September unemployment rate up to 5.2 percent

JUNEAU - Unemployment rose by less than a percent in Alaska during September to 5.2 percent as the tourism season ended, the state labor department said Oct. 19.Alaska had 17,147 unemployed residents in September, up by about 500 from the previous month, according to a report from the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development.Initial unemployment claims jumped 25 percent to 6,380, the department said. That figure is nearly 300 below new claims in September 2000.The comparable national unemployment rate for September was 4.7 percent. The rate is not adjusted for seasonal variations.Monthly wage and salary employment fell by about 5,200 jobs, which the department attributed to a seasonal decline. The state unemployment rate was unchanged from September 2000."Alaska’s unemployment rate is still near record lows, and current indicators suggest the state’s economy is continuing to grow at a modest rate," said state labor economist Dan Robinson.Nearly half of the state’s job growth this year has come from the service sector, adding 2,900 jobs since September 2000, the department said. Construction and government employment added 900 jobs.Statewide unemployment in August was 5 percent.Unemployment rose to 4.4 percent in Juneau, up from 3.8 percent in August. Unemployment in the Southeast region rose by a half percent to 5 percent.Unemployment in Anchorage and Matanuska-Susitna Borough rose by a tenth of a percent to 4.2 percent.Fairbanks unemployment rose three-tenths of a percent to 4.7 percent.Unemployment in the Interior rose two-tenths of a percent to 5.1 percent.Unemployment fell to 16.4 percent in the Wade Hampton census area in Western Alaska. That area continued to have the highest unemployment rate in the state.Sitka and the Aleutians East Borough had the lowest unemployment rate at 3.2 percent.

GCI rolls out cable modem service in Sitka

General Communication Inc. has begun offering high-speed Internet access via cable modem service in Sitka.The service started up after six months of plant and equipment upgrades including activation of a fiber-optic cable to serve the Sitka area, company officials said.GCI’s Internet cable modem service provides 256 kilobits-per-second to 1.5 megabit-per-second access speed and offers a continuous dedicated connection.GCI also provides cable modem service in Anchorage, Fairbanks, Juneau, Sitka, Valdez and surrounding communities.

Gender wage gap narrows a bit, but men still earn more

JUNEAU The wage gap between the sexes is shrinking in Alaska, but women continue to earn significantly less than men in all industries, age groups, geographic areas and most occupations, according to a new state report.Women on average earned $20,079 in 1999 vs. $30,066 for men, wrote Jeff Hadland, author of the report published in the October issue of Alaska Economic Trends.However, thats an improvement of 5 percent over past years. Women earned 62 percent as much as men in 1988 compared to about 67 percent in 1999, said Hadland, an economist with the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development.The gap is narrowing, said Hadland, who pegged the national wage gap at roughly 72 percent.Change isnt coming fast enough for Rep. Beth Kerttula, who was disappointed in the findings.Thats a pretty long time to not come very far, said Kerttula, a Juneau Democrat. Its good its gone up, but it should be 100 percent, and that should be an immediate goal.The largest pay gap was in manufacturing, which includes mostly seafood and timber processing jobs. Women earned 58 percent of what men earned in that industry two years ago.The smallest pay gap was in services, which includes jobs in law, hotels and health care. Women in that industry earned almost 80 percent of average wages earned by men.Also, women fared worse in the private sector than in state and local government. The ratio of female-to-male earnings was 62 percent in the private sector vs. 74 percent in the public sector, Hadland said.The report did not analyze the reasons for the pay gap, but Hadland offered some possible explanations. Women who leave the work force or work part time to care for their families are at a disadvantage because experience and tenure on the job command a premium in pay, he said.Education also may play a role. Although women in their 20s are more likely to have a bachelors degree than men in that age group, men earn doctoral degrees to a much greater extent than women, Hadland said, noting that could explain why men get the highest paying management and professional jobs.Another possible explanation is sex discrimination.Discrimination or other barriers may exist in hiring, training, advancement or pay rates, he said.Pam LaBolle of the Alaska State Chamber of Commerce believed the disparity had more to do with women leaving work to tend children than discrimination.Ive worked in other states, in other places, and I have seen discrimination, said LaBolle, president of the chamber. I dont see it in Alaska.Kerttula leaned the other way.Discrimination is much more in line with what I think is happening, she said.The report found the most lucrative industry for both genders was mining, which includes oil and gas jobs. Men on average earned about $60,000 in 1999 compared with $45,652 for women. That industry was dominated by men, who held 87 percent of nearly 9,000 jobs, Hadland said.The second-highest wages for men came from the transportation, communications and public utilities industry, which paid on average about $39,000 a year for men and $25,000 for women.State government paid the second-highest wages for women, who earned $28,581 in 1999 vs. $38,780 for men.Womens wages fell short in all industries but they took home higher salaries than men in several occupations. For example, women legal secretaries earned 192 percent of male earnings in that occupation in 1999, Hadland said.These earnings, however, are less than the average earnings figure for males, and the same is true of other occupations in this group, he said.

Alaska USA plans branch in new store

Alaska USA Federal Credit Union plans to operate a branch in the new Southeast Anchorage Fred Meyer due to open in early 2002.The credit union operates five other branches in Fred Meyer stores: on Dimond Boulevard in Anchorage, in Wasilla, one each at two Fairbanks stores and another in Kent, Wash., according to Alaska USA spokeswoman Nancy Usera.The new branch is tentatively scheduled to open in February, she said."We also have retail branches in a number of Carrs/Safeway locations in Alaska and are looking at two additional retail locations in the Seattle area," she said.The credit union signed an agreement to install the branch with International Banking Technologies, a retail design, build and performance company for credit unions and regional and community banks in the United States, Latin America and Canada. The agreement calls for IBT to open the new Anchorage branch as well as two in Seattle-area Quality Food Centers.IBT also installed Alaska USA’s existing in-store branches - a total of nine in Alaska and one in Washington, company officials said.In-store branches extend hours of operation for Alaska USA and offer increased convenience to members, said Helen Curry, Alaska USA retail sales manager.

State supreme court weighs in on business name shield

Your trademark or trade name is not only your identity, it is often a valuable marketing tool. The ability to protect that trademark or trade name is invaluable.In the recent case of Alderman vs. Iditarod Properties Inc., the Alaska Supreme Court was called upon to determine whether the name "Fourth Avenue Theater Trolley Tours" impermissibly infringed on the rights of the owners of the "Fourth Avenue Theatre." In a lengthy ruling, the court adopted standards for dealing with trademark or trade name infringement and set forth the analytical structure to follow in determining whether there is a potential infringement.The Supreme Court adopted a two-part test to determine whether there was an infringement of the trade name. The test requires first that the symbol or name in question be valid; that is, the public recognizes the name as identifying a particular business to the exclusion of all others. The second requirement is that there is a likelihood of confusion among the relevant buyers as to the two names in question.A trademark or trade name is first categorized according to its distinctiveness. The more abstract the name, the more likely it is to be protected. Trademarks and trade names are broken down into four categories: Arbitrary and fanciful, such as Exxon; suggestive, such as Citibank; descriptive, such as Raisin Bran; and generic, such as Discount Muffler.Arbitrary and fanciful names are afforded the greatest protections because of their uniqueness; suggestive names are also easily protected. On the other hand, generic names are afforded no protections at all. The descriptive name lies somewhere between the suggestive and the generic so it can only be protected if there is proof that the name has achieved a secondary meaning such that the name has come to represent one individual product and no other. If a secondary meaning can be established, the name is protectable.If a business has a protectable trade name, the next question is whether that trade name has been infringed. The Supreme Court adopted a "likelihood of confusion test" which requires that "[a]n appreciable number of reasonable buyers must be likely to be confused by the name." How many confused buyers are needed to prove a case is unresolved, but federal case law is clear that it need not be a majority.Confusion regarding a trademark or trade name can be caused in numerous ways. The Supreme Court listed the strength of the mark, the proximity of the goods, the similarity of the marks, the evidence of actual confusion, the marketing channels used, the types of goods in question, the degree of care a purchaser is likely to exercise, the defendant’s intent in selecting the mark, and the likelihood of expansion of the product lines as factors to be considered and balanced in determining whether infringement had occurred.As for the Alderman case, the court upheld the jury’s finding that the name "Fourth Avenue Theatre" had acquired a secondary meaning and thus was a trade name. In addition, since Iditarod Properties was the first to have its business name achieve secondary meaning, it was the party with the rights to that name, even though Alderman had registered the name.Although the Alderman case demonstrates that registration of a trademark or trade name does not guarantee rights in that name under some circumstances, registration of a trademark or trade name with the state of Alaska is still a good idea as it gives notice to others that your trade name is in use and establishes priority against later usage of that name. In some circumstances, federal registration may also be warranted.When considering a new trade name, look to see if your trade name resembles someone else’s in Alaska by going to ( A similar search can be done on a federal level at ( is no magic formula for determining when something becomes a trademark or trade name, when it is protectable, or when it has been infringed. All of these questions are answered in a matter of degrees. Nevertheless, Alaska now has a set of standards to aid the business and legal community in dealing with these potential disputes.Jim Gorski is a member of the law firm of Hughes Thorsness Powell Huddleston & Bauman LLC. He can be reached via e-mail at ([email protected]).

State to explore royalty sales of Alaskas North Slope gas

The Alaska Department of Natural Resources will begin exploring the possibility of selling Alaskas North Slope royalty gas, its commissioner announced Oct. 26.Commissioner Pat Pourchot said DNR will soon be announcing the process and time frame for its investigation of possible gas sales.He said the exercise will include a public hearing process with recommendations hopefully submitted to the Legislature in the upcoming session.We have met with an assortment of companies who are interested in buying our gas to ship down the pipeline or use in-state, Pourchot said in a statement. The competitive sale process is a signal to the producers and other possible pipeline participants that the state is ready to do all it can to create the appropriate climate for the construction of a gas pipeline.Natural gas companies from across the nation have cut a path to DNRs door to discuss possible state royalty gas sales as interest in building a natural gas pipeline from Alaska to the Lower 48 intensified last spring.Alaska owns 12.5 percent of the 35 trillion cubic feet of proven gas reserves on the North Slope, its royalty share of the reserves.Our share is half a billion cubic feet per day of gas, state market analyst Kevin Banks said.Pourchot said a number of companies have expressed interest in owning or controlling the states gas.The Williams Cos., Anadarko Petroleum Corp., Alberta Energy Corp., Petro-Canada, Burlington Resources and El Paso Natural Gas Corp. are among companies that are pursuing Alaskas arctic gas resources.The companies discussed a hypothetical price of $4 per thousand cubic feet. At that price, the state of Alaska could gross $712 million a year on North Slope royalty gas sales.Alaska has traditionally sold its royalty oil to in-state refiners to encourage a competitive gasoline market. Recently, state officials have ventured outside the state for customers as in-state refiners have sought product from other sources.Although Alaska usually receives cash from oil and gas lessees for its royalty share, the state has the option of taking its royalty in-kind and selling it itself. Depending on the outcome of the competitive sale process, the commissioner may sell some of the states royalty gas that would be produced if a North Slope gas pipeline is built.The commissioner underscored his intention to keep his options open as the competitive process unfolds.No decision to offer our royalty gas has been made, he said. This decision will be made only after we go through a process that includes public comment, drafting both a preliminary and final finding and determination of the states best interest, hearings of the Alaska Royalty Oil and Gas Development Advisory Board, and evaluation of bids.If and when royalty sale contracts are executed, DNR will submit them to the Legislature for review and approval.By the end of October, Alaskas Division of Oil and Gas was expected to complete drafting a preliminary finding and determination of whether a competitive sale of some of the states royalty gas is in the states best interest at this time. That finding will be made available to the public for comment.At Pourchots request, the Alaska Royalty Oil and Gas Development Advisory Board has scheduled a hearing for Nov. 13 to review the preliminary finding and provide the public with an opportunity to testify. If a competitive sale does occur, bid opening may be scheduled for January or February.

Salmon prices, crab landings decline, reduce 2001 fisheries value

Sharp declines in the value of salmon catches and a reduction in crab landings have combined to reduce the value of Alaskas 2001 fisheries to about $933 million, according to figures from the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute.Projected values for this years salmon fishery are pegged at $198 million, down more than $80 million from last year. Crab fisheries are expected to be worth about $82 million, down $50 million in value from the previous year. The value for groundfish, including cod, pollock, flatfish and rockfish, has increased slightly, but not enough to offset the other declines. Groundfish will total about $400 million vs. $392 million in 2000. In all, the total value of Alaska seafood landings will decline from about $1.05 billion last year.ASMIs budget comes from a 1 percent assessment on salmon catches paid by all harvesters and other voluntary assessments on various fish species paid by Alaska processors. The drop in the value of the catch means that ASMIs budget for the current fiscal year will drop by about 21 percent. ASMI is the lone marketing arm for all of Alaskas seafood, yet it does not receive any funding from the state.Winter fishery beginsTrollers in Southeast Alaska were back on the water Oct. 11 with the start of the winter chinook fishery. Under guidelines laid out by the United States/Canada Salmon Treaty, the fleet can catch up to 45,000 chinook through April 15. Most of the fishing effort will occur between now and early December, and it will pick up again in March. Fishermen were reportedly receiving an average price of $3.20 a pound for their winter kings.The winter king fishery is a reminder that fresh salmon is available in Alaska nearly year-round. After the April 15 closure for winter kings, salmon again becomes available when Copper River sockeye and king fisheries near Cordova kick off in early May. Thats followed by salmon openers around the state all summer long, and coho catches that last well into October. That means there is only one month each year when fresh, wild salmon are not available.Fall chums aboundThe sales season for salmon kicks into full swing in Japan during the fall and winter, and one important market variable is the strength of Japans fall chum runs. Market watcher Bill Atkinson reports that the catch of chums harvested in Hokkaido through the end of September is 73 percent higher than last year, and the fish are much larger. Atkinson said average chum size this year is 8.14 pounds, compared to 7.72 pounds last year.Alaska salmon will go head to head with these fresh chums harvested from Japanese waters, as well as cheaply produced farmed salmon from Chile.Kodiak-based free-lance writer Laine Welch can be reached via e-mail at ([email protected]).

Mayor wants to head off bond bill

North Slope Borough Mayor George Ahmaogak is asking for support from business leaders to derail proposed state legislation that would gut the ability of the borough to sell bonds for public improvements in northern villages."We need to talk," Ahmaogak told the Alaska Support Industry Alliance on Oct. 25. "We’re friends and allies in developing Alaska’s economy, and we’ve been partners in resource development."We’re playing a major role in financing efforts to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to exploration, and we’re helping promote a natural gas pipeline. But we’re also getting mixed messages out of urban Alaska," he said.Ahmaogak blamed a "small group of Anchorage and Fairbanks legislators, working in your name," who are promoting bills in Juneau aimed at crippling the North Slope Borough.The latest effort is Senate Bill 186, which limits municipal bonding authority. The bill passed the state Senate on a narrow 11-9 vote late last spring, and is now in the state House of Representatives, he said.The mayor named Anchorage Republican Sen. Dave Donley and two Fairbanks Republicans, Sens. Gary Wilken and Pete Kelly, as the main backers of SB186. Donley has a grudge against the North Slope, Ahmaogak said.But Donley, contacted later in the day, fired back: "Why would I have a grudge against them? I’m concerned with the majority of the Alaska people whose financial situation is being endangered by their very dangerous bond practices," he said.The North Slope Borough has per capita debt 22 times the statewide average, Donley said."In the case of a default, the state has no statutory obligation to repay their debt, but we frequently hear about the state’s moral obligation to municipal debt. If they did default and the state didn’t pay, the market would punish the state and other municipalities in their bond ratings," he said.Also, when local property taxes on the oil industry are raised to pay debt on bonds, it results in less revenue to the state under the state oil and gas property tax, Donley said. Local taxes are allowed as a credit against the state property tax paid by the industry.SB186 would place a statutory municipal debt limit of $15,000 per capita."That’s generous," Donley said. "It’s still three times the statewide per capita debt." The North Slope Borough now has a per capita debt load of $64,000 per resident.Ahmaogak told the Alliance that Anchorage and Fairbanks business owners and contractors have a stake in the North Slope’s ability to continue its capital projects program. The borough’s record indicate that it spent $139 million with Anchorage-area businesses in 2000, and $13 million in Fairbanks.Ahmaogak said SB186 is only the latest attempt at legislation that punishes the North Slope and other rural areas. Previously, there were efforts to take education funding away from the North Slope Borough school district.The North Slope also wound up a big loser, along with some other rural school districts, when the school foundation formula, which governs distribution of state financial aid to local schools, was changed in ways that diverted money from rural to urban schools.As for SB186, Ahmaogak charged the bill was fast-tracked in the Senate last spring and the borough was not notified of hearings."There was never an announced hearing for this bill. Senator Donley waited until late in the session, past the period when five-day notices of hearings are required," he said. "The bill was brought on the floor of the Senate the last day of the session, debated for one hour, and then sent to the House with a vote of 11-9."The people most affected by the bill, ourselves, were never told when it would come before the Senate Finance Committee," which Donley and Kelly co-chair, Ahmaogak said.Donley said this was false. North Slope Borough representatives testified at the Senate Finance hearing, and the committee adopted two amendments at the borough’s suggestion, he said.One gave municipalities the authority to refinance existing debt, while a second authorized issuance, if unusual circumstances require it, of up to $1,000 per capita above the limit for one year.Ahmaogak said Donley’s bill, "is not the result of any emergency or any allegation of improper financial management on the part of the borough. The North Slope has been prudent in its bonding and has even paid off some debt early."Independent municipal rating agencies have consistently given the North Slope Borough good bond ratings, a signal of confidence, Ahmaogak said.Donley won’t say the borough has spent money irresponsibly."But one has to wonder where all this money really went. We’ve never seen an accounting," he said.

Forest Service appoints Alaska regional forester

The Alaska region includes the nations largest national forest, the Tongass, which covers much of Southeast, as well as the Chugach Forest, which encompasses much of the northern Kenai Peninsula and Prince William Sound.Bschor has the necessary leadership skills and sensitivity to a variety of natural resource issues needed for the challenges faced today, Bosworth said. His background in working with people to create common values in western rural America is a real plus.Bschor has been director of the Recreation, Heritage and Wilderness Resources staff in Washington, D.C since 1998.He is a 29-year veteran of the Forest Service.Before working in the agencys national headquarters, Bschor was forest supervisor for the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest in Washington and a district ranger on two separate forests in Colorado and Wyoming.

North Slope, Beaufort lease sales draw nearly $13 million

Investors flocked to two state of Alaska oil and gas areawide lease sales Oct. 24, offering nearly $13 million for 134 tracts on the North Slope and just offshore in the Beaufort Sea.The onshore sale was the fourth North Slope areawide sale in Alaska. It attracted the most interest of the two sales that day, drawing 146 bids totaling $7.45 million on 110 tracts from established companies filling in acreage positions and investors, some of whom were new to the region.Bidders demonstrated interest in parcels scattered across the North Slope, from the border of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to the east to the border of the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska to the west.A sale highlight was the apparent top offer of $1.7 million, or $297 per acre, from Shell Western Exploration, which is returning to the Slope nearly a decade after selling its acreage position in the early 1990s. Shell offered the relatively large amount for tract 109, which is near the southern border of the sale area, near the gas-prospective Foothills region of the Brooks Mountain Range. Unocal also offered $48,729, or $8.46 per acre, for the tract.The Beaufort Sea sale drew 31 bids, totaling $5.44 million on 24 tracts.Denver independent Armstrong Resources LLC led the bidding with offers on 12 tracts, including the apparent high bid of the sale of $809,959. Armstrong was the apparent high bidder on all of the tracts it sought, with offers totaling roughly $4.9 million.

Gas line group to issue new economic assessment

The North Slope gas producers consortium planning a natural gas pipeline project says it will revise an economic assessment of the project with new information by the end of the year.A preliminary assessment done in mid-summer showed both a northern, or offshore, pipeline route and a southern route through Interior Alaska to be uneconomic.The new assessment, which the producers will use to make a route decision and to decide whether to apply for permits, will include final engineering and field data not available in the earlier work, said Bill McMahon, commercial manager for the project.McMahon, on loan from Exxon Mobil Corp. to the project, briefed the International Association of Energy Economists local chapter Oct. 25. Other companies in the project include BP Exploration (Alaska) Inc. and Phillips Alaska Inc.The new economic assessment will also include ideas for cost savings and revenues from the sale of natural gas liquids, McMahon told the local economics chapter, mostly economists from state agencies and industry.One idea being considered for cost savings by the technical group in the consortium is the notion of building two smaller-diameter pipelines virtually side-by-side, rather than a single large-diameter pipeline which involves unusual challenges in fabrication, McMahon said.The study involves a 52-inch thick-walled pipeline operating at 2,500 pounds per square inch, a pressure high enough to carry heavier natural gas liquids along with lighter methane through the pipe.Methane is the main component of natural gas used as fuel, but the liquids, such as propane and butane, have other uses as fuel or petrochemical feedstock.McMahon said the large diameter pipe involves unusual challenges because there are only two steel mills in the United States capable of manufacturing pipe 52 inches in diameter and no U.S. steel mill capable of building 52-inch pipe with the high-strength X-80 steel that will be required.The revised economics will also include the revenue benefits of selling natural gas liquids as petrochemicals or other uses, McMahon said. The earlier, mid-summer assessment based the analysis only on selling gas as fuel for space heating or electrical generation, he said.Not including revenues from gas liquids sales has been a source of criticism of the economic assessment released to the public by the gas group.Ken Thompson, a former senior Atlantic Richfield Corp. manager who is a member of Gov. Tony Knowles Natural Gas Policy Council, said that gas liquid sales could be a large business for the North Slope producers, and that not including the potential revenues presents the project in a pessimistic light.However, there is also uncertainty as to just how much gas liquids volume will move through the pipeline, state officials have said. The pipeline will carry about 4.5 billion cubic feet a day or gas, but the volume of gas liquids could range from the equivalent of 60,000 barrels per day to 100,000 barrels per day.One reason for the uncertainty is that there are other, competing uses for gas liquids. They are used to help produce crude oil on the North Slope in enhanced oil recovery projects, and some producers may decide to use them to produce more oil rather than ship them down the gas pipeline.

Organizers of popular seafood event look Outside

ANCHORAGE - The Alaska Symphony of Seafood is about to conquer a new frontier outside the state.This winter, the popular contest for new food products based on Alaska-caught fish will be held in "a large metropolitan area" in the Lower 48, said Marc Jones, executive director of the private, nonprofit Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation, sponsor of the event. The city has not yet been selected, he said.Anchorage will still be a major part of the Symphony. A public tasting soiree will return to the city in February, Jones said.In past years, the foundation has brought in big-name chefs, restaurant executives and food writers to judge newfangled seafood products for their taste, packaging and market potential. The judging was at the Alyeska Resort in Girdwood.The Symphony also features a monthlong seafood promotion in select Anchorage restaurants with special menus, plates and banners.The new productions competition, which is closed to the public, is being moved Outside because participating seafood processors want more marketing exposure, Jones said.Few major processors are based in Alaska, and most of the seafood they handle is marketed in the Lower 48 or abroad. Last year processors entered 18 new products, such as Tabasco Cod Fillet Tenders from Seattle-based Trident Seafoods Corp. and Salmon Santa Fe from AquaCuisine Inc. of Boise, Idaho. The grand prize, however, went to the smoked king salmon strips from Maserculiq Fish Processors Inc., a small Native company with a processing plant in the Yukon River village of Marshall.By moving the contest Outside, processors hope to get broader media and marketing exposure than they have in Alaska, Jones said. And more processors might be enticed to enter.Glenn Reed, president of the Pacific Seafood Processors Association in Seattle, said moving the contest is a good idea."This is where the market is," he said, referring to the Lower 48. "If you get press in Los Angeles or San Francisco or Seattle or Denver, that might be better than having the contest at Alyeska."

Trucking companies on alert, must exercise tighter security

FAIRBANKS - The state has asked businesses with company trucks that pass through Alaska communities to be on higher road alert in the wake of the terrorist attacks."Alaska carriers transport various types of hazardous materials every day - including explosives and products like fuel, paint, even hair spray," Gov. Tony Knowles said.State and federal transportation officials are in the midst of contacting Alaska motor carriers. Knowles said the goal is to educate the carriers on security and ask them to be on the lookout for suspicious behavior from drivers, shippers and the public.Companies are under instructions to review files of all their drivers and make sure required background checks have been done. The state also wants carriers to review their security measures for storing and transporting hazardous materials.Both state and federal transportation officials are conducting security visits to the hazardous materials carriers in Alaska, according to the governor’s office. Also, the state’s commercial vehicle enforcement officers who operate at weigh stations and roadsides are taking a closer look at commercial vehicles that haul hazardous materials.Most of the emphasis is on carriers that transport bulk explosives, petroleum products and poisonous gases.

ANWR provision could prevail in Senate, White House aide says

A provision to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge coastal plain to oil exploration and development is still alive in the U.S. Senate despite the best efforts of the Democratic majority, a Bush administration official said Oct. 23.Andrew Lundquist, executive director of the National Energy Policy Development Group, said President Bush, a staunch proponent of drilling in ANWR, believes the measure will prevail if it comes to a vote on the Senate floor."Guess what? I believe we have the votes on the floor, and I believe the votes should prevail," said Lundquist, who played a central role in crafting the administration’s national energy policy."We still hold out hope the Senate will act, but time is short and America needs an energy plan," he told members of an oil industry trade group gathered at the Sheraton Anchorage Hotel.Lundquist, a former longtime aide to Alaska’s Republican Sens. Ted Stevens and Frank Murkowski, was the keynote speaker for the annual conference of the Alaska Support Industry Alliance. He has coordinated White House efforts to get an energy bill through Congress this year.Even if the energy bill doesn’t pass with the ANWR provision this session, Lundquist said the measure will not die and the Bush administration will continue the fight when Congress reconvenes.Gov. Tony Knowles also spoke at the Alliance event, reiterating his unqualified support for both the ANWR provision in Congress and the Alaska Highway route for a natural gas pipeline from the North Slope to the Lower 48.

Palmer farm first to offer fresh cheddar cheese curds

What began as an experiment in a Palmer farmhouse kitchen several years ago has resulted in the start-up of Alaska’s first commercial cheese processor.Gary and Carla Beu, who own Windsong Farm, process fresh cheddar cheese curds from milk produced by the farm’s dairy cows. Cheese curds, when pressed together and aged, form cheese blocks or rounds.During cheese-making experiments, the couple learned of some people’s fondness for fresh cheese curds."Carla and I had never heard of fresh cheese curds till 2 1/2 years ago," Gary Beu said. "People kept saying, ’What people really want are fresh cheese curds.’ They’re a really big deal in the Midwest."The craving is so strong that former residents of Wisconsin, Minnesota and other states have shipped the cheese curds north to Alaska, he said.That demand could bolster business."It looks like a huge market," he said.So far it has translated into sales for Windsong Farm.At 3 p.m. Oct. 23 Windsong Farm delivered its first supplies to two New Sagaya stores in Anchorage, and by 1 p.m. the next day, store operators called to reorder, Beu said.The Alaska product has sold well, said Gerhard Vierthaler, general manager of New Sagaya’s L’Aroma bakery and deli."It’s gotten a really good reception," he said.The retailer stocks Alaska-grown produce in summer and adding Palmer-produced cheese curds worked well with New Sagaya’s inventory of various cheeses including others from small U.S. dairies, he said.The area supplier now restocks the cheese daily, he said."It really took off," Vierthaler said, noting that the Alaska cheese curds sell fast.Windsong Farm owners are considering other outlets to sell the cheese curds.The Beus make 90 pounds of cheese curds every Monday and Friday. They sell the product at their farm store. Sometimes eight cars will be waiting in the driveway."A lot of people want these absolutely fresh," Beu said.Windsong Farm also sells natural beef, organic vegetables by subscription in summer and other farm-raised goods. The Beus run "the smallest dairy farm in Alaska" with 11 adult cows and 13 heifers - future milk cows - both Holstein and Jersey, Gary Beu said.The dairy came first. Two years ago the couple began investing time and money to prepare to process cheese at Windsong Farm."We decided making and selling cheese was a more value-added product than selling milk to Matanuska Maid," he said. Preparations required securing permits from the state and adding a new building. Beu estimates they have invested $200,000 into the effort so far.The state Department of Environmental Conservation, which tested Windsong Farm’s pasteurizer and approved plant operations, inspected the farm Sept. 10, said DEC dairy sanitarian June Muniz. Milk and cheese products are among the most highly regulated food items, she said.Muniz praised the Beus’ round the clock hard work to gain approval as the state’s first cheese producer. She believes Windsong Farm may gain a foothold in the state agriculture industry by cultivating a niche market."Historically, Alaska has been really up and down in the dairy industry. This is another outlet for someone who wants to be in the industry," Muniz said.Muniz, who had not tasted fresh cheese curds before the Windsong Farm project, described them as buttery.The Beus received two state permits: a grade A milk processing permit like a permit held by Matanuska Maid and a grade A dairy permit.Windsong Farm’s own supply of milk for cheese making is at its highest level."If we go to one more day we’d have to buy milk (from a local dairy,)" he said. "We’d like to make cheese five days a week."Beu hopes to add a third day of cheese making in November. He is negotiating with other area diaries to buy additional milk to accommodate the change.On cheese-making days one employee helps the Beus, and in summer they employ up to five people.Cheese-making days begin at 5 a.m. when the cows are milked. They handle a second milking at 5 p.m. By 6:30 p.m. the fresh curds have been packaged and the plant cleaned up, Beu said.They sell the fresh cheddar cheese curds in 8 ounce and 16 ounce packages, priced at $4.50 and $8.75 respectively. The Windsong Farm cheddar cheese is white, not dyed typical cheddar yellow."It’s as natural as we can make it," Beu said.Windsong Farm sells the product on its Web site ( and will ship via United Parcel Service.

This Week in Alaska Business History November 4, 2001

Editor’s note: "This Week in Alaska Business History" revisits events that shaped our past. "Those who cannotremember the past are condemned to repeat it." - George Santayana, 1863-195220 years ago this weekAnchorage TimesNov. 7, 1981Amendments unveiled in railroad transfer billby Ded DavidTimes WriterRights of way for expansion or realignment of the Alaska Railroad will be transferred to the state when ownership of the line changes from federal to state hands, a draft amendment to federal legislation written by state officials says.The right of way provision is one of several changes the state wants to make in railroad transfer legislation introduced by Sens. Ted Stevens and Frank Murkowski, R-Alaska.Officials and some special interest groups said the Stevens-Murkowski bill dumps too much liability on the state while giving it little flexibility to run an efficient railroad. So they rewrote it."The amended bill has immeasurably improved on some of the problems (in the original bill)," said Ron Hauver, chairman of the Resource Development Council’s Transportation Committee.Hauver, an Anchorage attorney, said the Hammond administration used the bill as a foundation, expanding on it in addressing state concerns.Anchorage TimesNov. 9, 1981Gas firm lines up lobbyistsBy Betty MillsTimes Writer BureauWASHINGTON - The sponsors of the Alaska Highway gas pipeline are lining up support on Capitol Hill for the package of waivers needed to secure private financing for the project.The law firms of former Democratic National Committee chairman Robert Strauss and former Federal Power Commission chairman Lee C. White have been retained to plead the case for the waivers.The Senate Energy Committee is expected to vote next week to approve the waiver package, sending the matter to the floor for consideration as early as Nov. 16.The outlook is less rosy in the House, where a final day of hearings by two Energy subcommittees will be. A vote in the House Interior Subcommittee on Energy and Environmental, headed by Rep. Morris Udall, D-Ariz., could come next week, but no timetable has been set for action by the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Fossil Fuels.Both houses of Congress must approve the waivers to allow consumers in the Lower 48 to be billed before gas starts to flow and provide for equity participation in the project by the North Slope producers.10 years ago this weekAlaska Journal of CommerceNov. 4, 1991Chugach looks for outside help to reopen its Seward sawmillBy Tim MoffattFor the Alaska Journal of CommerceSEWARD - Chugach Lumber Products’ $22 million foray into the dimensional lumber business came to a halt last month when the last 50 employees finished their work at the company’s Seward sawmill. Whether the mill will reopen depends on parent company Chugach Alaska Corp.’s finding a joint venture partner or a buyer for the mill, according to President Neil Anderson. The sawmill operated less than two years.Falling domestic demand as well as a soft Japanese market combined with cost overruns in developing the mill contributed to its early demise, Anderson said. He also pointed to the disruption caused by the March 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill as a factor.Alaska Journal of CommerceNov. 4, 1991State plans Mat-Su coalbed methane wellBy Ray TysonAlaska Journal of CommerceThe state Department of Natural Resources is planning to drill a test hole on the Matanuska-Susitna Valley next year to help gauge the potential for methane gas production from coal deposits that underlie as much as a tenth of Alaska’s land mass.DNR believes there’s plenty of coalbed methane in Alaska but isn’t sure how much or whether it can ever be produced economically. Geologists estimate Alaska contains a third to a half of the U.S. coal reserves and 15 percent of the world’s reserves.Coalbed methane is so expensive for companies to produce in the Lower 48 it requires government subsidies. Nevertheless, it has piqued the interest of natural resources officials here who want to know more about its role in Alaska’s energy future.The existence of coalbed methane has been known for years.- Compiled by Ed Bennett

Business Profile: Digital Computer Solutions

Name of the company: Digital Computer SolutionsEstablished: 1997Location: 619 E. Ship Creek Ave., Suite 321, AnchorageTelephone: 907-274-9911Web site: www.dcsalaska.comMajor focus of services: Digital Computer Solutions provides computer networking and engineering services and also offers training courses. Instruction can help trainees learn computer programs or other training to earn technical certifications.History of the company: Alaskan Mike Conner started Digital Computer Solutions with a partner after working as a manager at another computer-related business. Today Conner is sole owner of the firm.For the first seven months Digital Computer Solutions operated from a condo before moving to an office. The company gained momentum and tallied first year annual revenue of $600,000. In 1998 Digital Computer Solutions diversified its services by opening a training center. We focused on a few things, and it has paid off, Conner said.The computer lab now has 12 computer stations, and courses chiefly feature Microsoft programs including Access, Excel, Power Point and Word. Digital Computer Solutions also offers training customized to emphasize programs requested by companies or students. Technical training instructs students in classes to earn the designation of Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer. Often Digital Computer Solutions employees travel around the state to teach computer courses at company offices.One major project Digital Computer Solutions completed in January called for design and implementation of a computer network linking 1,500 people for the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Conner, company president, called the project the largest deployment of Citrix networking technology in the state. The system allows users to access applications or programs from any device, from computer to Palm Pilot, at a variety of connection speeds.The firm has seven full-time employees with annual revenue now surpassing the $1 million mark.Top accomplishment of the company: Conner is pleased with the growth of business at the training center this year. He credits his companys customer service for the growth as well as repeat business.Major player: Mike Conner, president, Digital Computer Solutions.Conner, who has experience in sales and marketing, started working in the industry in 1991. He worked at an Anchorage computer company in sales then later as a manager before starting his own company. Nancy Pounds

NANA Corp. president says he'll retire, cites health

ANCHORAGE - Charlie Alasuk Curtis, the president of NANA Regional Corp., has announced he is retiring at the end of the year.Curtis, 51, cited unspecified health reasons as part of his decision to step down Dec. 28.Curtis, an Inupiat Eskimo and Vietnam veteran, agreed to serve a decade when he was hired as president of the Kotzebue-based Native corporation in 1992."I’ve been blessed in having done that," he said.Under his leadership, NANA profits increased by 500 percent, the corporation said. Revenue blossomed from $38 million in 1992 to $176 million last year.Some of his greatest accomplishments as president were increasing shareholder hiring and expanding scholarship opportunities."Charlie has had a vision of success for NANA," said Helvi Sandvik, president of NANA Development Corp. She said that in the past five years, NANA had more net profits than in the previous 18 years and has paid out more shareholder dividends than in the previous 11.NANA built three hotels in Anchorage and one in Fairbanks. It owns or has partnerships with 35 companies, including TeckCominco, which operates the Red Dog Mine near Kotzebue. The world’s largest zinc mine sits on NANA land.Like many other Native corporations, NANA contracts with the federal government as a minority-owned company. NANA has five so-called 8(a) subsidiaries that are allowed bidding preferences with the government.Curtis said he plans to spend his retirement in the company of his family in Kiana, a Northwest Alaska village. He said his goals center on spending time with his grandchildren and living life "day by day."

Alaska Club expands with Juneau facilities

Operators of The Alaska Club Network have acquired a key link in its statewide chain, adding two facilities in Juneau.On Oct. 22 Alaska Club officials said they planned to merge with JRC Inc., which operates Juneau Racquet Club-Downtown and Juneau Racquet Club-Valley. The deal should be completed in November.A purchase price was not disclosed.The Alaska Club Network operates 10 fitness centers in the state: six in Anchorage, one each in Eagle River and Wasilla, plus two in Fairbanks.The addition of the Juneau facilities brings another 2,085 members to Alaska Club’s roster, bringing the total to 40,000 members.Alaska Club Network President Andrew Eker said the Juneau deal is significant because it offers advantages for members who travel between Anchorage, Fairbanks and Juneau."We’ve been working on it for a while," he said. "It’s the other major population center in the state of Alaska."Eker estimated that several hundred members travel between Anchorage and Juneau. Company officials have been tracking the number of members traveling between its facilities in Anchorage and Fairbanks, he said.Additional fees are not required for members visiting different Alaska Club Network facilities, he said. Anchorage members have a choice of two types of membership, with one offering limited access to some services.Eker does not anticipate immediate major changes at the two Juneau fitness clubs. However, Alaska Club officials are considering possible facility improvements at the Juneau facilities, he said.John McConnochie, one of the owners of the Juneau Racquet Clubs, will serve as Juneau area manager. Another owner, Jamie Parsons, will become a shareholder in the merged company.McConnochie said he and Parsons have known Eker and his Alaska Club partner Tom Behan for 10 years."We think very highly of them," McConnochie said.He believes the timing was right for the merger."It seemed like an appropriate time and a good mix to bring the operations together," he said. "It looked like a good way to plan for our future."One major change for the Juneau fitness clubs will be changing the name to JRC The Alaska Club probably after the merger is completed, he said.Juneau Racquet Club-Valley was built in 1978 by Red Samm Construction and remodeled in 1990. That project removed two racquetball courts, expanded office space and added free weight areas and a cafe among other improvements.The 2.56-acre site, 9.5 miles north of downtown Juneau, includes 49,500 square feet of fitness space with four tennis courts, six racquetball courts, an aerobics studio, a group cycling area and other facilities. The location employs 79 people and has 1,350 members.The downtown Juneau facility has 12,000 square feet of fitness space and is on the second floor of the Foodland Annex. The facility features cardio, weightlifting and aerobics areas, tanning services, a day care and a pro shop.The next milestone for The Alaska Club Network will be the relocation of The Alaska Club West in Anchorage. The new location should open early next year, Eker said. Operators are now renovating the new location, a former Alaska Marketplace store across Minnesota Drive from the club’s current location at the Aurora Village Shopping Center.

Survey to test visitor intentions

JUNEAU - With six months before the next cruise ship arrives and Sept. 11 changing the course of international events, tourism industry officials are doing their best to gauge what next summer might look like in Juneau.The Juneau Convention and Visitors Bureau has been talking with tour operators, the cruise industry and other convention and visitor bureaus about changes after Sept. 11. Bureau President John Mazor said the new travel climate will mean changes in marketing and planning."We’re pretty confident things are going to change," he said. "There’s a continued trend for shorter vacation trips and shorter planning periods."Starting this month, the organization plans to survey potential travelers about their likelihood of visiting Juneau, he said. The JCVB plans to focus marketing on "key corridors," such as California, Oregon and Washington and will use the Internet to keep up with changes, Mazor said."We are also not going to be as aggressive as working on our international developing markets. The impact on the German-speaking and Asian markets has been extremely profound," he said. "We won’t be as aggressive as we have in the past."About 10 percent of Juneau’s visitors are international travelers, Mazor said.The JCVB earlier estimated that fallout from the terrorist attacks cost Juneau businesses approximately $2.5 million, Mazor said. Final cruise passenger numbers for the summer should be out in the next couple of weeks, he said.The city gets sales tax data for July through September at the end of October, and it should be processed by mid-November, City Finance Director Craig Duncan said. Although some cruise ship sailings to Juneau were canceled in September, there was an overall 5 percent increase in passengers from the year before, Duncan said."The increase in passengers in July and August was greater than the fact that September was down," he said.Although the city doesn’t have enough information to make tourism-related sales tax predictions for next summer, Duncan said an economic downtown and a possible capital move could hurt sales tax revenue. A draft budget is submitted to the Juneau Assembly in April.City Tourism Director Maria Gladzisweski said her office doesn’t plan to assess or survey business owners about next summer, but would be willing to talk about it if people are interested."The thing is that nobody knows what will happen. Everybody knows something might happen," she said. "It’s possible it could bring more people to Alaska because it’s a safe place to come."The city is surveying Juneau residents about tourism issues in a series of Web polls, with the results factoring into a long-range tourism plan.


Subscribe to Alaska Journal RSS