets, Cook said.Williams also makes naphtha, a petrochemical feedstock, which is shipped to Anchorage by rail and exported, and heating oil, diesel fuel and asphalt, which is sold in Alaska, he said.The company has about 500 employees in Alaska, 150 of them at the Fairbanks refinery, Cook said.Olson said Williams’ Alaska businesses were very profitable for the company, and he doesn’t expect any problems in finding a buyer.Others were less sure, however. One industry manager familiar with refining, speaking on condition his name not be used, said the Fairbanks refinery is basically a topping plant with limits on the range of products it can make. Other, larger refineries are equipped to make a wider range of products.In addition, the new owners of the North Pole refinery will be challenged to meet tight new environmental standards on diesel and gasoline, the source said.That means the ability to sell those products may shrink, making the refinery even more dependent on jet fuel sales in Anchorage, where air carriers can import foreign-made jet fuel if they get a better price.Another challenge the North Pole refinery faces is that next year a 25-year contract to buy state royalty oil at attractive terms comes to an end, state officials said.The contract, signed in 1978, guarantees the refinery the right to take up to 35,000 barrels per day of state-owned oil and has no premium price.This was the state’s first royalty oil sales contract. Since 1978 the state has asked royalty purchasers to pay a premium price. Williams has a second royalty oil supply contract signed in 1998 on which it pays a 15 cent-per-barrel premium.

This Week in Alaska Business History

Editor’s note: "This Week in Alaska Business History" revisits events that shaped our past."Those who cannotremember the past arecondemned to repeat it."-- George Santayana,1863-195220 years ago this weekAnchorage TimesJune 30, 1982Native leaders sign revenue agreementBy A.J. McClanahanTimes WriterAlaska Native leaders late last night gathered to sign an agreement that is expected to end a long-running dispute over revenue sharing -- an agreement that is expected to encourage development of Native regions’ natural resources.Details of the 117-page agreement, which if ratified by each region’s board could end almost eight years of litigation, have not been released by Native leaders.Byron Mallott, chairman of the Juneau-based Sealaska Corp., said without the agreement over how to interpret one paragraph of the 1971 Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, Native corporations faced "continuing and costly litigation and uncertainty with any resources development."At issue has been section 7(i) of the act, which requires each regional company to split among all the companies 70 percent of its revenue from oil, gas, timber and other specific resources on its lands.Anchorage TimesJune 30, 1982Salmon price negotiations deadlockedBy Dave CarpenterTimes WriterWith the bulk of a record salmon run already entering Bristol Bay, Gov. Jay Hammond is urging fishermen and processors to end their dispute over a price for red salmon.But Hammond, responding to requests from some involved in the impasse, says it would be "entirely inappropriate" to use fishery management regulations to force a settlement."State management decisions should be based on the availability of fish for harvest, not on the politics of the moment," the governor said Tuesday.Meanwhile, tensions were said to be high but under control in the Dillingham area as all but a small percentage of independent fishermen continued to sit out the run today with price talks still deadlocked.The state Department of Fish and Game expects the run of an estimated 34.9 million reds to peak during a four-day period beginning Sunday.10 years ago this weekAlaska Journal of CommerceJuly 6, 1992Will Neil Bergt pull MarkAir out of its dive?By Margaret BaumanAlaska Journal of CommerceFeisty Neil Bergt may be down for the count in bankruptcy court with MarkAir, but a new cash collateral agreement with two banks and concessions by pilots assure the fight’s not over, he said."We hope to emerge from this (bankruptcy) soon," said Mike Bergt, his son and the new president of both MarkAir and MarkAir Express Inc. "We’re doing fine. MarkAir Express is setting passenger enplanement records every day."The Bergts’ optimism came on the heels of MarkAir and MarkAir Express filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization June 8 and a merger of MarkAir management with subsidiary MarkAir Express just nine days later. The Chapter 11 proceedings, filed in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Anchorage, protect MarkAir from creditors while it reorganizes its finances.The elder Bergt says agreements were reached June 24 with Seattle Trust and National Bank of Alaska for a cash collateral deal under which receivables are pledged for working capital. "We just had to demonstrate that we were right; that they weren’t at risk," he said.Alaska Journal of CommerceJuly 6, 1992Income downBy The Alaska Journal of CommerceMedian household income in Alaska has declined relative to the nation, with the latest census statistics showing the state ranked second nationally in 1989, says demographer Greg Williams.In 1989, the median household income in Alaska was $41,408, up from $25,414 in 1979, Williams writes in the July issue of Alaska Economic Trends, a publication of the state Labor Department.While Alaska ranked first in this category nationally in 1979, Williams found Alaska had slipped to second nationally by 1989 with a median household income of $41,408.Williams cautioned that how Alaskans’ income fared depends on how the change in the cost of living over the decade is measured."The areas of Alaska with the lowest incomes and greatest poverty are generally the areas with the lowest labor force participation and highest unemployment," Williams said.-- Compiled by Ed Bennett.

Around the world

NATIONCharges filed against work-at-home scamsWASHINGTON -- Law enforcement officials have brought fraud charges or lawsuits against dozens of operations that promise people easy money for work-at-home businesses such as making crafts or stuffing envelopes."Business opportunity scams and work-at-home schemes are frauds that can cost consumers their life savings and destroy their dream of owning a successful small business," said Howard Beales, director the Federal Trade Commission’s consumer protection bureau.Such scams cost consumers more than $29 million last year, the agency estimates.Beales on June 20 announced the results of a sting conducted against 77 such operations by the FTC and Justice Department in cooperation with agencies in 16 states.The states participating in the operation were Alaska, Arkansas, California, Florida, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Texas, Washington and Wyoming.Ex-Enron workers get larger severance awardNEW YORK -- Employees laid off by Enron Corp. will receive an additional $29 million in severance thanks to a federal bankruptcy judge’s preliminary ruling that effectively doubles the amount already paid to 4,200 former workers.The former employees are eligible to receive even more, according to the terms of the ruling made June 24 by Judge Arthur J. Gonzalez.The ruling comes after several months of negotiations between Enron’s lawyers and those representing the laid-off workers.The severance agreement is voluntary and allows former employees to opt out and sue the company on their own.The former workers have already received severance payments totaling $29 million, or $5,678 each. Under the terms of the June 24 agreement, they will be paid up to $13,500 each, depending on their salary, years of employment and other factors.Wells Fargo gets PayPal credit card transactionsSAN FRANCISCO -- Wells Fargo & Co. agreed to handle the credit card business of online payment provider PayPal Inc., which has struggled to stay in good graces with both the MasterCard and Visa payment systems.San Francisco-based Wells will replace Electronic Payment Exchange Inc., which took over from Chase Merchant Services late last year. Wells is supposed to take over the job by November and continue processing PayPal’s credit card transactions until May 2004, according to Securities and Exchange Commission documents.The alliance is designed to rid Mountain View-based PayPal of a major headache -- dealing with the rules and regulations of MasterCard and Visa."This was a natural fit," said Debra Rossi, a Wells executive vice president, on June 20. "We can handle the credit card regulations and PayPal can focus on growing its business."Credit card transactions accounted for 51.5 percent of the $3.5 billion in payments delivered through PayPal last year. PayPal makes its money by arranging online payments for goods and services through e-mail.WORLDCanadian firm reports oil find in North SeaLONDON -- A Canadian oil company prospecting in part of the North Sea overlooked by a larger rival has discovered a field that could rank as the region’s biggest petroleum find for 25 years, the government said June 20.The Buzzard oil field off Scotland’s eastern coast could contain more than 1 billion barrels of crude, Energy Minister Brian Wilson said. He based the announcement on an appraisal by EnCana, the firm that first discovered oil there one year ago.EnCana has drilled eight exploratory wells since then and plans to begin producing oil at Buzzard in 2005."To actually get to this stage in 2002 and find a 500 million-barrel recoverable field is awe-inspiring," said Jason Kenney, an industry analyst at ING Financial Markets in Edinburgh, Scotland.Many of the North Sea’s biggest fields were discovered during a flurry of exploration and development that began in the 1970s off the coasts of the United Kingdom and Norway. More recent finds have generally been smaller.Russia’s WTO bid may take several more yearsGENEVA -- Russia’s seven-year effort to join the World Trade Organization is stalling because Moscow insists on protecting its telecommunications business and financial sector from foreign competition, a European trade official said June 20."We still have a limited number of problems, but of a very serious nature," European Union negotiator Herve Jouanjean said after a three-day meeting on Russian membership. "On financial services and telecoms there’s enormous work to be done."In December, EU trade chief Pascal Lamy had said that Russia was likely to enter the WTO, which sets the rules of global trade, in 2003 or 2004 if it continues to open its markets. Its bid was boosted earlier this month when the U.S. Commerce Department formally recognized Russia as a market economy, following a similar EU move.But on June 19 in St. Petersburg, WTO director-general Mike Moore offered a more cautious three-year time frame.Three more countries join steel tariff probeGENEVA -- The World Trade Organization June 24 added China, Switzerland and Norway to the official list of complainants against a U.S. increase in tariffs on imported steel to help the embattled U.S. industry.The WTO’s Dispute Settlement Body approved a request from the three countries that their grievances should be considered by a neutral panel, which is due to assess whether the U.S. measures violate international trade rules.The panel was set up June 3 in response to a complaint from the European Union against the decision by the Bush administration to raise tariffs on steel imports by up to 30 percent. The United States says it needs the levies as protection against a flood of cheap imports.The WTO subsequently agreed that complaints by Japan and South Korea should be considered by the same panel. Brazil and New Zealand also want to join the case.U.S. trade officials have repeatedly argued that the tariffs are consistent with WTO rules, saying they believed the dispute settlement panel would rule the import duties were justified.-- Compiled from business wire services.

Three Alaska ports get federal funds to boost security

Three Alaska cities are getting a share of millions of dollars in federal grants designed to shore up security at ports throughout the United States.The ports of Anchorage, Ketchikan and Valdez will receive $1.34 million in grants out of $92.3 million given to 51 ports nationwide.Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, announced the grant awards June 18.Young, as chairman of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, created the Transportation Security Administration in the Aviation and Transportation Security Act.Alaska’s sole congressman introduced a port security bill under the act to help protect the nation’s ports in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The Transportation Security Administration, along with the Maritime Administration and the U.S. Coast Guard, are administering the grant program."These important funds will help Alaska’s ports make necessary updates to their security infrastructure. Our nation must take steps to ensure that our coast is safe from attack from hostile nations and groups," Young said in a press release. "These funds are especially vital for Alaska because we have a large portion of the nation’s coastline." The Port of Anchorage will receive $403,833 for surveillance cameras and motion detectors plus $54,375 for a perimeter security fence. The Port of Ketchikan will receive $122,721 for the purchase of vehicle barriers and pedestrian barriers. And the Port of Valdez will receive $764,000 for remote thermal imaging of tanker shipping lanes.Roger Graves, manager of government and environmental affairs for the Port of Anchorage, said security at the city-owned facility has been tightened following the terrorist attacks on the East Coast.Several new security measures have been established at the Port of Anchorage, including increased patrols from the U.S. Coast Guard by land, air, and water.All inbound drivers -- whether commercial operators or private individuals -- are checked for proper identification and inspection of their vehicles, Graves said. Those who have business at the port must have a confirmed sponsor.The port serves more than 80 percent of Alaska, with an annual economic impact of $725 million. Some 2,500 cargo containers arrive weekly at the port’s five-terminal dock that in peak years has handled more than 3 million tons of cargo, petroleum and cement annually. The port also routinely serves as a staging facility for military equipment and vehicles."The port had always been open to the public, but on Sept. 12, that stopped," Graves said. "We are locked up, and now things are going to be even better."Our security fence needed some mending, and we’ll use the video equipment to watch critical areas and the motion detection equipment will indicate when someone is out in the lots and around containers."Cmdr. Peyton Coleman, captain of the Port of Valdez, said the federal grant to purchase remote thermal imaging equipment would improve the security of tanker shipping lanes.Coleman would not go into detail about the new equipment’s capabilities, only to say that it would "improve our surveillance."The Coast Guard also is using its eyes, ears, and other equipment to a greater extent now, Coleman said."We’ve stepped up patrols and greatly increased our security position here," Coleman said.

Supercomputer center matures

As Alaska’s supercomputer center reaches its 10th anniversary, the Fairbanks facility is helping hundreds of researchers around the country learn more about everything from human genes to weather in space.It’s a far cry from the Arctic Region Supercomputing Center’s beginnings in 1992, when an appropriation by Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, brought the first supercomputer to the University of Alaska Fairbanks.At the time, the idea was widely questioned.No more, said Frank Williams, the center’s director since 1995. "That was our childhood," he said. "We’ve moved through that to adolescence and, now, maturity. It took a long time but now we’re being productive."Today, the center has a core of 37 employees tending three supercomputers, gigantic data storage systems and laboratories where information can be visualized, Williams said. When contractors, paid students and faculty are added in, the total rises to 53, he said. Williams said the center will soon gets its fourth supercomputer and in mid-July will begin using a "loaner" machine from Japan that it gets to try out for 12 months for free. Known as a Cray SX-6, the machine was actually built by NEC Corp. Its arrival marks the end of an international dispute between Cray, the leading American supercomputer manufacturer, and NEC of Japan.In 1997, Cray won a ruling from the U.S. Commerce Department that NEC was selling its supercomputers below cost, effectively blocking the sale of an NEC machine to a weather research center in Boulder, Colo.Last year, the two companies patched up their differences. According to a June 14 report in the New York Times, NEC invested $25 million in Cray and gave Cray exclusive rights to market NEC machines in the United States.The first machine to arrive in this country under the new arrangement is now being prepared for use in Fairbanks.Williams is clearly delighted to get his hands on the technology, which is a smaller version of an NEC supercomputer called the Earth Simulator."The Earth Simulator is the biggest, baddest, meanest supercomputer in the world, by far," Williams said. "We found a way to bring this architecture to the U.S. so we can test and evaluate it."We think there may be a class of problems it’s really good for. It may lead to the next batch of American supercomputers."The Cray SX-6 is what’s known as a vector supercomputer, which uses custom chips to process huge chunks of data at once. Williams said it’s especially good for modeling the earth’s climate and studying the circulation of the oceans. One of the Fairbanks center’s three existing supercomputers, an American-built Cray, also is a vector machine.The other kind of supercomputer is called a "massively parallel" machine. It contains hundreds of processors similar to those found in ordinary desktop computers. It solves a problem by breaking it up into small chunks and working on all of them at once. The Fairbanks facility has two parallel machines, a Cray and an IBM.Williams said each kind of computer has a role to play. "It depends on what the problem is," he said.These days, the Arctic Region Supercomputing Center has lots of problems to solve. Researchers from around the country link up with the Fairbanks machines via a high-speed fiber optic connection to Seattle. The center’s staff helps scientists convert their questions into code the supercomputers can understand and set aside time on the appropriate machine to run the code.Many of the projects are of interest to the military. That’s not surprising since the bulk of the center’s funding, some $10 million a year, comes from the Department of Defense High Performance Computing Modernization Program. Williams said no classified projects are run at the Fairbanks center, and the arrangement allows for plenty of computer time for nonmilitary research.Recent military-related projects include creating three-dimensional models of the airspace over Interior Alaska to help fighter pilots understand where they are allowed to conduct training flights. The center has also studied the pressures on submarine hulls when they maneuver underwater; simulated a high-tech pilotless fighter plane; and studied the interactions of air, water and ice in the Arctic Ocean.Other projects include modeling solar winds, predicting tsunami flood zones on Kodiak Island, plotting the airline approach path to Juneau, and simulating the evolution of galaxies. A major effort to understand the effects of carbon dioxide on global warming also is under way.In recent years, the supercomputer center has entered into several partnerships. One is with the U.S. Army Cold Regions Test Center. The latest, signed last year, is with the Institute for Systems Biology in Seattle.The institute’s researchers will use the Fairbanks computers to identify genetic patterns and model the proteins that are the building blocks of life.Williams said he’s always on the lookout for other partnerships."The future calls for us to identify research areas that have meaning to Alaska and to the supercomputer center," he said. "We want researchers to come to us because of the people and the resources we have to help them solve their problems."

Railroad will still have customer

The Alaska Railroad Corp., which makes most of its freight revenue from hauling petroleum, doesn’t expect any financial hiccups before or after the sale of Williams Alaska Petroleum Inc., its largest customer. "Obviously, we’re tracking the issue," said Pat Flynn, Alaska Railroad spokesman in Anchorage.Flynn said the railroad suffered no losses or capacity when Williams Cos. purchased MAPCO in 1998. The railroad expects the same to hold true after the sale of Williams."We pulled MAPCO fuel cars and when MAPCO became Williams, we pulled Williams fuel cars. We’ll pull somebody else’s fuel cars because we’ll still have a customer," Flynn said.The Alaska Railroad and Williams, which announced last week plans to sell its Alaska assets, together weathered criticism for a series of derailments and fuel spills over the past few years, including the largest in 1999 at Canyon and at Gold Creek, where 15 cars left the track, five of them spilling more than 120,000 gallons of jet fuel.Still, Flynn said Williams as a company has been a "great customer’’ and will be missed.But Flynn expects the state-owned railroad will continue to work with many of the same employees after the sale of Williams, just as it did after the MAPCO buyout."I expect most of the same people we are working with now, are the same people we’ll be working with in the future," Flynn said.Jeff Cook, vice president of external affairs for Williams, said he, too, believes most of the same folks will stick around after the sale."A lot of the value of this asset is the people we have," said Cook, himself a former MAPCO employee.Some 711 million gallons of petroleum products were moved by rail from Williams’ North Pole refinery to Anchorage last year.Cook said he expects those levels to continue.Petroleum makes up most of the freight revenue for the railroad, about $35.7 million last year. Most of the petroleum product, about 1.7 million gallons a day, is jet fuel used at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport.Williams provides more than half of the jet fuel used at Anchorage International, Cook said. Tesoro provides about 40 percent of the fuel via its Nikiski pipeline. Up to 10 percent of the fuel normally comes from producers outside Alaska and is shipped to Alaska’s largest city in tankers and barges. Jet fuel haulage for the railroad is followed by diesel, which is transferred by barges to be used in the Bush for home heating and electrical generation.Fuel shipped from Williams’ North Pole refinery to Anchorage averaged more than 100 rail cars a day in July and August last year, the most ever, Flynn said.

Getting ahead requires polishing your 'personal brand'

As a professional speaker for more than a decade, I have come to the realization that I have a personality that instinctively polarizes an audience. As soon as I’ve begun to launch into my discourse, a small segment of the audience will take an instinctive dislike to me -- the look, the voice, the attitude.Fortunately, the rest immediately become Alf acolytes; they’ll drink my Kool-Aid without question. The process is visceral and irrational, and it only takes minutes to play out.What they’re all responding to is the "Alf brand," which, in turn, leads to the premise that each and every one of us carries a brand personality, very evident to others and both immediate and instinctive in terms of how it is communicated and perceived.Unfortunately, most of us don’t recognize the fact that we are a brand, nor do we take the time or make the effort to think about how we communicate our brand personalities to others. What this means is that the best person doesn’t always win; the best candidate doesn’t always get the job or the promotion.Joe Heller, president of Houston-based Heller International, who coaches entrepreneurs and executives, defines a personal brand "as a positive expectation, a promise to your market. It is the preferred position in your client’s mind. A personal brand owns the equity stake, the mind share on which no one else can compete."The beauty of the process is that once a brand dialog has been established it puts the individual in a position of unassailable strength.The brand dialog is more than telling the buyer or the listener what he or she wants to hear. Rather, it’s a process of recognizing who you are, knowing what you want your brand personality to be, being comfortable with that personality and making it congruent with marketplace needs, be they a job, a promotion, a deal or even a marital partner.The biggest mistakesMost of us aren’t aware of the value of the personal brand because, simply stated, we don’t think of ourselves as a brand. Martha Stewart, Oprah and General Electric Co.’s Jack Welch do. That’s one of the reasons that they’re more famous and make more money than we do.Most of us also fail to appreciate the old adage that perception is reality. Appearance matters. The truth is, most of us don’t want to know what others think or say about us behind our backs for a variety of reasons.The result is that we have no clear understanding of what our "brand perception" is in the marketplace. We display inconsistency in our words, our actions and our behavior. We try to be all things to all people.Benefits of brand personalityIn the entrepreneurial environment, the success of the company is very much tied to the personal brand of the entrepreneur or leader. Quite often it’s the force of that brand personality that takes the company from start-up to success; that attracts new customers when there is little substance or credibility behind the company; that helps raise venture; and that recruits new staff.For the professional or the corporate player, personal branding provides career enhancement. Promotions and raises come more quickly. It positions the individual to move more quickly up the corporate ladder.Incidentally, one of the major reasons that so many talented and experienced victims of downsizing are now on the street and can’t find a job, is that they have the credentials but lack the brand packaging to wrap them in. A good-looking resume is not enough nowadays.For the chief executive of a public company, increasing the power of your personal brand has a direct impact on stock price. It’s one of the reasons that GE did so well with Jack Welch at the helm and why Home Depot can’t hit a stock price that should match its performance and potential.Going through the processAccording to Heller, the steps in developing a personal brand are sequential and logical. First there is the discovery process. It includes discussion of goals and values, a discovery of personal experiences and skills that will reinforce the brand, as well as an assessment of unique attributes, "packaging" strategies, and a determination of what you want the market to think of you.Audit assessment follows. This involves testing the brand message, seeking feedback and sharpening the message. After that it’s a matter of implementing the marketing plan, refining leadership skills and engaging in a disciplined program of acceptable self-promotion.Finally, there’s the issue of finding a coach, someone who can act as Sherpa guide through the brand development process. Good coaches are nothing more than marketing consultants for the ego.What defines a good coach? It’s someone who has operational background, who has done it before; someone who has experience to take you where you want to go; and someone with whom you can bond.Martha Eskew, an Atlanta-based executive coach, defines the good coach as one "who listens underneath for what’s being said and brings it out." This demands acute perceptiveness coupled with integrity and candor. "A good coach must always be willing to be fired by the client," Eskew said.Alf Nucifora is an Atlanta-based marketing consultant. He can be reached via e-mail at .

Martha Stewart's line unshaken by scandal

NEW YORK -- How durable is a brand if its founder becomes mired in a much-publicized scandal -- and can the consumer separate the product from the person?It’s a question that industry observers are asking after Martha Stewart’s sale of stock from Imclone Systems Inc. came under scrutiny in an insider trading investigation. The answer isn’t simple.Stewart’s image and her multimedia company’s stock have taken a beating from the tabloids and Wall Street, despite her repeated assertions of innocence. But so far there’s no sign that the unsavory publicity is turning off fans of the doyenne of domesticity, who still are reading her magazine and buying her bed linens.History has plenty of examples of brands that collapsed in such situations -- and also of others that continued to thrive during such a crisis.The upscale Helmsley hotel chain never regained the luster that it once enjoyed, after the hotel baroness Leona Helmsley was convicted of tax evasion, and dubbed the "Queen of Mean" by the tabloids, according to Gerald Celente, director of The Trends Research Institute.TV personality Kathy Lee Gifford was stung by reports in the mid-1990s that her namesake clothing was made in Honduran factories that used child labor, and this helped to stunt sales of her merchandise, some industry experts believe.On the other hand, while Steve Madden is heading for prison in August to serve a 41-month sentence for stock fraud and money laundering, Steve Madden Ltd. is doing fine. Under a new management and design team, the $240 million empire he built on designing chunky shoes for teens delivered a robust first-quarter earnings and sales report in May.And the offstage antics and legal woes of rap star Sean "Puffy" Combs, lately known as P. Diddy, have only increased the appeal of his white-hot line of clothing called Sean John, experts say."Strong brands are held together by a number of threads, and they have incredible amount of buoyancy, even if one thread gets in trouble," said Scott Talgo, chief strategy officer for Landor Associates, Inc., a brand consulting company.Talgo said that, to have an impact, the scandal must suggest that the brand betrayed the consumer in some way, such as offering them inferior services or poor quality of merchandise.Charles Riotto, president of the International Licensing Industry Merchandisers’ Association, said a brand’s fate also depends on "what kind of trouble that person gets into, and how that plays against the image."P. Diddy, for example, has a bad-boy image. So perhaps his worst legal problem -- he was arrested on weapon charges in a 1999 nightclub shooting but was later acquitted -- only helped bolster that reputation with his fans, according to Michael Wood, vice president of Teenage Research Unlimited, a market research firm in Northbrook, Ill.Celante believes that "Martha Stewart’s image can recover if it ends at this level. If this snowballs, then it could really begin to hurt her."Potential retailers and advertisers may be afraid of using her name if Stewart’s situation gets more complicated, some say.Congressional investigators are looking into whether Stewart had inside information when she sold nearly 4,000 shares of Imclone stock on Dec. 27, the day before the Food and Drug Administration made public its refusal to review the biotech company’s application for a promising cancer drug. ImClone’s stock price then plummeted.Stewart is a friend of Sam Waksal, ImClone’s former chief executive, who was recently arrested on charges of insider trading for allegedly trying to sell his stock and tipping off family members after learning of the FDA’s decision.Stewart said her trading was "entirely proper and lawful."For now, industry observers are closely watching to see how such negative publicity could affect the decorating maven’s empire, Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia Inc., which encompasses merchandise, from sheets to paints, a TV show and a magazine all bearing her name.Stewart’s line of home accessories and kitchenware is the top sales generator at Kmart Corp., which has filed for Chapter 11 reorganization. It depends on her name to continue to drive customers to the store.Many marketing experts believe the Martha Stewart brand is durable enough to deflect the bad publicity. They also say the news that’s unfolding right now isn’t egregious or compelling enough to turn off her average fan.

Juneau research center moves forward despite high bid

State and federal officials remain determined to build two fisheries research facilities at Lena Point in Juneau, but one has been set back by bids higher than construction estimates. The other awaits voter approval in November.Construction bids on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric facility were higher than expected, said John Gorman, NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service program manager in Juneau.Agency officials are considering their options, including the possibility of building the 69,000-square-foot facility in stages, he said.Anchorage-based Cornerstone Construction was the apparent low bidder in late May, but its bid was $6 million higher than agency estimates, Gorman said. Cornerstone bid $42.5 million for the project, compared with the federal department’s construction estimate of $36 million. Haskell Corp. of Washington bid $47.1 million. McGraw Custom Construction of Sitka bid $48.5 million.NOAA asked Cornerstone to recalculate its bid, although the company had not responded as of mid-June, he said. After that, NOAA might reconsider the scope of the project, but Gorman believes work won’t be downsized.The project already had been scaled back from $78 million. In 1992 Congress transferred property for the center at a different location. A controversy led to a relocation to Lena Point, Gorman said.Some construction could begin this year, Gorman said."We’re probably looking at a three-month delay," he said. "There’s still a chance that some work will take place this year like some site work."Researchers, originally scheduled to relocate to the building in 2004, probably will move in 2005, he said.The new facility would double the research space for about 85 employees at the current Auke Bay lab, Gorman said. Employment could climb to 107 at the larger facility. Designs also anticipate growth to become prominent in the Pacific Northwest, he added."This could be our major research presence north of Seattle," Gorman said.The University of Alaska Fairbanks also plans to relocate a fisheries research facility to Lena Point, alongside the NOAA fisheries lab.UAF’s School of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences, operating in Juneau for 20 years, offers the state’s only graduate-level fisheries degree program. The school now operates at the University of Alaska Southeast’s Anderson Building, near the federal agency’s Auke Bay lab.However, the school has outgrown its facility and NOAA asked university officials to consider relocating to Lena Point.The new three-story building would have 37,400 square feet and accommodate 14 faculty members, 10 research assistants and 45 graduate students.The project is estimated to cost $18 million. The Legislature included $9 million for the facility in a capital bond package on the November ballot, said Mike Ruckhaus, project manager with UAF’s Division of Design and Construction.If approved, funds would pay for finalizing designs, he said. Design work should take another six to eight months to complete, he said.Architects are ECI/Hyer Inc. of Anchorage and NBBJ of Seattle.The remainder of the funding would be part of the university’s fiscal year 2004 budget request to the state, he said. Construction could begin in late 2003 or 2004, Ruckhaus said.Ruckhaus and Gorman said the labs’ productivity is enhanced by having them at the same location."A lot of wonderful collaborative work goes on between the two," Ruckhaus said.The connection with UAF’s fisheries school is an important part of the federal fisheries program, Gorman said. Also, many federal employees are former students or teach or attend classes at the UAF facility, he added.

British regulators approve cruise line merger

LONDON -- A planned merger that would reshape the cruise ship industry moved a step closer to completion June 19 when Britain’s competition regulators approved the union of Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. and its smaller rival P&O Princess Cruises PLC.The Competition Commission said the merger was not likely to restrict growth or competition within the industry or reduce the diversity of cruises available to British consumers.Britain is the second country after Germany to approve the deal, which was put on hold in February after a hostile bid for Princess by Carnival Corp., the world’s largest cruise operator, sparked a revolt among Princess shareholders.U.S. regulators are still assessing the competing offers, as are European Union antitrust officials. EU authorities in May gave Carnival a list of their concerns about a Carnival-Princess deal.Princess Cruises includes the Princess Tours division in Seattle. Carnival’s holdings include Holland America Line-Westours Inc. of Seattle. All three companies operate in Alaska waters.Miami-based Carnival has offered $5.4 billion for Princess. Although Princess had refused to talk with Carnival about its bid, a majority of Princess shareholders voted to postpone the planned marriage to Royal Caribbean to give competition regulators in the United States and Europe more time to review Carnival’s bid alongside the proposed merger.Analysts have estimated the Royal Caribbean merger to be worth approximately $3.7 billion for Princess shareholders.

FAA to add runway lights at 30 airports

Too many times in Bush Alaska, pilots have had to rely on snowmachine headlights or fire pots placed along the edge of village runways so airplanes could land to transport people out of the communities in medical emergencies.Those methods of lighting rural runways are unreliable and downright dangerous, said John Madden, a Federal Aviation Administration spokesman in Anchorage.At least for some rural communities, help is on the way.The FAA last month released $10 million in federal funds for the installation of permanent runway lights in about 30 Bush communities. Some of the funding also will be used to study the feasibility of portable lighting equipment in some villages.The funding came at the request of Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, who had the FAA identify communities with no road access to medical facilities. The FAA found that of the 201 communities in the state identified, 63 have no runway lighting.The lack of lighting at these airports poses significant safety risks to the 64,000 people living in these communities, Stevens said. No one should be trapped in an emergency situation without a way to reach help because of inadequate runway lighting. These funds are crucial to ensuring that residents in these communities can travel to and from their homes as safely as possible.FAAs Madden said it costs up to $350,000 to install lighting along a runway and at its approach, and several thousand dollars annually at each site for maintenance.The FAA is responsible for the maintenance of the approach lighting, and villages are responsible for the cost of maintaining edge lighting, Madden said.The FAA is working with Alaska Native groups, the U.S. Coast Guard and the state departments of Transportation & Public Facilities and Health & Social Services to prioritize lighting projects for communities, Madden said.Much consideration is given to communities that already have other airport improvements planned and funded, Madden said.So far, Egegik, Kwethluk, Marshall, Rampart, Shaktoolik, Shageluk and Toksook Bay have been identified for lighting projects.Madden said the remaining sites should be determined this summer.

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