This Week in Alaska Business History December 30, 2001

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 TimesDec. 30, 1981Developer may build dormitories at UAABy Bob MillerTimes WriterAn Anchorage businessman said today he is working with a group of developers who are very serious about building dormitories for the University of Alaska Anchorage.Bob Vogt, who owns the Alaska Development Co. and also serves as Alaska’s commissioner of athletics and statewide task force coordinator for Alaska ’84, said the group may contract to build the dormitories by the end of January.Vogt declined to name the other developers and said they haven’t committed themselves, "but they are very involved in the Anchorage real estate and development market. They have the funds and they are interested in building the dormitories."Vogt said the group is interested in building $10 million-$15 million facilities that could accommodate 400 to 600 students.Anchorage TimesDec. 30, 1981Owner of bankrupt airline agrees to partial payment planBy Maureen BlewettTimes WriterThe former president of a bankrupt commuter airline, Polar Airlines Inc., has agreed to sell the firm and repay his unsecured creditors 10 cents on the dollar.Five months ago, Tim Ewell, executive director of the Moral Majority in Alaska, pledged as a matter of "Biblical principle" to repay his creditors dollar for dollar. But in a surprise settlement after six days of jury trial, Ewell’s attorney, Richard Smith, asked that the state Superior Court settlement not be made public.The settlement grew out of a lawsuit filed in June 1980. In it, Ewell charged that former owner Royce Morgan misrepresented the financial condition of Polar Airlines when Ewell purchased the airlines. In a response to Ewell’s suit, Morgan claimed Ewell mismanaged the financial condition of the airline and misconducted its business.Ewell bought the business in 1977 and declared bankruptcy June 17, 1980. In January 1981, he became executive director of the conservative, church-backed Moral Majority.10 years ago this weekAlaska Journal of CommerceDec. 30, 1991Don’t expect too much to changeBy Tim BradnerAlaska Journal of CommerceOptimists call it stability, pessimists see stagnation. Whatever it’s called, Alaska’s economy seems flat going into 1992.That’s a perception, of course, because the most important economic indicator for the state -- wage and salary employment -- was still growing during November, the latest month for which there is data. Considering how things are in other states, things aren’t all that bad. Overall employment in the state is near 1985 levels, the peak of the mid-1980s boom.But attitudes are powerful influences, and a recession psychology in Alaska’s business community can help create a real one. The national recession is having an impact in Alaska. It used to be that Alaska was counter-cyclical. If things were down in the Lower 48, Alaska was perking. No more, it appears.This recession is different. The national economy is suffering while oil markets remain soft, and in fact are getting softer. Low demand for fuel, one result of the recession, is helping keep oil prices down. That has major impacts here through less oil industry activity and lower state revenues.Alaska Journal of CommerceDec. 30, 19911991 economy was flat, but with exceptionsBy Margaret BaumanAlaska Journal of CommerceFlat to minimal growth described the Alaska economy in 1991 with real estate agents hustling to maintain sales volume, while the good news for business owners was a definite employer’s job market."It was flat for some people and others had a better year than they anticipated," said Ernie Hall, chairman of the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce. "I don’t think it was a terrible year for anyone. If so, I haven’t heard of it. Everyone has basically maintained or done a little better than last year. If next year is as good as last, I’ll be pleased.""Employers have had very little problems finding people, from the technical to the less skilled workers," said Neal Fried, state labor economist. "The previous two years, employers were having a tough time finding enough workers."The year drawing to an end saw no great hot spots for employment, although generally speaking there was a stronger demand for professional and technical skills, Fried said.-- Compiled by Ed Bennett.

Business Profile: Best Western Golden Lion Hotel

Name of the company: Best Western Golden Lion HotelEstablished: 1977Location: 1000 E. 36th Ave., AnchorageTelephone: 907-561-1522Major focus of services: The 83-room Best Western Golden Lion Hotel features a full service restaurant, lounge and banquet facilities. New features include a sauna and an exercise room.History of the company: The hotel was built at its current size in the 1970s by the Linton and Groseclose families. "When this property was built, it was one of a kind," said general manger Terry Latham. "There were not many places like it. It was the place to be."Today, Best Western Golden Lion Hotel is still owned by the Lintons.Hotel operators have altered the facility since opening, incorporating new features as travelers’ desires have changed.In the last three years remodeling work has upgraded guest rooms and common areas. In 1999 hotel operators installed self-service laundry facilities for its segment of guests who stay for a week or more. In April 2000 Best Western Golden Lion installed a computerized front desk system. Last June the company added a sauna and exercise room. A few months ago the hotel installed a new telephone system.Best Western Golden Lion Hotel employs an average of 35 people, although that number climbs during busy summer months.Despite an increase in hotel rooms in the city, the Best Western Golden Lion holds its own in the area, Latham said. "In the last five years the Anchorage hotel market has been very competitive," he said.Top accomplishment of the company: The hotel’s general manager cited Best Western Golden Lion’s donations to nonprofit organizations and other efforts. "This company has always been very community service minded," he said. Since opening the hotel, operators have hired people with disabilities, he said. Last year the hotel was honored for its efforts, receiving the governor’s award for small business for employing people with disabilities.Major player: Terry Latham, general manager, Best Western Golden Lion Hotel.Latham came to Alaska in 1969. He has worked in the hospitality, hotel and tourism industry for the past 15 years. In July 1998 he joined Best Western Golden Lion.-- Nancy Pounds

Railroad forecasts higher revenues but less profit in '02

The Alaska Railroad Corp. is expecting more revenues from freight and passenger service for 2002, but increased costs in fuel, insurance, personnel, lawsuits, maintenance and other factors will drive profits down by more than $2 million.The state-owned railroad is predicting revenues of just less than $107 million next year with profits of $4.2 million. That compares to an estimated $105 million in revenues for 2001, with profits of $6.4 million, according to railroad’s budget Dec. 5.Nearly $78 million in rail improvements are planned next year, with the bulk of the money coming from federal sources, augmented with about $13 million from the railroad.The railroad receives no money from the state.More than $3.5 million in additional corporate overhead costs will hurt the railroad’s bottom line in 2002.According to Bill O’Leary, the railroad’s chief financial officer, corporate overhead includes such things as litigation, personnel costs not reflected elsewhere in the budget, and charges between departments.Not all details of those expenses are made public, as railroad officials only discuss the costs behind closed doors in executive session.The railroad is forecasting freight revenues to be $80 million for 2002, up from $74.9 million this year. Freight revenues have more than quadrupled in the last five years.Petroleum makes up most of the freight revenue for the railroad, projected at $36 million for 2002, up $270,000 from 2001.Decreased oil activity on the North Slope will hurt revenues by more than $1 million for the railroad’s joint rail-barge venture with Seattle-based Lynden Inc., according to O’Leary. The shipments, barged from Seattle then transferred to rail, mostly include pipes and other supplies and heavy equipment used in oil field operations and maintenance.Freight revenue for the railroad is projected to increase in all other categories, including coal and gravel, which was hauled in record numbers this year and last.O’Leary said after next year it’s unlikely the railroad will see another spike in gravel hauling for a few years, and expects the loads to decrease in 2003.Passenger revenues are estimated at $14.2 million for 2001, and railroad officials are projecting an increase to $14.9 million for 2002.Passenger numbers are projected to be about 500,000 for 2001, about the same as the prior year. Those numbers are down from 679,000 in 1999.The reduction in ridership and revenues is blamed on the 2.5-mile Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel, which opened Whittier to road traffic in June, 2000, according to railroad officials.The state-owned railroad has taken steps since then to move more passengers along its 525-mile line, including streamlining its marketing operations and adding more locomotives.Real estate revenue from land the railroad leases is expected to increase from $5.3 million to about $5.7 million, according to the railroad’s budget.Costs associated with the railroad’s executives and seven-member board will increase from $1.5 million to $2.1 million for 2002, according to the railroad’s budget.A temporary hiring freeze will contribute to a decrease of about $1 million to $37.5 million in salaries for employees for 2002, according to O’Leary.The cost of benefits to employees including health insurance and pensions will increase more than $1 million in 2002, to $9.1 million, according to the railroad’s budget.Fuel costs for the railroad are forecasted at about $500,000 more for 2002. The railroad had been paying for fuel under a contract that was below market rate. The contract expires at the end of 2001, and the railroad expects to pay the going rate, O’Leary said.

Red Dog Mine owner to pay fine for air quality violations in 2000

Teck Cominco Alaska Inc. has agreed to an $827,000 settlement with the state of Alaska over air quality violations at the company’s Red Dog Mine in Northwest Alaska.According to state Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Michele Brown, $300,000 will be paid in cash, with $278,900 to be spent on environmental projects in the region and $248,100 suspended if the terms of the settlement are met.Eighteen violations of permit emissions limits on diesel generators and improper reporting were found during a three-day audit of the mine and port facility in August 2000 by the DEC, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and other agencies.During the audit, DEC found that several of Cominco’s large diesel generators had exceeded allowable levels for several air pollutants. Teck Cominco was upgrading its generators at the time to lower nitrous oxide emissions.The modifications led to unexpected increases in other emissions, and the company was working with the manufacturer on corrective actions at the time of the audit."We were conducting emission tests and sending reports to ADEC, but we realize now there should have been much better communication with the agency," said Bob Jacko, manager of the mine. All units have now been brought into compliance.DEC said Teck Cominco failed to notify the agency when the emissions exceeded limits and continued to operate the equipment while attempting to bring emissions down to permit levels. The company had also failed to monitor certain other pieces of equipment, DEC said."Alaska’s permitting system places a large responsibility upon the company to self-monitor and report problems and immediately take corrective action. When the operator fails to do so, they also fail to meet the community’s and our expectations of operating in full compliance," Brown said."Teck Cominco has now fixed the problems and demonstrated its commitment to improve by instituting an environmental management system and dedicating more staff resources to tracking environmental compliance," Brown said.Jim Kulas, Teck Cominco’s environmental manager, said that monitoring and reporting requirements have become increasingly complex in recent years."Our previous management tools did not track these requirements as effectively as needed," he said.The $278,900 to be spent on environmental projects as part of the settlement will include $230,000 donated to the NANA Regional Subsistency Advisory Committee to help assess subsistence needs in the region and any impacts on subsistence of mine activities.The company will also pay for a certified inspector to survey the drinking water system and water use practices in Kivalina, a village on the Chukchi Sea coast that is near where streams carrying water runoff from the mine area reach the ocean.Air quality monitoring will also be done in Kivalina and Noatak, another village in the region, to measure breathable airborne particulate matter. Samples will be analyzed for any lead dust particles that may be carried by high altitude winds from lead-zinc mining operations at Red Dog.The agreement also stipulates a number of safety measures for trucks carrying lead-zinc concentrate from the mine to the Chukchi Sea port, to reduce the potential for accidents and spills of concentrate.

Princess shareholders to pick between two suitors

LONDON -- P&O Princess Cruises PLC has changed course and put itself up for auction, announcing Dec. 19 it would give shareholders time to study a $4.4 billion takeover bid from Carnival Corp. that it had spurned in favor of a merger with Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd.The winners in this three-way tussle would become the world’s biggest cruise ship operator. All three companies offer cruises to Alaska.In a concession to Miami-based Carnival, Princess has scheduled a shareholders’ meeting Feb. 14, six weeks after the company’s board plans to issue a circular urging investors to approve the planned merger with Royal Caribbean.If Carnival makes a "credible and superior" offer by Jan. 18, then shareholders would have sufficient time before their meeting to decide between the two alternatives, Princess said.Carnival’s chairman and chief executive, Micky Arison, had insisted that Princess executives postpone a planned January meeting for shareholders to approve the deal with Royal Caribbean."We must be absolutely certain that we are not jeopardizing our merger with Royal Caribbean, a committed partner, in return for a proposal which simply turns out to be a spoiling tactic designed to disrupt the creation of significant value for P&O Princess’ shareholders," said Princess chief executive Peter Ratcliffe."The timetable we have set in place today both honors our agreement with Royal Caribbean and still gives time for Carnival to put forward a credible, deliverable and more valuable transaction," he said.Carnival, in a response, denied that it was trying to torpedo the merger between Princess and Royal Caribbean Cruises. It said it was trying only to establish a level playing field so that Princess shareholders can then consider both proposals on the basis of value.Princess at first rejected Carnival’s bid even though it is larger than the $3 billion merger with Royal Caribbean because executives believed regulators would veto the deal due to antitrust concerns. Carnival is currently the world’s largest cruise operator.Princess’ proposed merger with Royal Caribbean would create a combined business worth $6 billion and overtake Carnival in size. Miami-based Royal Caribbean is the second-largest cruise line operator, while Princess, headquartered in London, is No. 3.

Fort Wainwright hospital expected to be largest project

Some major construction projects are slated to begin in 2002 across the state. Several projects will continue work, and provide economic impact, through the following year.Dick Cattanach, executive director of Associated General Contractors of Alaska, believes the largest project will be construction of a replacement hospital at Fort Wainwright. The $215 million project is set to be awarded to a general contractor in mid-January, he said.Construction could begin this summer and finish in 2006.The 32-bed, 259,000-square-foot hospital would serve the military, dependents and retirees of Fort Greely, Fort Wainwright, Eielson Air Force Base and remote military sites north of the Alaska Range.Another key project is work on a new South Anchorage high school, he said. The project, which will be bid this winter, could begin construction in spring, aiming to open in 2004, Cattanach said.Earlier this year Kiewit Co. won the bid for the $82 million, two-year phase of C Concourse construction at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport, he said.Project bids are due this spring for work on a new Alaska Psychiatric Institute, which could see construction starting in 2002, he noted.Construction of a cloverleaf interchange at the Glenn and Parks highways should also be a significant project, Cattanach said.In mid-December President Bush announced a decision to withdraw from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, which would clear a path for construction of a possible National Missile Defense System including some elements to be built in Alaska."When the president repudiated the missile defense treaty it means he can go forward and not violate any treaties," Cattanach said.Jeff Pokorny, research director for the Anchorage Economic Development Corp., also agrees 2002 will feature significant construction work, although 2003 so far lacks major projects to support an annual average of more than 7,000 construction workers in Anchorage."What I don’t see next year is any big announcements for the next round of big projects," he said.Retail construction projects will play a role this year, including construction of a South Anchorage Lowe’s store and a Fred Meyer store on Abbott Road, Pokorny said.Other retail construction efforts include work on a second Applebee’s restaurant in East Anchorage, a Chili’s restaurant on Abbott Road and the pancake favorite IHOP on Tudor Road.Tourism-related construction includes work on a Hilton Garden Inn, the Dimond Center Hotel and the Copper River Princess Lodge.Work also continues in 2002 on a 10-story headquarters building for Arctic Slope Region Corp. in Midtown Anchorage. Work on the $40 million, 200,000-square-foot office building is set to be complete by fall.Construction should begin in 2002 on expansion of the University of Alaska Anchorage Consortium Library.

Hospitals face employee shortages, plans for expansion

Demand for skilled workers should continue to be a top issue for Alaska’s health care industry.Some organizations endeavor to help increase the number of workers needed for health services. One of them is the Juneau-based Alaska State Hospital and Nursing Home Association."Work force development is probably our No. 1 issue," said Laraine Derr, president of the association.The issue was emphasized this year when a lack of nursing staff led Providence Alaska Medical Center officials to divert ambulance traffic to other facilities, she said.Early in the year Alaska State Hospital and Nursing Home Association representatives plan to meet with University of Alaska Anchorage leaders to consider adding another nursing program, perhaps through distance education, Derr said.Alaska health care providers could see new rules in 2002 from the federal government as a result of the East Coast terrorist attacks, she said."With the Sept. 11 calamity there are new regulations coming from the federal government for bioterrorisim and emergency preparedness," Derr said.Expansion projects will be a major focus for health care facilities across the state.Topping the list will be construction start-up on a hospital to replace the 50-year-old Bassett Army Hospital in Fairbanks.A general contractor will be chosen in January for the $215 million project. Construction could begin in summer 2002, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Alaska District. Hospital completion is set for spring 2006.The 32-bed, 259,000-square-foot hospital would serve the military, their dependents and retirees of Fort Greely, Fort Wainwright and Eielson Air Force Base.The new facility will feature services including primary and urgent care, specialty clinics, pharmacy and laboratory services, Veterans Administration services, plus radiology, surgery, obstetrics, gynecology, pediatrics and family practice departments.Projects at the state’s two largest hospitals, 254-bed Alaska Regional Hospital estimated at $26 million in construction and 341-bed Providence Alaska Medical Center with about $30 million in renovations, should be complete in 2002.On the Alaska Native Medical Center campus, an expansion project should be complete by March at the Anchorage Native Primary Care Center, said Southcentral Foundation spokeswoman Annette Evans. The project more than doubles the size of the facility.Other facilities are planning for future projects. Officials from Central Peninsula General Hospital in Kenai are considering an expansion project that could double the size of its facility in coming years. Plans also call for opening a satellite facility in Kenai. The total project, which would be built in the next several years, could cost $60 million to $70 million.Long-range planning by Fairbanks Memorial Hospital officials helped develop a list of possible future projects. Officials are considering improvements that could nearly double the size of the facility in 15 to 20 years.Work on the master site plan was completed this fall, and hospital leaders were prioritizing a list of possible projects for construction. Some work could begin this summer, hospital officials said.

Around the World December 30, 2001

StateNew York shipbuilder is low bidder for ferriesJUNEAU -- A New York shipbuilder is the low bidder for a state contract to build two fast ferries at a cost of $67.9 million, state transportation officials said.Derecktor Shipyards of New York won the bid, offering to build the vessels for $2.6 million more than the state had advertised, state officials said Dec. 21.Transportation Commissioner Joe Perkins said the state will consider it anyway. The state failed to attract a successful bidder in April.Alaska transportation officials want to build two high-speed catamarans to run between Juneau and Sitka and Prince William Sound. Both ferries are expected to be in service by 2004.The contract would require two 250-passenger ferries that travel up to 32 knots and carry 35 large vehicles.Derecktor has experience building high-speed passenger ferries and other vessels including 270-foot Coast Guard cutters, said Gavin Higgins, general manager of the company.Extreme ice conditions make Inlet impassableANCHORAGE -- Upper Cook Inlet was closed to single-hulled tanker barges Dec. 21 after an Anchorage-bound vessel encountered impassable ice floes.The master of a Carl Anderson Towing tug reported having trouble maneuvering a powerless barge through heavy pack ice, the Coast Guard said. The barge was hauling aviation fuel and diesel.After two hours battling the ice, the tug managed to turn around and head south to open water. The 100-by-400-foot barge being towed was undamaged and no spill occurred, the Coast Guard said.The Coast Guard said the upper Inlet will remain closed to this type of barge until the risk of ice is reduced.The closure only applies to tanker barges, unpowered vessels used to haul petroleum products.All ships in the Inlet have been under heavy ice rules since Nov. 29. That means they must travel low enough in the water to prevent ice from clogging water-intake vents. And crews must have foul-weather gear and equipment such as docking winches must be operational in icy weather.Seward entrepreneur announces retirementANCHORAGE -- Dale R. Lindsey, a longtime Alaska entrepreneur, is retiring as president and chief executive of Harbor Enterprises Inc. in Seward.The retirement is effective Jan. 1, the company said. Lindsey will remain chairman and continue to own the company with his wife, Carol.Lindsey will be succeeded by R.J. "Skip" Reierson, senior vice president and chief financial officer.The Lindseys bought the company in 1959. Harbor is a major fuel distributor in Alaska and the Yukon through its subsidiaries Petro Marine Services, Alaska Oil Sales, Petro Express and North 60-Degrees Petro.Lindsey was named "Alaskan of the Year" by the state Chamber of Commerce in 1995, and he and his wife were inducted into the Alaska Business Hall of Fame two years later. He has been a director of the Alaska Sealife Center, Northrim Bank and the Alaska Railroad.Defense bill secures millions for AlaskaANCHORAGE -- Alaska made out "like a bandit" in the annual Defense appropriations bill that the U.S. House and Senate passed Dec. 20, said Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska.The Defense spending bill includes $10.2 million to straighten Alaska Railroad tracks that run through Fort Richardson; $8.5 million for utility corridor repairs at Eielson Air Force Base and $8 million for the construction of a new radar system at Clear Air Force Station.In addition, 17 Athabascan Natives from the Interior who were given radioactive iodine by the Air Force in the 1950s will be compensated. They and the Fort Yukon-based Council of Athabascan Tribal Governments will share $1.5 million.Money for the national missile defense program was cut back, from $8.3 billion to $7.9 billion. However, that cut shouldn’t affect plans for Alaska, Stevens said. The cut was made after the Pentagon opted to scale back a satellite program and cancel a Navy missile program, he said.Stevens said he expects work on five missile silos to begin next summer at Fort Greely. Also, he said, enough money for a radar system at Shemya is in the bill, though it isn’t specifically directed there.NATIONConsumers temper their holiday spendingNEW YORK -- In what was supposed to be the biggest shopping weekend of the season, consumers remained frugal as they flocked to the nation’s stores Dec. 22 and Dec. 23, despite heavy discounting and advertising blitzes.The restrained spending in the final stretch before Christmas wasn’t the manic frenzy merchants had hoped for and cast a further pall on the shopping season, already expected to be the worst in at least a decade."This is supposed to be the ultimate peak Christmas shopping weekend and I think it was even softer than Thanksgiving weekend," said C. Britt Beemer, chairman of the Charleston, S.C.-based America’s Research Group.Instead of the typical surge on the final weekend before Christmas, traffic and sales were up only slightly from the previous weekend, analysts said, and down from the same time a year ago.As a result, holiday sales and profits for many merchants may come in below already modest expectations, said Jeff Feiner, managing director of Lehman Brothers."The profit picture looks a lot worse. Traffic was still off for the most important weekend before Christmas, even with the rampant discounts," Feiner said.Retailers’ profits may now be down as much as 5 percent to 10 percent, worse than the 3 percent to 5 percent declines Feiner had expected.The only bright spots have been in consumer electronics like game consoles and DVD players, kitchenware and certain toys like Harry Potter products.WORLDOfficial predicts OPEC production cut Jan.1DUBAI, United Arab Emirates -- Members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries will approve an agreement to cut production by 1.5 million barrels a day in response to plans by independent producers to curtail their daily output, a Gulf oil official said Dec. 24.The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the final decision would be taken during a meeting of OPEC ministers in the Egyptian capital on Dec. 28. The six-month agreement should take effect Jan. 1, he said.The official said that the meeting in Cairo would approve the decision after non-OPEC oil producing countries expressed readiness to cut production.Russia and Norway have each pledged cuts of 150,000 barrels a day. Mexico has said that it will cut 100,000 barrels, Oman 40,000 barrels and Angola 22,500 barrels, bringing the total non-OPEC cut in oil production to 462,500 barrels a day.-- Compiled from business wire services.

State trade officials optimistic in spite of economic troubles

A continued recession in Japan, Alaska’s No. 1 trading partner, coupled with U.S. economic troubles could affect the state’s exports in 2002, trade officials said.The state should tally total 2001 exports that are on par or up less than 1 percent from last year’s total of $2.5 billion, said officials from the state Division of International Trade and Market Development."We are relatively optimistic about 2002 exports maintaining a similar level as this year’s," said Greg Wolf, state director of international trade.In 2001, export figures did not include crude oil, which companies chose to ship to Lower 48 refineries instead, he said. However, a surge in seafood, mineral and fertilizer exports made up for the loss in oil export dollars, he said."Looking at the big picture, 2001 was a year that demonstrated resiliency and underlying strength," Wolf said.However, the Alaska exports in the new year face several challenges.More than 50 percent of total Alaska exports go to Japan, a country that is still in a recession that doesn’t show signs of a turnaround, Wolf said.Chuck Becker, director of the Alaska Export Assistance Center, believes Japan and other Asian markets are also struggling."Our markets in the Pacific Rim are not healthy at the moment," he said.The new year should bring activity for Alaska companies working in oil developments on Russia’s Sakhalin Island, he noted. Some Alaska firms have spent several years in that region, and now several oil projects are advancing, he said.Some seafood exports might not fare well in 2002, Becker said."The fishing industry has lost considerable market share due to competition from (fish) farmers. It appears the condition will not change but get worse in the future," he said.However, pollock and pollock roe exports climbed through third quarter 2001, and total seafood exports were up 21 percent to total $1 billion for the quarter, state trade officials said.Alaska exports through the third quarter tallied $2 billion, up $7 million from the same period last year, according to state statistics.Forecasts for 2002 Bristol Bay sockeye salmon returns are down and expected to total 16.8 million, compared with 22 million in 2001, said Rudy Tsukada, state trade office research section chief.Mineral exports could decline in 2002, influenced by worldwide price decreases, especially for zinc, he said.

Small airport subsidies funded through next year

WASHINGTON -- An anti-terrorism package awaiting final approval in Congress provides $50 million to maintain air service to 113 small cities through next year, despite a drop in airline passengers since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.Without the extra money, Transportation Department officials predict that the Essential Air Service program will run out of money next spring.The program subsidizes money-losing flights to certain airports to maintain scheduled commercial service. Air service to 33 Alaska communities, including Seward, Wrangell, Yakutat and Gulkana, is subsidized with $2.8 million annually under the program.With airline passenger revenue down since Sept. 11 and security expenses up, officials said the $63 million allocated for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1 is not enough to keep the program going for the entire year.The Transportation Department estimated that another $57 million is needed. House-Senate negotiators agreed to include $50 million in the final anti-terrorism bill, which both houses ratified.Congress created the Essential Air Service program in 1978 to make sure that communities that were receiving regularly scheduled air service before deregulation did not lose all commercial flights.For example, federal taxpayers are spending $1.1 million this year to connect Utica, N.Y., with the rest of the world, helping to pay for six roundtrips a day between Utica, N.Y., and LaGuardia Airport.The money allows Oneida County Airport, which recently lost its last unsubsidized airline, to keep commercial planes flying."The business community looks at air service as not only a convenience but a necessity," Oneida County Executive Ralph Eannace said. "There are some types of business that are only going to locate in a community that has air service. It establishes a part of the community identity to have that as well."

Pick life insurance for your needs

With the multitude of "financial experts" around these days, we are constantly bombarded with advice regarding life insurance. When it comes to buying the best life insurance, the experts usually break down into two camps: The people who believe that permanent life insurance, such as whole life and universal, is the only way to go, and other people who espouse the "buy term and invest the difference" philosophy. With newspaper columnists giving their view, magazine writers offering a different theory, life insurance professionals and financial consultants giving yet another recommendation, which one is best? The simple answer is: What’s best is what is best for you. Evaluate the true cost The chief reason people choose life insurance coverage is for protection, to provide financial security for dependents after the death of the insured. Both permanent, such as whole life, and term insurance can supply that safety net, but which one does it more efficiently? Term insurance is attractive because it has a lower premium, which often makes it the policy of choice for younger people with limited means and few financial responsibilities. Term insurance offers a fixed death benefit for a specific period, such as one year or five years. At the end of that time, the coverage is usually renewable at a higher premium. On the other hand, whole life insurance offers a fixed premium for an entire lifetime, a potentially increasing death benefit, and coverage that will not terminate, provided premiums are paid when due. With term insurance’s increase in premium at each renewal, over the course of several decades, the cumulative cost of term coverage may well surpass that of a comparable whole life policy. In addition, some term policies may require evidence of continued good health with each renewal. If you become unisurable in the future, you may not be able to renew the policy. Know the true value The well-known analogy of a term policy as renting and a permanent policy as owning life insurance is a good way to illustrate their true values. Unlike term insurance, whole life insurance is a value builder. It accumulates cash value that in the long term can be borrowed against to help fund children’s educations, supplement retirement income, or provide for other needs. In addition, as an owner of permanent insurance, your policy is also eligible to earn dividends, if and when they are declared by the insurer. Investing the difference If term insurance is chosen instead of a permanent policy, you’ll have to decide where to invest the leftover money. The success of "buy term and invest the difference" depends largely on where the leftover funds are invested. Stocks, bonds and mutual funds offer the potential of a high return, but one thing is certain: uncertainty. With these investments, your return will vary based on market conditions; and when you sell your investment you may receive more or less than you originally paid. This potential volatility may not be suitable for some individuals, particularly risk-averse people and mature individuals nearing retirement. In addition, capital gains, dividends and most interest are taxable when distributed. With permanent insurance, your policy accumulates guaranteed cash value on a tax-deferred basis. When weighing your options, consider whether you will have the discipline and the means to invest regularly. Often people are so burdened with everyday expenses that they neglect to put something aside for the future. If this occurs within a "buy term and invest the difference" framework, the whole strategy collapses. Without the invest component, you’re left with a term policy with no accumulation of funds for the future. Choosing the most effective way to secure your family’s financial future is a major decision that requires a good deal of thought. For some, "buy term and invest the difference" may be a legitimate option, while for others, permanent insurance is the way to go. Before jumping into the unknown, discuss your options with an insurance professional from a respected company. Study policy illustrations and ask questions when necessary. If you’re uncomfortable with a scenario presented to you, get a second opinion. There’s no cost or obligation. When you have all the facts, then you can make an intelligent decision on what’s best for you and your family’s financial future. Kristin Hilderbrand is an associate of The Wilson Agency LLC in Anchorage.   

Forest Service promises more cooperation with timber industry

Things have gotten so bad in the state’s beleagured timber industry that there’s no way to go but up. There may, in fact, be some small upward movements in store for 2002.First, there’s new management in the Tongass National Forest in Southeast Alaska. The U.S. Forest Service’s new regional forester will be in place early in the new year. Steve Brink, the deputy regional forester, has made a commitment to work more cooperatively with local communities and the timber industry.Timber harvests have declined sharply in the Tongass in the last 10 years. While part of the recent decline is because of poor market conditions in Japan, where much of Alaska’s timber is sold, a longer-term decline in harvesting is due to policies of the former Clinton administration to restrict logging in national forests.Brink said the Forest Service’s move, under the Bush administration, to rewrite the Clinton roadless regulations for national forests is an example of the new approach he plans to take.Second, Gateway Forest Products, a new wood products value-added manufacturer in Ketchikan, is operating and building its markets for wood veneer despite hardships imposed by financial problems at start-up and poor markets for lumber produced by a sawmill also owned by the company.Gateway’s success is important because it signals that the forest products industry in Alaska has a future. Confidence has lagged since timber harvests were cut back and pulp mills in Sitka and Ketchikan closed.The market for higher-end lumber from Southeast, and for logs harvested in Southcentral coastal forests, is down and may continue that way.John Sturgeon, former president of Koncor Forest Products and now a consultant, said Russian exports of low quality softwood logs are flooding Japanese markets where Alaska firms, harvesting timber near Kodiak and in Prince William Sound sold their wood.There have been structural changes in the overall Japanese market, too. The trend is away from traditional Japanese home-building that used post and beam wood structures and toward western-style homes built with softwood two-by-fours.High-quality spruce and hemlock cut beams from Southeast Alaska were highly sought-after for the traditional market in Japan, but for the new market built with two-by-fours, softwood tree farmers in New Zealand and Scandanavia can sell at lower costs, Sturgeon said.Rick Rogers, resources manager for Chugach Alaska Corp., a Native regional corporation with major timber holdings, believes the future for the Alaska industry may be in the path Gateway is creating.In addition to selling logs or producing conventional lumber, Alaska mills can manufacture products that have higher value, like Gateway is doing with wood veneer made essentially from waste timber products.Some small Southeast mills are already moving in this direction, making wood building components for sale in the Pacific Northwest markets, Brink said.

Gas line price tag now must include security, study group reports

ANCHORAGE -- Gas companies studying a proposed natural gas pipeline from the North Slope to the Lower 48 say the line could cost more than their initial estimates, in part because of security concerns after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.The line, which would tap North America’s largest undeveloped gas reserves, is estimated to cost $15 billion to $20 billion.Nailing down a precise cost is the target of a $100 million study expected to be completed by the end of the month.BP, ExxonMobil Production Co. and Phillips Alaska Inc., owners of most of the North Slope’s proven gas reserves of 35 trillion cubic feet, teamed up to look at what the project will cost. They are also looking at which route would be most economical; one that would follow the Alaska Highway or one that would run under the Beaufort Sea and across the Canadian Arctic.On Dec. 13, Curtis Thayer, spokesman for the joint study group, said security along the proposed line became a concern after Sept. 11, particularly for the more exposed highway route."Having a pipeline along a highway presents security issues,’’ Thayer said, "and that is going to cost a little more.’’Most of the line would be buried, but it would bridge some streams.This fall, the owners of the 800-mile trans-Alaska oil pipeline learned just how vulnerable their line was when a man shot it with a rifle. It took workers about 36 hours to stop the leak, which amounted to almost 300,000 gallons.Security is not as big a concern with a gas line across the isolated Beaufort Sea. But for other reasons, the cost of that route might be more expensive than first thought.Last August, the price was estimated at $15.1 billion, about $2 billion less than the highway route. Crews were still surveying the Beaufort route during the estimate.Surveying is now completed, and the companies have a better idea how much it would cost. Thayer declined to say whether the price will increase, but acknowledged that building a line underneath the sea has environmental challenges that could drive up costs.Preliminary analysis already shows that neither route would be as profitable as the companies want. The companies based their study on earning at least a 15 percent profit, but September estimates found the return would be in the range of 12 percent to 13 percent, he said.

Knowles budget calls for $179 million spending increase

JUNEAU -- In releasing his proposed state budget Dec. 14, Gov. Tony Knowles said he will ask the Legislature to pass a broad-based tax and other revenue-raising measures during the 2002 session.But a key Republican immediately took the governor to task for a budget proposal that would increase general purpose spending by at least $179 million in fiscal year 2003, thus accelerating the depletion of a reserve account that has been used to cover deficits.Knowles’ budget request is for $2.597 billion to cover basic state services, including education. That’s an increase of $179 million, or 7.4 percent.Most of the increased spending has been laid out in recent gubernatorial announcements, including $31 million for K-12 education and $17 million for the University of Alaska.Separately, the governor is asking for a $200 million school construction package that voters would have to approve next November, and $135 million in a debt-financing mechanism called "certificates of participation" to take care of deferred maintenance, particularly in correctional facilities and Pioneers’ Homes. That’s on top of the $425 million transportation package he unveiled in the 2001 session.For general operations, Republican staffers have noted additional spending that the administration isn’t counting in its bottom line, said Senate Finance Co-Chairman Dave Donley, R- Anchorage."What we kind of concluded at the end of it was, ballpark, $300 million more," Donley said. "There’s a bunch of money that appears in fiscal notes on their new legislation; that money they didn’t count toward their $179 million."At $179 million, the increased spending means a budget deficit of $1.2 billion in the next fiscal year, which begins July 1. The money would come out of the $2.8 billion Constitutional Budget Reserve, which already was forecast for depletion in 2004.Knowles acknowledged his obligation to provide revenue for the expenditures he wants."For my two terms, we have attempted to do that in a responsible way; it has not been addressed" by lawmakers, the governor said. "We no longer have any option. ... Safe landings are just about over."While oil prices previously have gone up when he has proposed new taxes or using permanent fund earnings to pay for government, that’s not likely to happen again, he suggested.Knowles applauded the work of the Fiscal Policy Caucus, a bipartisan, bicameral group of legislators that is encouraging the Republican leadership to move on a long-range plan for balancing the budget. He said he will provide his own recommendations in his annual State of the Budget address next month.Donley said the Senate Republican caucus still must meet to decide on budget priorities, but he said his advice to colleagues will be for an actual cut in the general fund, not an increase. He called it "very disappointing" that Knowles is seeking more."If the governor believes these are items that are new higher priorities than existing items, the governor should identify existing items in the budget we could reduce to make room for new spending," Donley said.Governors in other states typically have asked state agencies to identify potential spending cuts in their budgets, but the Knowles administration hasn’t done that, he said.As for a long-range plan, Donley remains adamant that constitutional amendments for spending restraints must be in place before major revenue-raising measures are enacted."They are absolutely the fundamental first step," he said. The amendments would lower the cap on general fund spending and require fewer votes to draw from the Constitutional Budget Reserve, thus averting what Donley calls blackmail by Democrats who drive up spending in exchange for those votes. The Senate passed the amendments this year.If the House moves quickly on those amendments and puts them on the general election ballot, then additional belt-tightening legislation also needs to advance before there’s talk of a broad-based tax, Donley said.After that, "I think we’d be willing to look at new revenue sources the public supports," he said. "They’re certainly not going to support it unless the government has done everything it can to reduce spending."

Downtown Seward gets speedy Internet access

TelAlaska has started offering a high-speed Internet service called digital subscriber line service in downtown Seward. Debut of the service follows successful beta testing by more than 20 customers, company officials said.The company plans to offer the service in other areas of Seward in 2002.TelAlaska owns Seward.Net and Interior Phone Co., which provides local telephone service. TelAlaska provides Internet service in about six Alaska communities: cable modem high-speed Internet service in Dutch Harbor and DSL high-speed Internet service in Anchorage, the Matanuska-Susitna area, Sand Point, Cold Bay and King Cove.TelAlaska’s DSL service is available for single and multiple user packages at download speeds of 1.5 megabytes per second and 384 kilobytes per second upload. The single user package is $75 per month and includes free dial-up service, which allows customers to check e-mail accounts when they are traveling.

Security, expansion impress FAA chief

The head of the Federal Aviation Administration said she is impressed with security at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport and with the multimillion upgrade and expansion being done there.Administrator Jane Garvey was in Anchorage Dec. 13 to attend a memorial service for two FAA employees killed on the job and to meet with agency employees and airport officials.Garvey toured the Anchorage airport and answered questions from the media about security measures put in place since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks."All the right steps have been taken,’’ Garvey told reporters about new security rules at Anchorage International and elsewhere. "I’m pleased with what’s been done here. There are fewer security issues here than at airports in the Lower 48,’’ Garvey said.Garvey said airports across the nation are undergoing formal security audits. But no such review had been done yet at the airport, according to FAA and airport officials in attendance.FAA is working to switch airport security to the federal government from private contractors, as required recently by Congress, Garvey said.There are many challenges still ahead, both technically and with hiring new security personnel, Garvey said.Once the new security system and people are in place at the nation’s airports, Garvey said, "standards will be much higher.’’"Passengers have been very patient,’’ Garvey said of the increased security measures that have made for longer delays. "The American people recognize the importance of security and have been very patient."Garvey, who said she had been to Alaska several times, said new construction at Anchorage International is looking good.After her tour of the airport, Garvey attended a memorial service at Kincaid Park for Ronald Frizzell of Wasilla and Joyce Tucker of Anchorage, FAA employees killed in a helicopter crash in Cook Inlet Oct. 18.Era Aviation pilot Bob Larson also died in the crash. Two other FAA workers survived.

Business Profile: Polar Wire Products

Name of the company: Polar Wire ProductsEstablished: 1991Location: 4109 Old Seward Highway, Suite 100, AnchorageTelephone: 907-561-5955Major focus of services: Polar Wire Products is a wholesale distributor of wire, connectors and wiring management products. The company also manufactures its own brand of jumper cables, aircraft ground power cables, battery cables, welding leads and alternative energy system interconnections.History of the company: Founder Marvin Kuentzel started the company, then called Alaska Auto/Marine Supply Inc., in his garage, selling solderless connectors. Kuentzel developed the idea for the business during research for a project while earning a master’s of business administration degree from Alaska Pacific University.In 1992 Polar Wire Products moved to a facility on Dowling Road. The company later required more space and relocated to its current facility six years ago. The company now occupies 10,000 square feet.In 1994 Kuentzel introduced a line of wire products which feature a special wire coating designed to handle cold climates yet remain pliable and resist cracking. Polar Wire holds trademarks for wires made with this coating, Arctic Ultraflex Blue and Arctic Superflex Blue. Home Depot sells jumper cables manufactured by Polar Wire Products.Last year the company was chosen as a distributor for BP Solar, supplying components statewide and around the world. Polar Wire Products has shipped these supplies to Antarctica, Canada, Columbia, Nigeria and Russia.Polar Wire Products employs seven full-time workers and up to four seasonal employees.The company plans to launch an electronic commerce Web site for its products.Top accomplishment of the company: In the past four years Polar Wire Products has recorded annual sales growth. Kuentzel cites a key achievement has been managing growth of the company. "I am being very methodic and cautious," he said. One key is diversity of business, including supplying clients in telecommunications, auto and truck fleets, distributors, federal, state and local government agencies, oil field services, marine services, manufacturers and the alternative energy market.Major player: Marvin Kuentzel, president, Polar Wire Products.Kuentzel came to Alaska with his family in 1961. From 1979 to 1985 he worked for ARCO Solar in California manufacturing solar panels before returning to Alaska. He earned a bachelor’s degree in management from the University of Redlands in California.-- Nancy Pounds

CDQs expand their fishing investment

The Community Development Quota program was created by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council in 1992 to foster economic development in remote Western Alaska coastal communities.As a part of its annual allocation of allowable harvests of pollock, cod and other groundfish, the council allocates a percentage of harvest quotas to six regional Community Development Quota groups, formed as nonprofit corporations.They represent 65 communities within 50 miles of the Bering Sea coast.Initially, the CDQ groups sold their harvest quotas to fisheries companies, which did the actual fishing. Programs were created to train and employ Western Alaska residents in jobs on the larger catcher-processor ships.As revenues to the corporations increased, CDQ groups invested in the fishing, either through ownership of the fishing company or part ownership of the vessels. They initiated other fisheries business activities, mostly in their home regions.Initially, the CDQ program was to last five years, but in 1996 Congress made the program permanent in its reauthorization of the Magnusen Stevens Act, the federal law that guides management of offshore fisheries.Although the fishery council sets the overall allocation for CDQ groups yearly, the share each corporation receives is determined by the state of Alaska in consultation with the National Marine Fisheries Service.CDQ groups are required to submit information on their activities to the state quarterly and to get state approval for their investments.Although the program is modeled on the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, which created Native-owned regional and village business-development corporations in Alaska, CDQ groups must secure state approval for investments in projects. Also, all investments must be fisheries related.In contrast, Native corporations created under ANCSA are free to invest and do business without government oversight and can invest in any type of enterprise.The six CDQ groups include: Aleutian Pribilof Island Community Development Association, representing six communities; Bristol Bay Economic Development Corp., representing 17 communities; Central Bering Sea Fishermen’s Association, representing one community; Coastal Villages Regional Fund, representing 20 communities; and Yukon Delta Fisheries Development Assoc., representing six communities. Norton Sound Economic Development Corp., representing 15 communities.

Around the World December 23, 2001

STATESen. Murkowski calls for gas line meetingFAIRBANKS -- Sen. Frank Murkowski, R-Alaska, is calling for those interested in developing Alaska’s North Slope gas reserves to a meet in Washington D.C. early next year.Murkowski said he wants to get the gas producers and pipeline companies together sometime in late January or early February."If they don’t want to meet together then we’ll extend the invitation individually," Murkowski said.A study group organized by Alaska’s three major gas owners -- BP, ExxonMobil Production Co. and Phillips Alaska Inc. -- has concluded that a pipeline is not economically feasible at this time. Their final report hasn’t been issued, however.But pipeline companies have been more optimistic about the project than the producers. A consortium of American and Canadian companies that had first proposed the gasline in the 1970s has agreed to resolve financial issues associated with the project and will present a gasline proposal to producers early next year.Ketchikan cruise ship visitors up last summerKETCHIKAN -- Nearly 100,000 more cruise ship passengers visited Ketchikan last summer, but that trend could be changing due to the psychological impact of the September terrorist incidents.More than 665,000 cruise ship passengers stopped in the city, according to the Ketchikan Visitors Bureau, up 92,000 from the summer of 2000. Altogether, there were 690,000 cruise ship passengers who stopped at Alaska ports.But the terrorist attacks, a fear of flying and a slowdown in the U.S. economy could halt the industry’s rapid growth in Southeast Alaska and the rest of the state.About 39 percent of respondents who planned to visit Alaska next year have changed their minds, according to an initial Alaska Travel Industry Association survey."We are in the process of collecting data to see where we are on that trend," said Patti Mackey, executive director of the Ketchikan Visitors Bureau.Park service plans new Denali visitors centerFAIRBANKS -- Denali National Park and Preserve officials hope to build something the park has never had before, an information center to welcome park visitors."There is nothing in there that really communicates the history of the region, kind of the essence of the park," said superintendent Steve Martin.The park service plans to build a complex within 200 feet of the Alaska Railroad train depot. There would also be a theater, a modest food service area, an art gallery and a place to buy limited merchandise like a raincoat or hat. The complex would be constructed on the site of the old 100-room Denali National Park Hotel, which is now nearly torn down.The price tag for the plan is about $22 million, with about $8 million of that to come from the private sector as part of the concession opportunities. The remaining $14 million is to come from the federal government. Some $8.5 million has already been approved, and the remainder is expected in 2003.Construction is slated to begin this summer, with the bulk of the work to occur through the early summer of 2004.NATIONFord Motor Co. moves Web site in-houseDEARBORN, Mich. -- Ford Motor Co. is moving its corporate Web site in-house.The move, which takes out of the hands of Maryland-based Digex Inc., is designed to lower operating costs.The Web site will be maintained and developed by Ford’s information technology department, spokesman Chris Vinyard told The Detroit News.The site includes company news, vehicle owner information and details about Ford’s family of brands and car and truck offerings. Vinyard said the site attracts about 3 million users per month, which makes it one of the most popular automotive Internet sites.According to Jupiter Media Metrix, draws more unique visitors than any other car manufacturers’ Web site.Digex, a corporate Web site manager controlled by Clinton, Miss.-based WorldCom Inc., will continue to maintain about 300 Web sites for Ford. A Digex spokesman declined to comment on Ford’s decision.WORLDVivendi expands with USA Networks assetsPARIS -- Vivendi Universal is buying the entertainment assets of USA Networks Inc. in a $10.3 billion deal to improve distribution of the French media giant’s music and movies in the United States.The deal announced Dec. 17 is the latest chapter in Vivendi’s remarkable transformation in just a few years from a water utility into a global media and entertainment powerhouse.Under the deal, Vivendi will combine USA Networks’ assets such as the USA and Sci-Fi cable channels and the TV production operation responsible for "Law and Order" and "Jerry Springer," with its own Hollywood-based Universal Studios.Universal has a huge film catalogue and its Universal Studios last year produced hits like "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" and "Erin Brokovich."For $10.3 billion in cash and stock, Vivendi will get a 93 percent stake in a new company that will be called Vivendi Universal Entertainment.USA Networks’ Barry Diller, the entertainment industry veteran who ran the Paramount movie studio in the 1970s and oversaw the launch of the Fox television network in the 1980s, will be chairman and chief executive of Vivendi Universal Entertainment.World growth slower, Monetary Fund predictsWASHINGTON -- The Sept. 11 terrorist attacks dealt a major blow to a global economy that was already under severe strain and will result in the weakest economic performance in nearly a decade, the International Monetary Fund said on Dec. 18.The 183-nation lending agency projected global growth of 2.4 percent for this year and next, down sharply from the 4.7 percent pace recorded in 2000.The United States, which entered its first recession in a decade last March, will grow by just 1 percent this year and an even weaker 0.7 percent in 2002, the IMF forecast.The new projections were included in a special edition of its "World Economic Outlook."Because of the Sept. 11 attacks, "prospects for global recovery have been set back significantly," the IMF said in the new report.The IMF predicted that the world economy will see the most marked simultaneous slowdown in two decades, with all major economies from the United States and Europe to Japan struggling to emerge from a pronounced slowdown.-- Compiled from business wire services

Railroad says system will ease reservations

The Alaska Railroad Corp. has purchased and installed a new computer software system designed to improve telephone reservation service and allow customers to book seats and purchase train tickets via the Internet.The new railroad-specific reservation software, scheduled to be operational this month, was designed by United Kingdom-based FSS Travel & Leisure Systems, said Steve Silverstein, vice president of the railroad’s Markets, Sales and Services Division."Rail Res 2000" is used by railroads worldwide and also for ferry reservations to and from Seattle to Vancouver, British Columbia, Silverstein said.Cost for the computer software and hardware upgrades was $820,000. The Federal Transit Administration covered 80 percent of the cost of the new reservation system; the remainder came from railroad revenues, Silverstein said.The new system is compatible with the railroad’s existing computer equipment but faster processors needed to be installed, according to Silverstein.The new software replaces the railroad’s old reservation system purchased in 1993 from Vertical Marketing Systems. That system, according to Silverstein, was antiquated and was no longer supported or maintained by the computer company."When they stopped supporting the system, it made it very difficult for us,’’ Silverstein said.The old system also could not handle reservations online, a marketing component that is vital nowadays, Silverstein said.Managers and senior reservation agents were trained on the new system in early December, Silverstein said. The railroad will train its seasonal reservation agents in February and March."(Rail Res 2000) is much simpler than the old system and much more intuitive and connected than the old system was,’’ Silverstein said."It’s simpler for our reservation agents to use and simpler for the customers to use,’’ Silverstein said. "It’s a good, smooth system."Over the past two years, the state-owned railroad has hauled about 500,000 passengers annually and has had revenues of slightly more than $13 million each year.Railroad officials hope the new reservation system will increase ridership on the 525-mile rail line by providing instant access to railroad schedules, tour information and package deals, all with the option to purchase online. Internet reservations should improve telephone reservations by allowing agents more time to serve customers, Silverstein said.Eventually, Silverstein said, the new system could be expanded to computerized kiosks or ticket vending machines around the state, or on board a train.


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