STATEFewer visitors could be stopping at SewardSEWARD -- While early, there already are some indications there could be fewer visitors to Seward next summer.At the moment, fewer cruise ship dockings are scheduled to visit Seward, although there is no word yet on passenger levels.Last year, Seward saw 106 dockings, and the schedule currently shows 94 dockings for the coming season, said Jenifer Trautwein, Seward port manager for Cruise Lines Agencies of Alaska. The first scheduled vessel will be the Star Princess due to arrive May 18.The decline in the local cruise ship schedule is largely due to Holland America’s decision to sell a vessel that has been using Seward as a turnaround point, according to the company."There is some shifting that has been done," said Erik Elvejord, director of public relations for Holland America in Seattle, Wash.Holland sold the Westerdam and is moving European and South American vessels to the domestic market, he said.The company will have six ships serving Alaska, but the cruise that turned around in Seward will be dropped this season.Whittier now pushing for private prison dealKENAI -- After two other Alaska communities abandoned plans for a private prison in the face of public opposition, Whittier is now stepping in. The city is trying to drum up support from the state Legislature and private contractors to build an 800-bed medium-security prison.Last fall, voters in the Kenai Peninsula Borough resoundingly defeated a plan to build a private prison near Kenai. Earlier, a plan to build a private prison on Fort Greely, near Delta Junction, fell apart amid community controversy."We watched the news, and as soon as we saw the vote fail in Kenai, we started making the chase from this end," Whittier City Manager Matt Rowley said.Whittier, bounded by chilly Prince William Sound on one side and imposing mountains to the other, is well suited for a prison, he said. A project of that magnitude could also stimulate the town’s economy, now dependent mostly on tourists and boaters.Whittier may have competition in Southeast Alaska, however.Ketchikan is pursuing the prison project, and Wrangell is considering the idea.Snow may be used to speed power lineFAIRBANKS -- If it doesn’t snow soon, contractors may be making their own fluffy white stuff so they can work on a high-voltage power line in the Interior.Under state and federal permits, there has to be both a foot of frost and a foot of snow on the ground before heavy equipment can be moved onto the Tanana Flats. The rule protects vegetation and soils."We’ll just keep our fingers crossed," said Greg Wyman, Golden Valley Electric Association’s intertie project manager.Frost won’t be a problem, but snow may be scarce.GVEA has permits pending with the Department of Natural Resources to draw water from lakes and rivers to make snow and an ice road to bring heavy equipment onto the flats if needed, Wyman said.Golden Valley is building the 230-kilovolt line from Healy to Fairbanks, nearly 100 miles altogether, to augment an existing line.The cooperative last week formally awarded a $28 million contract to Global Power-City Electric, a joint venture of two Alaska businesses.NATIONNew numbers indicate economy still shrinkingWASHINGTON -- The U.S. economy turned in its worst performance in a decade during the third quarter, shrinking at a rate of 1.1 percent. Many economists expect an even steeper drop in the current quarter but are hopeful for a turnaround next year.The revised reading on gross domestic product released by the Commerce Department Nov. 30 showed the economy was much weaker in the July-September quarter than the 0.4 percent rate of decline estimated a month ago.The 1.1 percent drop in GDP, the total output of goods and services in the United States, followed a barely discernible growth rate of 0.3 percent in the second quarter and illustrated just how quickly and dramatically the economy sank.Many economists believe the economy is sinking deeper in the current quarter, forecasting economic output will fall at a rate of at least 1.5 percent.Home Depot outlines plans for its growthATLANTA -- After 23 years of consistent growth, The Home Depot hopes to plot a more focused course for making each store more profitable by better tailoring them to specific markets and offering new services for homeowners.The company’s president and chief executive, Robert Nardelli, led his first conference for Wall Street analysts Nov. 30, outlining a strategy that relies on diversifying revenue through better performance of existing stores, new residential services and increased sales to professional contractors.The company expects to increase revenue at least 15 percent annually over the next two years, with earnings increases of 18 percent to 20 percent through 2005.The company’s sales will be about $53 billion this fiscal year, with Home Depot on target to break $100 billion per year by 2005, said Nardelli.The company plans to slow the number of new stores it opens each year, with fewer than 200 in 2002 and a nearly 50 percent cut in the number of EXPO Design Center stores. Instead, Home Depot plans to focus those stores in the top 100 U.S. metro areas.Bankrupt mill will keep making fleece for troopsBOSTON -- Malden Mills says it will keep outfitting U.S. soldiers with high-tech fleeces, some of which are being used in Afghanistan, despite filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.The company appeared in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Worcester, Mass., Nov. 30, the day after announcing it would seek bankruptcy protection from creditors.Spokesman David Costello said the court approved all arrangements for $20 million in debtor-in-possession financing, as well as a petition that will allow the company to pay its workers.Lawrence, Mass.-based Malden Mills, founded in 1906, prospered with military contracts during the 1920s and ’30s, and got back into the business in October 2000, when it landed a three-year, $17 million deal to supply the Marine Corps and Army with its Polartec synthetic fleece products.WORLDSales plunge as Hong Kong faces downturnHONG KONG -- The government said Nov. 30 that Hong Kong is barely managing to avoid falling into a recession, although many ordinary people say they already are suffering from the economic downturn."This is the worst year I’ve ever experienced," said 74-year-old Wong Sing, who has watched in dismay as sales plunged at his tiny, open-air banana stall. "The economy is really bad; very few people come to buy my bananas these days."Wong is far from alone in his worries, although economic numbers released after the stock market closed Nov. 30 indicate Hong Kong’s economy might not be as bad as many believe.Gross domestic product shrank by 0.3 percent in the third quarter compared with the year-ago period, following a rise of 0.8 percent in the second quarter, the government said.-- Compiled from business wire services.