UA makes public pitch to hit $200M fundraising goal

University of Alaska leaders are going public with the hope to complete a first-of-its-kind $200 million fundraising effort for scholarships, research and other priorities. The “for Alaska” campaign officially kicked off March 25 but University of Alaska officials have already quietly raised approximately $135 million over the past five years towards their $200 million goal, according to UA Foundation President Tod Burnett. Burnett said the campaign is unrelated to the system’s ever-worsening budget challenges and is focused on advancing the system’s ability to increase access to education in the state; train a skilled workforce; lead Arctic research; and support economic development. It’s something he believes UA should be doing regardless of its budget situation to continue to support its students. “We made this public because we are trying to get to the finish line,” Burnett said, which is fairly common in the fundraising realm. There has been a learning curve for campaign managers while they’ve collected gifts from roughly 16,000 donors given it’s the first broad-based donation drive the system has undertaken, he said, while adding that large-scale fundraising is what major universities do to significantly bolster their endowments and scholarship offerings. “The University of Alaska should be no different than every other elite institution, public or private, across the nation,” Burnett said. “I want to take us to the next level and part of that is campaigns like this one.” The UA Foundation’s role is to assist the development teams at each of the three main campuses in seeking out and managing the gifts they receive, he said. The foundation managed $433 million for the UA System at the end of 2020 and distributed $16.2 million in student and program support over the year. The Anchorage-based Rasmuson Foundation, one of the largest charitable organizations in the state, has made the largest donation to-date, according to Burnett. Rasmuson spokeswoman Lisa Demer wrote via email that the foundation has donated $8.4 million to the university system since the “for Alaska” campaign began, with $5 million directed to the popular Alaska Native Science and Engineering Program in Anchorage. Rasmuson CEO Diane Kaplan said in a video launching the public portion of the campaign that the foundation is committed to making UA “an institution primed to lead us through the challenging times ahead.” Kaplan said she wants students to know their community is behind them by helping fund higher education opportunities and highlighted ANSEP, which exposes rural Alaska students to opportunities in science and technology fields. “(ANSEP) is the quintessential example of the power of education — taking underestimated students from rural communities and giving them the tools to become the next generation of engineers primed and ready to build Alaska,” Kaplan said. Most gifts so far have gone into scholarship funds, according to Burnett, who said donors also occasionally donate hard assets like real estate or stocks. While the “for Alaska” campaign is not a direct result of cuts totaling more than 30 percent of the state’s support for the university since 2014, the budget situation does make it all the more important, according to Burnett. “Right now we have a long way to go to have all the private funds we need to help students be successful,” he said, later adding he expects to have more announcements about large donors in the next few weeks. “We’re going to reach the $200 million. It’s not about if; it’s about when,” Burnett said. Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected]

What is a vaccine passport and will you need one to travel?

When travelers venture back out, many — especially those flying overseas — will need to manage new requirements to prove they’ve tested negative for COVID-19 or received a vaccine. Travel industry trade groups, airlines and other organizations are developing so-called vaccine passports to make it easier to navigate changing rules. Most are in early stages or only used in certain destinations, though their creators say they are working to expand use. What’s less clear is whether any will emerge as a standard accepted broadly worldwide. In the mean time, here’s what you need to know. What is a vaccine passport? A vaccine passport is a record of a traveler’s COVID-19-related health data, including whether they have been vaccinated or tested negative for the virus that causes it. Some countries required visitors show proof of certain vaccinations, such as yellow fever, before COVID-19, but the digital systems being developed would be more efficient than the current paper-based system, said Perry Flint, a spokesman for the International Air Transport Association, a trade group for airlines. The airline group said the app it’s developing is focused on COVID-19 requirements, but it has the potential to cover additional vaccines. The apps also provide information to help travelers navigate COVID-19 travel restrictions, including the type of test required at their destination. Who’s making them? The airline trade group is developing an app called Travel Pass meant to be used by any airline. Another, CommonPass, is a project from Swiss NGO the World Economic Forum and The Commons Project Foundation, a nonprofit that develops technology for public use. Clear, a service that lets members use biometrics to verify their identity at airport security and started operating at O’Hare International Airport in 2019, has a Health Pass app. Some airlines have their own versions. How does it work? That depends on the app. In addition to sharing information on travel requirements and testing sites, some ask users to upload their health records. Others, including CommonPass, let users connect to lab results and vaccination records through the app, which The Commons Project Foundation CEO Paul Meyer said helps prevent tampering. Users get a QR code they can show the airline before boarding or at customs, if their destination accepts the app as proof they meet the requirements to enter. Clear uses CommonPass’s technology to link to users’ health records. On certain United Airlines and Delta Air Lines flights from Los Angeles to Hawaii, Clear Health Pass users who meet Hawaii’s negative test requirements get a wristband at the gate that allows faster processing on arrival. There is a fee to use Clear at airport security, but Health Pass is free. Do I need one to travel? No. The World Health Organization said last month it does not support making vaccination mandatory for international travel because it’s not yet clear how effective vaccines are at preventing transmission of the virus that causes COVID-19, and because access to vaccines is limited. Then there’s the question of whether digital vaccination certificates will be widely accepted. The WHO is working to create a framework for a digital vaccination certificate: something that would help ensure any individual app is widely accepted as proof a traveler meets health requirements, Flint said. Digital rights nonprofit the Electronic Frontier Foundation has raised concerns about equity, since worldwide access to the vaccine remains limited. “It’s creating a society of haves and have-nots, who can come in and who can’t,” said Alexis Hancock, EFF’s director of engineering. Where can they be used? Most vaccine passports are still being developed or only in use at certain destinations. In addition to flights between Los Angeles and Hawaii using Clear, CommonPass is being used on JetBlue flights from Boston to Aruba, which requires a negative COVID-19 test. The Commons Project Foundation is working with other airlines, including United Airlines, and is in talks with about 30 countries, in hopes of broadening access, Meyer said. The International Air Transport Association has been testing its app and expects it to be available by late March or early April. Airlines could also integrate portions of the association’s app into their own, Flint said. Some currently only accept COVID-19 test records. Clear said it will begin validating vaccine records soon, and United plans to start letting customers flying to eligible destinations upload and store vaccination records using its app in early April. Do you still need other records? Yes. United Airlines and American Airlines encourage passengers to bring additional documentation of negative tests even if their results have been verified through the airlines’ apps, since international destinations may require additional proof their requirements have been met. Should I be worried about privacy? Vaccine passport creators haven’t shared many details on how they will protect users’ information, Hancock said, raising concerns about privacy and data breaches. The International Air Transport Association and CommonPass said apps won’t store data in a central place and will let users choose when to share it. Consumers may decide it’s worth sharing vaccine status or test results with airlines, which already have a lot of their personal information, said Matthew Kugler, an associate professor at Northwestern University’s Pritzker School of Law. Can they be used for anything besides travel? Chicago-based Hyatt is exploring using VeriFLY, the same app American Airlines uses, to let people planning events set up criteria for meeting participants, such as a negative COVID-19 test. The Commons Project Foundation is working with hotels, cruises and schools to potentially use CommonPass to verify test or vaccine records, Meyer said. Clear has partnered with companies that use its app to conduct health questionnaires, temperature checks or require COVID-19 tests for employees or customers. The Buffalo Sabres, for instance, are using Health Pass to have fans get tested and take a screening questionnaire before attending hockey games.

American Airlines expects full fleet back this spring after major increase in bookings

American Airlines expects to “reactivate most of its aircraft in the second quarter” after seeing a major increase in bookings that has brought business back to near pre-pandemic levels. Fort Worth-based American, which lost more than $8.9 billion last year as the air travel industry reeled from the COVID-19 pandemic, gave a slightly more positive outlook for the spring quarter in a regulatory filing March 29. It said developments with the coronavirus have prompted customers to start looking to travel again. “However, as infection and hospitalization rates have materially declined and vaccine distribution has increased during the quarter, the company has experienced recent strength in domestic and short-haul international bookings,” the filing said. “As of March 26, the company’s seven-day moving average of its net bookings is approximately 90 percent of the level experienced in 2019, with a domestic load factor of approximately 80 percent during that same period.” American said it expects the bookings trend “to continue through the end of the first quarter and into the second quarter.” Airlines have reported a string of good news in recent weeks. Airlines, including American and Dallas-based Southwest, have reported that ticket purchases started picking up in mid-February. A pandemic record of 1.5 million passengers went through Transportation Security Administration checkpoints on March 28, adding to the string of million-plus passenger days during March after months of stagnation in passenger traffic. Passenger traffic has topped 1 million for 18 straight days. But positive developments with COVID-19 vaccine distribution and a drop from peak infections in January have prompted people to start flying again, or at least looking to fly later this year. There is also the fatigue from a global health pandemic that is more than a year old. Chicago-based United Airlines even said earlier this month that it could stop daily losses by the end of March if booking trends continue. American was still burning through about $30 million a day at the end of 2020. Load factor is a measure of how full planes are. A load factor of about 80 percent means that planes are nearly a full as they were in pre-pandemic times, although the airline is only flying about 60 percent as many flights as it did before COVID-19. This summer could be a major test as airlines ramp-up schedules. But the air travel industry is still missing major segments of flyers that still haven’t returned, namely international passengers and business passengers. “We’re seeing a nice uptake of like in the short-haul international, but we haven’t seen much of yet as domestic business or long haul international domestic business,” American Airlines CEO Doug Parker said at an industry conference on March 15. Of course, many planes won’t be coming back even if traffic does. American accelerated the retirement of its Boeing 757 and 767 and Airbus A330 aircraft, older jets that burn more fuel than new generation planes like the Boeing 787 and Boeing 777. Many of those larger jets weren’t being used during the COVID-19 pandemic anyway because long-haul international flying has been mostly shut down. But airlines are starting to bring back a handful of transatlantic and transpacific flights to places such as Madrid, Paris and Tokyo, meaning those big planes with longer range will be needed once again.

CDC won’t lift cruise no-sail order in July

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has rejected a request by the cruise industry to immediately lift a no-sail order that would have allowed ships to resume business in U.S. waters by July, months ahead of a previously announced November return date. The coronavirus pandemic continues to keep ships docked despite the fact that other companies around the world have resumed sailings with extensive health safety measures in place. The Cruise Lines International Association had urged the CDC to lift the order, issued in October, and allow operations to resume from U.S. ports beginning in early July, calling the government order outdated and unfair. But on March 24, the Atlanta-based agency issued several statements to trade industry agencies, making clear that the shutdown would remain in effect until at least Nov. 1. “Returning to passenger cruising is a phased approach to mitigate the risk of spreading COVID-19,” said Caitlin Shockey, spokesperson for the CDC, according to reports. “Details for the next phase of the CSO are currently under interagency review.” The cruise lines have said they were prepared for the CDC to implement further health modifications in the meantime but now accuse the agency of dragging its feet, adding that the early-July timeframe they asked for was in line with President Joe Biden’s forecast for when the United States will be “closer to normal.” “The lack of any action by the CDC has effectively banned all sailings in the largest cruise market in the world,” the cruise line association said in a statement March 24. “Cruise lines should be treated the same as other travel, tourism, hospitality and entertainment sectors,” said Kelly Craighead, CLIA’s president and CEO. The CDC’s “Framework for Conditional Sailing Order” was meant to help the cruise industry implement safety measures that would allow operations to resume. But cruise liners say the health agency hasn’t issued additional guidance as it promised it would. “Over the past eight months, a highly controlled resumption of cruising has continued in Europe, Asia and the South Pacific — with nearly 400,000 passengers sailing to date in more than 10 major cruise markets,” Craighead said. “These voyages were successfully completed with industry-leading protocols that have effectively mitigated the spread of COVID-19. Additional sailings are planned in the Mediterranean and Caribbean later this spring and summer.” All three major cruise lines that operate in the U.S. — Carnival, Royal Caribbean and Norwegian — have continued to extend the shutdown month-to-month while the CDC keeps a no-sail order in place within U.S. waters. Each company had hoped for a return to the seas as soon as this month, but they were forced to delay as the coronavirus pandemic began surging again around the world late last year. In order for cruises to ultimately return to the sea, the CDC is requiring the companies to come up with their own plans to deal with COVID-19 with minimal help from federal, state and local governments. The plans must be detailed and specific, and will then be subject to review and approval by the CDC and the U.S. Coast Guard.

Airlines beef up schedules for ship-less summer

Fewer ships on the water appears to be leading to more planes in the sky according to some Alaska tourism industry leaders. “In general, anyone I’ve talked to, they feel good about what’s happening,” Visit Anchorage CEO Julie Saupe said in an interview. She added that it’s “hard to define optimism right now” in a major Alaska industry that is coming off what was essentially a lost year in many regards but things will almost surely some measure better this summer. “We are very optimistic over 2020. We know that there is going to be a season. For some folks the phones are ringing and people are booking,” Saupe said. While nearly all of the million-plus tourists who make their way to Alaska on a cruise ship in a normal summer arrive via the Inside Passage in Southeast, upwards of 400,000 cruise passengers continued on to Southcentral ports in peak years, generating significant business for the Alaska Railroad and Interior Alaska tour companies. As a result, folks at Visit Anchorage were as distressed as anyone when Canadian Transportation officials announced Feb. 4 they would not be allowing large cruise ships into their ports in 2021, an unexpected move that indirectly killed another summer cruise season in Alaska with few exceptions, according to Saupe. The Passenger Vessel Services Act, an 1886 federal law requires foreign-built and flagged passenger vessels to make a stop at a foreign port if traveling between two U.S. ports, effectively prohibiting cruise voyages with large vessels between Pacific Northwest and Alaska ports. Alaska’s congressional delegation introduced legislation in February to temporarily exempt the cruise ships from the 19th Century law but it’s unclear what the prospects are of getting it through Congress. However, Saupe said the full weight of the cruise ship ban was felt only briefly, as sales staff at the tourism bureau began fielding calls from cruise tour managers looking for alternative Alaska itineraries just hours after the news from Ottawa began to spread. More independent travelers have since been requesting information from Visit Anchorage as well, according to Saupe. Fairbanks International Airport officials fueled optimism for Interior tour operators and hospitality business owners when they issued a prediction March 23 that the airport is expected to see a roughly 33 percent increase in passenger seat capacity to the Lower 48 over 2019 levels, when visitor activity in the state was near record-high levels. If the prediction holds, the Fairbanks Airport would likely see record numbers of flights and passengers despite the continued pandemic. United Airlines is again offering seasonal nonstop service between Fairbanks and Chicago, while Delta and Alaska Airlines are adding additional capacity between Fairbanks and Seattle, according to airport officials. Condor Airlines is also resuming summer service to Germany in late May. The region’s tourism leaders are encouraged by the confidence the airlines are showing in Fairbanks, Explore Fairbanks CEO Deb Hickok said. Explore Fairbanks is also close to releasing an “explore responsibly” marketing campaign for prospective Interior visitors this summer, according to Hickok. Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport Manager Jim Szczesniak wrote in an email that the summer “looks good” for Anchorage, with seat capacity currently at about 90 percent of 2019, when a record 5.7 million passengers used the airport. More definitive airline capacity figures should be available in a few weeks, according to Szczesniak. Alaska Airlines will start the summer offering about 80 percent of 2019 capacity on routes between Alaska and the Lower 48-Hawaii but will have the ability to adjust capacity to demand if need be, according to spokesman Tim Thompson. That is in line with network-wide projections Alaska Air executives made over the winter for mid-summer flight activity. “We are optimistic this will be a good summer to travel to Alaska. With the reduction in large cruise ship capacity, we are looking at ways to promote Alaska as a safe and attractive travel destination,” Thompson wrote via email. On March 19, Alaska Airlines also announced new nonstop summer service between Anchorage and Minneapolis-St. Paul starting in June. Saupe noted that some of the cruise lines are also reopening shore side facilities even if guests won’t be getting to Alaska on their ships. Cruise majors Holland America Line and Princess Cruises announced March 4 they would be opening their lodges across the state and offering land-based Alaska trips that include Alaska Railroad tours this summer. In past years the Alaska Railroad has typically operated tour trains with passenger cars owned by the cruise companies through an arrangement that wasn’t active last year. Alaska Railroad Corp. spokesman Tim Sullivan said agents are having to reschedule some passengers based on the scaled back summer schedule the railroad released March 11 so it’s difficult to quantify the bookings at this point, but added that early bookings “are definitely stronger than 2020 and we’re really hopeful they’re going to continue to pick up.” Saupe suggested that Alaska’s highest-in-the-nation COVID-19 vaccination rates also fortuitously garnered a lot of national attention at the same time many travelers were making their summer plans. “We’ve kind of been saying it’s an opportunity to get longer stays in Anchorage,” she said, adding many cruise passengers that pass through Anchorage in normal years spend just a single night in Alaska’s largest city either before heading home or to attractions elsewhere in the state. “We have all the different salmon and crab that you need to eat when you’re here,” Saupe quipped of Anchorage. Visit Anchorage spokesman Jack Bonney additionally noted Alaska is much easier to get to right now than many overseas destinations, which could boost summer visitor totals. “Alaska is very attractive right now,” Saupe said. Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected]

Movers and Shakers for April 4

Kevin Larsen will join Peter Pan Seafood Company LLC in April on the domestic and international sales team as vice president of international sales and business development. Larsen comes from a seafood family and he fished Southeast Alaska for eight seasons before joining the sales side of the industry. Throughout his career he has worked up and down the West Coast, most recently at Bornstein Seafoods Inc. In addition to extensive experience in domestic U.S. sourcing and sales, Larsen brings international sales and experience, particularly in Europe, from his experience at Icicle Seafoods Inc. Larsen also brings experience in fish trading, which will complement and help expand Peter Pan Seafood’s trading business. Rose Lawhorne has been appointed as the CEO of Bartlett Regional Hospital effective April 4. Lawhorne is the current chief nursing officer at Bartlett Regional Hospital and her BRH career began in 1993. Over the course of the past 28 years she has also worked as assistant chief clinical officer, senior director, Emergency Department director, staff nurse, and data entry/registration clerk. Lawhorne has an associate of science degree in nursing from the University of Alaska, and a bachelor’s degree in nursing, master of science in nursing, and master of health administration from the University of Phoenix. Lawhorne’s appointment follows the recent retirement of former CEO Chuck Bill. Scott Jepsen was appointed to the University of Alaska Board of Regents. Jepsen will serve the term of March 23, 2021, through Feb. 6, 2023. Jepsen received his bachelor’s degree and master of science in chemical engineering from the University of Texas and has 31 years of experience in the Alaska oil and gas industry. Jepsen served for nine years on the board of directors for the University of Alaska Foundation, including a two-year term as chair. Additional public involvement includes president of the board of directors for Commonwealth North, senior vice president of the board of directors for the Resource Development Council, former president of the Petroleum Club of Anchorage, and former board member of the board of directors for Alaska Public Media.

FISH FACTOR: ‘Back to the future’ for canned Alaska salmon

It’s “back to the future” for Alaska canned salmon as more Americans choose it for its health benefits and as an easy-to-use ingredient for sandwiches, salads and more. Salmon canning in Alaska started in the 1870s and by the early 20th century, it was the state’s largest industry, generating 80 percent of the territorial tax revenues. Its position then in the state economy is one that oil enjoys today. The COVID-19 pandemic has pushed record sales for the pantry shelf product and canned salmon sales soared by 30.3 percent in 2020 to $286 million. “Suddenly, there was double the demand for an item that’s normally very predictable,” said John Daly, manager of domestic canned sales for OBI Seafoods, Alaska’s largest producer of canned pink and sockeye salmon at nine plants across the state. “It’s not like the seafood counter at grocery stores. The canned fish business is the grocery business. It’s a center store aisle item. The best ability is availability, and that was really important because consumers were willing to buy anything and everything that was shelf stable and canned.” Daly said canned salmon “ticks all the boxes” that people want during the COVID-19 pandemic. “The conscious consumer is looking for things that are healthy, that are sustainable, that aren’t loaded up with questionable ingredients, they know where the fish comes from,” he explained. “Canned fish is one of the cleanest items in a grocery store. There’s two ingredients on the label, salt and fish.” Demand was so high it was a challenge last year to keep the retail shelves stocked. “We only fish for salmon three months out of the year and in March 2020, we were working off the last bit of the 2019 inventory and there’s not mounds of canned salmon lying around at the time of the year,” he said. “So it was an interesting time for salmon producers to react quickly to make sure they could keep their product in front of people but also not run out.” Sales have slowed to more normal levels, Daly said, adding that “normal isn’t pre-pandemic levels anymore. It’s about a 10 percent increase from that. That obviously means that canned salmon has gotten in front of more people and they’ve made repeat purchases. We want to capitalize on that.” Canned fish today accounts for only about 5 percent of Alaska’s salmon products. Of that, about 20 percent is canned sockeye which goes mostly to Canada, Europe and Australia. The bulk is pink salmon which for more than 100 years has predominantly been sold regionally across the U.S. Most of the sales have been driven by older Americans; Daly said a goal is to broaden appeal to younger buyers. “A longer term goal is to produce an item that’s more in line with what a younger consumer’s looking for. Maybe it’s a pouched grab and go snack, maybe it’s flavor added,” he said. Daly is convinced that Alaska’s oldest salmon product has the staying power to remain as one of the state’s most well-known tastes of history. “There was an article two years ago that said millennials don’t even own a can opener, so how is that going to go for canned fish?” he quipped. “Ever since I’ve been in the industry, I’ve heard that canned salmon is dying. And here we are with record numbers.” AK salmon gets swamped Alaska wild salmon accounts for only about 13 percent of the global salmon supply and competition will ramp up this year from other producers, notably Russia. Alaska is expected to produce a total harvest this year topping 190 million salmon, adding up to 880 million pounds. Global seafood supplier Tradex reports that a harvest of 300 million salmon is projected from Russia, topping 1 billion pounds. Much of that Russian salmon will compete with Alaskan fish in supermarkets across America and with international customers. Last year the U.S. imported nearly 38 million pounds of Russian-caught salmon products valued at over $14 million. Of that, 2.3 million pounds was sockeye salmon, valued at nearly $9 million. Yet Russia has not purchased one pound of any U.S. seafood since 2014. Meanwhile, Tradex President Rob Reierson said even more wild salmon will be added to the pack from other nations. “Globally, a veteran wild Pacific salmon expert projected an estimated 930,000 metric tons (over 2 billion pounds) of Pacific salmon to be harvested from all countries including Canada, Japan, and Korea in 2021.” But the numbers for wild caught salmon pale in comparison to farmed fish, which now captures nearly 74 percent of the world’s overall salmon production. Salmon farmers, led by Norway and Chile, are expected to produce nearly 6 billion pounds this year. And global reports say farmed and wild-caught combined are not expected to come near to satisfying the world’s demand for salmon. Herring ho-hum It’s a big year for Alaska roe herring fisheries but lackluster interest by both harvesters and processors is an ongoing story. The fishery at Sitka Sound opened on March 27 after a two-year stall due to small fish and a weak market. The seine fleet this year has a harvest of 33,304 tons (nearly 67 million pounds), but managers predict low participation and limited processing capacity. Ten or 15 boats could fish starting April 1 at Kodiak for one of its biggest fisheries in decades at 7,895 tons (16 million pounds). Togiak at Bristol Bay is Alaska’s largest roe herring fishery, this year with a whopping 42,639-ton harvest (more than 85 million pounds). Last year only 3 boats and one buyer showed up there during the May fishery. The reason? The herring market has tanked over two decades by disinterest from the single buyer, Japan, where tastes and buying policies have changed. In the 1990s, Alaska fishermen fetched $1,000 per ton or more, and while product from Sitka today might pay out at a few hundred dollars a ton, at Togiak the price has been $50 to $75 for several years. Alaska’s herring catch in 2020 was so low that all data remain confidential. “It is maybe the most extreme example I’m aware of how a major Alaska industry could be dependent on an extremely specialized foreign market,” Gunnar Knapp, a retired University of Alaska fisheries economist, told KDLG in Dillingham. Robert Heyano, who has fished at Togiak for more than four decades, added that, “the industry needs to find other ways to sell its herring, such as bait or food.” Waste is another issue. Herring is frozen and usually shipped to Japan where the roe is extracted. The male fish have almost no value and are mostly turned into fishmeal, sold as bait or ground up and dumped. That’s also the fate of the female carcasses after their roe is taken. It’s estimated that only 12 percent of Pacific herring is used for human consumption. A report by the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute claims that if the discarded herring was instead turned into fillets, it would increase the first wholesale value by $11 million per year. Alaska’s herring fisheries have been managed for sac roe since the 1970s but today the fish is far more valuable as bait. At Dutch Harbor, for example, bait herring pays out at more than $500 per ton; at Cook Inlet it brings at least $1 per pound for fishermen. Ironically, many Alaska fishermen purchase herring for use as bait from the East Coast. Forrest Bowers, deputy director of the state Commercial Fisheries Division, agreed that it could be time for a change. “Those are regulations that the Board of Fish could modify,” he said. “If a person said we want to increase this opportunity or provide an additional opportunity to obtain their own bait, that is something the board could take a look at. And if we are in areas where the harvestable surplus isn’t being taken in the sac roe fishery, why not allow it in a different fishery.” Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Senate takes up House bill extending gov’s emergency powers

The standoff over the governor’s pandemic authorities that has consumed much of the Legislature’s time in recent weeks is slowly nearing resolution. The Senate Finance Committee took two days of testimony on House Bill 76, which would extend the state’s COVID-19 public health emergency declaration through September, but set the bill aside March 30 ahead of expected amendments by Senate Republicans to match what Gov. Mike Dunleavy says he now wants. The House passed HB 76 March 26 on a 22-15 vote. House coalition leaders have been steadfast in their desire to renew the governor’s emergency powers since the disaster declaration expired in mid-February when the House was still struggling to organize. They have the backing of some of the state’s biggest health care and charitable organizations that insist the official declaration is the most reliable way for the state to continue receiving important federal relief and extend numerous regulatory waivers. Shortly before the House passed HB 76, Senate President Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna, told reporters that the Senate majority is aligned with Dunleavy to “nip the overreaching powers inherent in a disaster declaration.” The governor submitted HB 76 and similar legislation in the Senate in January to extend the public health emergency that at the time was still in effect. Dunleavy has since backed away from that position and is now asking for a handful of limited authorities and waivers requested by Department of Health and Social Services officials. According to Micciche, Senate Republicans also intend to temporarily increase the statutory cap on school district reserve funds from 10 percent of their annual budgets to 75 percent, allowing them more flexibility in managing all of the federal COVID-19 aid that continues to flow to local governments. “It’s ironic that the Republicans more aligned with the governor want to pinch back and only allow the powers he needs during the recovery phase,” Micciche said March 26. “(Dunleavy) has signaled quite clearly that he has no intention of a new declaration so we’re giving him what he needs to manage the few remaining issues.” Micciche added that it’s his understanding based on new information from DHSS that the state has until April 15 to pass the bill and still receive the $8 million per month in federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, funds, which equates to an additional 2.2 million meals per month that can be distributed across the state, according to the Food Bank of Alaska. DHSS officials previously said the deadline was April 1, which is when amendments to HB 76 are due in the Senate Finance Committee. Dunleavy wrote to all legislators March 24 emphasizing his belief that the state’s COVID-19 vaccination program has been extremely successful and renewing the full disaster declaration would damage public trust. Micciche indicated Senate Republicans would likely change HB 76 to more closely resemble what Dunleavy is now asking for rather than start with their own bill at this point in the process. Senate Finance members heard from providers and other public health officials who acknowledged the political implications of a new declaration but again stressed the need to ensure the state is giving itself all the resources it may need. “This is not about fear or crises, it’s about being practical,” Alaska State Hospital and Nursing Home Association CEO Jared Kosin told lawmakers. Kosin and numerous local government leaders across Alaska have stressed the declaration helps facilitate widespread airport testing of incoming travelers for COVID-19. The state’s testing program detected 2,514 COVID-19 cases among incoming travelers through early March, according to DHSS records. Local governments can still require testing at their airports but the state testing program at large airports is mostly unused at this point. Sen. David Wilson, R-Wasilla, who also chairs the Senate Health and Social Services Committee, said he has heard mixed messages from the administration regarding the current severity of the pandemic and how long it is likely to last. State Epidemiologist Dr. Joe McLaughlin said doctors are unsure how long the public health dangers from the pandemic will continue. He said vaccinations are helping greatly but new variants of the virus continue to challenge forecasting. “At this point there is no end in sight in the near future,” McLaughlin said. Members of the public once more largely urged against renewing the declaration, which would happen automatically if the current version of HB 76 were to pass. Finance chair Sen. Bert Stedman, R-Sitka, emphasized during testimony from DHSS Commissioner Adam Crum that nearly all other states continue to have some sort of official public health declaration to help manage the pandemic. “We would be an anomaly outside of everybody else,” Stedman said of not renewing the declaration. Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected]

Donlin owners reports strong results from 2020 drilling

Despite a slow start, the largest drilling program in more than a decade at the massive Donlin Gold prospect ended with better-than-expected outcomes, according to final results published March 25 by the companies backing the work. Donlin Gold contacted mineralization zones in both of the deposit areas the joint-venture is targeting; the results beat prior grade-thickness modeling with higher gold grades than initially predicted across much of the 23,000-meter, 85-hole drilling program the company conducted last year. Mark Bristow, CEO of mining major Barrick Gold Corp., which owns half of the Donlin prospect, said in a prepared statement that the drilling results “represent a major step forward in improving the geological confidence in the Donlin project,” adding the information is an important step in improving the value of the world-scale project. NOVAGold CEO Greg Lang said a near-surface contact in the northerly Lewis pit intersected nearly 18 meters of gold with an average grade of 10.5 grams per tonne with a nearly four-meter zone averaging 28 grams per tonne. “On every level, the results of the largest drill program at Donlin Gold in 12 years have been incredibly rewarding for the partnership and all stakeholders. Since we released the initial results in August last year, the assays have consistently revealed higher-grade gold intersections,” Lang said. Vancouver-based NOVAGold is Barrick’s partner in Donlin Gold LLC. Notable hits in the ACMA pit include a 22.6-meter interval with an average grade of 8.7 grams per tonne and a 10-meter subset with a grade of 15.5 grams per tonne. “Needless to say, the assay results from the 2020 drill program further strengthen our resolve and belief in the extraordinary nature of Donlin Gold and provide us with a wealth of knowledge to integrate into an updated geologic model,” Lang added. He and Bristow also highlighted that the work was done without any confirmed COVID-19 cases at the remote Western Alaska camp. Company leaders restarted work in late May after suspending work for roughly six weeks last spring due to the pandemic when about 120 people were working at the camp . Donlin Gold also secured several state permits and land-use approvals for an access road, fiber optic cable and other facilities last year. As proposed, the open-pit mine in the upper Kuskokwim River drainage would be one of the world’s largest, producing more than 33 million ounces of gold over an initial 27-year life. A 315-mile natural gas pipeline from the west side of Cook Inlet would supply a power plant at the mine and fuel storage tanks would be built at Dutch Harbor, in addition to the very large-scale operation at the mine site. State Division of Mining, Land and Water officials on March 11 published the second notice for Donlin’s water-rights applications, key permits that would allow the company to divert and use water from streams at the mine site in the upper Kuskokwim River drainage. Donlin leaders said the 2020 program and additional drilling this year should lead to a final geologic model for the ore body; the company’s focus will then turn to an updated feasibility study and a final investment decision by the board of directors. A short sale report issued against Donlin last May by J Capital Research argued company leaders have long inflated the economic viability of the project that is challenged by its remoteness on multiple fronts. The report also claims the $6.7 billion cost estimate to build Donlin is dated and artificially low. Lang vehemently rebutted the claims in the report and NOVAGold sued J Capital over them June 29 in federal New York District Court. Shares of NOVAGold lost 22 percent of their value in the two weeks following the release of the J Capital report. That suit is ongoing. The $6.7 billion construction cost estimate was developed from the last feasibility study done on the project in 2011. Donlin representatives have long said the project generally needs sustained, high gold prices because of the extensive network of support infrastructure that needs to be developed but have declined to specify what parameters they believe are needed to green-light development. Spot gold prices have returned to the $1,700 per ounce range after briefly surpassing $2,000 per ounce last summer. The price band over roughly the last 18 months has been significantly higher than prior years when gold was hovering in the $1,200 to $1,400 per ounce range. Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected]

GUEST COMMENTARY: Semiconductor shortage highlights urgency of U.S. import dependence

In recent weeks, U.S. automakers have been hit hard by a global shortage of semiconductors. It’s the latest problem stemming from America’s over-reliance on a wide range of industrial imports. With the COVID-19 pandemic having disrupted global supply chains, U.S. automakers are now scrambling to find adequate supplies of the computer chips that run everything from power steering and navigation systems to collision sensors. The issue is serious enough that both GM and Ford have halted production. The Biden administration is racing to address the problem — along with other serious supply chain vulnerabilities. The president has already issued an executive order identifying key import dependencies, including semiconductors. It’s a promising start, but the United States must rapidly rebuild its domestic chipmaking industry in order to lessen the nation’s dependence on overseas suppliers.  Why are semiconductors so important? Because computer chips are the “brains” of not just computers, cars, and medical devices but also the weapons systems that support America’s military. Being so dependent on imported computer chips leaves America’s national security vulnerable to the whims of the global market. Right now, Taiwan is a key player in the chip industry. Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. alone accounts for more than half of global chip revenues. However, China has invested a stunning $120 billion to dominate future semiconductor production — something that could endanger U.S. security when chips are used for sensitive products and installations. The time has come for the United States to bring back its semiconductor manufacturing industry. But how to do it? President Biden’s executive order offers a helpful template, since it encompasses both the current semiconductor shortage and the raw materials needed to build computer chips, medical devices, and electric vehicle batteries. Modern industry is built on semiconductors, which in turn are made from a wide array of minerals, including silicon, graphite, copper, gallium, and rare earth metals. What’s worrying is the degree to which China dominates the global supply of these crucial resources. For example, China controls 70 percent of the world’s lithium supplies, 80 percent of rare earth metals, and roughly 70 percent of the world’s graphite. These materials are irreplaceable for producing everything from electric vehicle batteries to solar panels and semiconductors.  To get back in the computer chip business, the United States must not only rebuild domestic chipmaking foundries but also start sourcing needed minerals and metals at home. Doing so would be the first step to ensure a secure, responsibly produced supply chain for U.S. industry. Worryingly, America’s mineral import reliance has doubled in just the past two decades — even though the U.S. is home to an estimated $6.2 trillion in mineral reserves. Rebuilding semiconductor production must happen in parallel with a resurgence in America’s mining sector.  Congress and the president should implement reforms to support a substantial increase in U.S. chip manufacturing, with a goal of producing 50 percent of semiconductors in every major category. Policymakers should also ensure that semiconductor inputs and equipment are not sold to entities with Chinese military ties.  Relaunching America’s computer chip industry could create hundreds of thousands of good-paying manufacturing jobs. The U.S. can resume its position as the world’s leading manufacturer of semiconductors—something that would strengthen national security and America’s industrial self-sufficiency.  Michael Stumo is CEO of the Coalition for a Prosperous America. Follow him at @michael_stumo.

GUEST COMMENTARY: Blaming the Arctic won’t address climate change

It’s become very fashionable lately for politicians and ‘environmental’ groups to advocate against resource development in the Arctic, supposedly in the name of climate change. This includes canceling oil and gas leases, discrimination by banks against Arctic oil and gas projects, calls for huge Wilderness designations and boycotts against shipping on the Northern Sea Route. Do these measures make sense and do they do anything to respond to climate change? The answer is no. A well intentioned effort can still be completely misguided. Think about it. Shutting down Arctic oil and gas production in the Arctic will not result in even one drop less oil being burned. None. It will just be produced somewhere else, like the Alberta tar sands or Venezuelan heavy oil. Is that what we want? The current estimate of available oil from world proven reserves is 53 years. This does not include unproven reserves or new production technologies. The U.S. International Energy Agency predicts that by 2050, the world will still be 70 percent dependent on fossil fuels. Arctic oil and gas development can help meet this obvious need. Although the anti-Arctic development campaigns claim they are “saving the people of the Arctic”, stopping oil and gas development will only add to the impacts we are already experiencing from climate change by destroying our economies. Arctic economies, and certainly Alaska’s economy, are highly dependent on resource development. This fact is lost upon the vast urban populations of the U.S. that don’t have any idea where their resources come from. Gasoline just comes out of the pump. Electricity just comes out of the plug in the wall as you turn on your air conditioning. Products based on mining and timber just magically appear on the shelves of the vast big box stores. This disconnect is exploited by politicians and by groups pleading for funding from these resource-alienated urban masses. The same goes with the major banks discriminating against the Arctic in their public relations efforts to greenwash themselves. And this while they continue to finance coal and heavy oil production elsewhere. Likewise, we have the politicians with their virtue signaling decisions like cancelling Arctic oil and gas leases and pipelines across the U.S. The Keystone Pipeline is an excellent case in misguided, but politically expedient, policy. Besides eliminating thousands of working class jobs, canceling the pipeline will just mean that the oil will be transported by truck or rail, much riskier than a pipeline. Saving the planet? Or trading substance for symbols? In the meantime, the politicians are supporting Biomass Energy as “green energy”. This involves cutting down the forests and burning wood pellets which produces more CO2 than coal. I wonder if our new President Biden and his eager staff have thought about this? If the President really wanted to do something to reduce consumption of oil and gas, he would shut down all the electrical generating plants in his own state of Delaware, which are 70 percent fossil fuel. (the rest being nuclear). That would actually do something to reduce CO2 emissions. It’s also not going to happen for purely political reasons. No, it’s much easier to attack the Arctic with our small population. Climate change is a global consumption problem, not an Arctic production problem. It’s not the 4 million people producing oil in the Arctic, it’s the 7 billion people in the rest of the world and growing demand, especially in developing nations who strive for the American standard of living. It’s not right to blame them either. These people have rights as well and we identify with them. We are not blind to climate issues and deal with them daily as the Arctic warms up. We support renewable energy when it is practical and that’s not just talk. We have used our oil money in Alaska to invest heavily in renewable energy sources such as hydroelectric, wind and solar. We wouldn’t have been able to do that without producing our oil and gas. We are not sitting on our hands with regard to reducing our own consumption. Among the states, Alaska is one of the lowest emitters of CO2. It’s wrong to blame the Arctic and discriminate against us for a problem that is your own. We have the right to continue providing critical resources to our country and the world, while supporting our working class people and our economy. If you want to look for a solution to climate change, you might want to look into your own back yard. Or a mirror. Paul Fuhs is a former mayor of Dutch Harbor and a former Commissioner of Commerce and Economic Development for Alaska. He can be reached at [email protected]

BROWN'S CLOSE: COVID Year in Review

March marks a full year that COVID-19 has moderately to significantly impacted my life. Rather than a “Calendar Year in Review” in December, I am opting for a “COVID Year in Review” in March. March: Anchorage is introduced to former Mayor Ethan Berkowitz’s “hunker down” order which, as summarized by Andrew Jensen, is “a stay-at-home order, but if you want to take a walk, they’ll allow it.” All of my usual activities are replaced with stockpiling paper products and canned soup, and eating chips and salsa. April: The chips and salsa snacking is replaced with consuming family-size packages of sour gummy worms. Knowing this will all inevitably catch up with me, I start exercising furiously. I delight in building muscles from scratch. What with all the restaurant closures, I figure now is the time to embrace learning to cook. I confirm a long-held suspicion that I hate cooking. I break down and order a pizza from Uncle Joe’s. It is the best pizza I’ve ever eaten in my entire life. May: I debut my COVID-perfected, knock you on your rear, margaritas. The recipe remains proprietary, such that I can keep friends around. Brown’s Close launches its website. We are immediately followed by fifty magnanimous Facebook friends, and three bots. June: I attempt to buy a new bike, as my current bike is 17 years old and wheezes whenever we round corners. Anchorage’s stores are completely sold out, as is Facebook Marketplace. I turn to Marketplace’s older, grungier associate, Craigslist. While there are bikes listed on Craigslist, they are all obviously stolen. Some of the inventory still has the broken bike locks on them in the pictures, and others, chains. One adult man is selling what he claims to be his bike. It is pink, floral, and large enough for a six-year-old girl. July: I go camping for the holiday. On the drive home, the car more or less calls it quits on life. I grind to a halt on the highway, walk a mile to cell phone service, and find one tow company open on the Sunday after the July 4th weekend. Given how busy the road is on the holiday weekend, and what with no offers of assistance from passing motorists, I am forced to conclude that chivalry is dead. August: The town erupts in very strong opinions on Kriner’s Diner, a restaurant that I can’t imagine has ever seen the kind of publicity that its standoff with the mayor garnered, not to mention those hefty $15,000/day fines. September: Learning my lesson from my bike-less summer, I purchase used cross-country skis at Play It Again Sports. The lettering on the skis is electric blue, and the boots are satin red and gold. The boots prove to ultimately give me blisters, but pain is weakness leaving the body. October: Photos of Anchorage Mayor, Ethan Berkowitz’s pimply back appear. Though meant to be seductive, they have more of a medical quality. November: I teach myself how to cross-country ski and become accomplished enough to participate in Alaska Ski for Women, and the Tour of Anchorage. Alas, I am dressed inappropriately for both events. My parka and snow pants are too bulky for the Tour of Anchorage, where current and former Olympians are dressed in spandex. My attire is similarly not bulky enough for Alaska Ski for Women, where participants are dressed as strawberries and blueberries, and wear neon pink wigs. The politics of masks come to a head when Alaska State Senator, Lora Reinbold, has a midair confrontation with the “Mask Bullies,” also known as Alaska Airlines. Senator Reinbold has not stopped there. A Google search of “Lora Reinbold masks,” yields 3,060 results as of the time of this writing. December: Our office Christmas party takes place virtually at ten in the morning. I annoy an entire Zoom breakout room with my passion for Die Hard. January: Capitol rioters reveal many Americans have closely held beliefs about the existence of Lizard People. February: Two men shoot Lady Gaga’s dog walker and make off with her French bulldogs. Most media coverage, and Lady Gaga’s reward offer, focus on the safe return of the dogs, and not so much on her critically wounded employee. March: Bitcoin reaches its highest value ever. I have friends who’ve sextupled their initial investment with Bitcoin. However, when the currency is explained to me, it just sounds made up. For example, there is what is called “The Halving,” which takes place at predetermined times. This ceremony “halves” the number of “Bitcoins” that “the Bitcoin Miners” receive when they “Mine a Block” after “solving a Hash Puzzle.” After that, there’s “The Reaping,” where teenagers are taken from their parents to fight to the death in service of “Bitcoin’s glorious future.” Only after both “The Halving” and “The Reaping,” can there be “The Quickening.” It is at this point that the “Final Bitcoin Miners” battle it out to ascertain who will become the “God of all Bitcoin.” April: Next month, I’ll get to see my brother for the first time in 16 months. We will use this precious time to catch up on an entire holiday seasons’ worth of family political debates. And thus, in the words of modern poet, Maria Athens, “Have a great Friday, you motherfu****!” Sarah Brown is a troubadour, specializing in chronicling local political life. You can reach her at [email protected], or on Twitter @BrownsClose1. “Close” is a British term for alley or cul-de-sac. For more of Sarah’s musings, visit Browns-Close.com.

Hybrid events as the future of community gathering

A year after the COVID-19 pandemic forced many businesses to temporarily close their doors to in-person customers, owners are preparing for a return to business as (mostly) usual, and in some cases, better. Many learned lessons about how to reach their customers virtually and don’t intend to let them go to waste. Here’s what three different Alaska businesses have planned as they begin to re-open:  Toast of the Town When COVID-19 hit Alaska and the first emergency order was issued, Crystal Biringer, President of Anchorage-based events company Toast of the Town, or TOTT, remembers thinking “Holy cow, everything we have planned for the foreseeable future is no longer an option...what are we going to do?”  She knew that her team needed to make some quick decisions to continue serving their clients and for the business to survive.  Pre-pandemic, only about 10 percent of TOTT’s businesses was virtual, consisting mostly of the occasional live stream or post-event recordings shared on social media. Regardless, the team was confident they could make the transition to focusing mostly on digital events for the next two years… and they were right, to the rate of a 57 percent increase in the number of events in 2020 from 2019. Biringer notes that the company also saw an increase of at least 50 percent attendance at virtual events, and credits part of their success to enlisting the services of Upper One Studios to partner on virtual production work. She also says thoughtful touches like hospitality boxes — themed packages sent to attendees pre-event to create a shared experience and tie into the event — along with chat functionality and interactive two-way app integrations allowing people to connect digitally with each other went a long way to differentiating TOTT’s events from just another Zoom call. A key lesson learned during the last year was that while in-person events are often successful because the attendees look forward to seeing and interacting with each other, virtual events are successful because of high quality content and relevant subject matter. Fortunately, access to high-end speakers is better than ever, Biringer said. “You don’t have to worry about housing, travel, and developing a full-fledged Alaska experience for each speaker you bring up. Instead you’re just asking for a couple hours of their time,” she said. “That cost difference has been a blessing to event budgets.” As businesses begin to open up and it’s safe to gather in crowds, Biringer intends to make use of everything she learned this year. “We discovered what virtual events can deliver — increased attendance, higher sponsor impact, speaker accessibility — and so I believe the future of events is to go hybrid. This isn’t a solution for all events, some have an in-person value that shouldn’t be replicated digitally, but if you’re producing a conference or fundraiser, there’s no reason it shouldn’t be a hybrid event. In fact you’re really missing out on a big opportunity if you stick to just in-person.” Despite changes, Biringer says the purpose behind TOTT’s work hasn’t changed.  “We’re still bringing people together through shared experience and an immersive atmosphere,” she said. “We’re still helping people engage, the environment in which we do it is just a little different now.” The Pub The Pub at the University of Alaska Fairbanks is a 30-year-old institution well-loved by students, staff, and alumni, and self-described as “a little bar on the flagship campus of the coldest state, and we like to party.”  Manager Mike Willis says that pre-COVID-19, The Pub had a Facebook page that wasn’t used much. That quickly changed as he and his staff scrambled to figure out how an in-person drinking establishment on a now closed college campus could stay connected to the community during the midst of a pandemic. The answer? Virtual Pub Trivia.  “We knew trivia was something we could offer online, that would help people stop feeling so alienated and alone,” Willis said. “Natilly and Melissa on our staff quickly figured out how to do it via Zoom, there were a few kinks at first but now we’re rocking and rolling!” Trivia has been a mainstay of The Pub for nearly a decade, featuring topics like Alaska History, Black Histroy Month, Sex Ed, Inaugurations, and Alaska Beer Week. When it shifted to virtual delivery, Willis said that alumni and former staff now living out of state started joining the Zoom and the team soon had “celebrity hosts,” like former pub manager Donald Crocker who joined in to host a couple sessions. A few student clubs also stepped in to host as well. Recognizing the value in creating digital content for their customers, The Pub also partnered with Telesomm, a startup company headquartered in Fairbanks offering custom wine experiences with sommeliers via Zoom. Last week they hosted “The Arts and Beats of Wine” with Chris McCoyd, a “Hip Hop Somm” with a degree in music business.  Facebook Live tours and Q&A sessions with breweries like the Alaskan Brewing Co., Black Spruce Brewery, and Midnight Sun Brewery also proved popular. Willis says they expect to continue offering similar content even as they begin to re-open. “Our big takeaway from all of this is that now we have a strong social media presence, we have some momentum, and we’re going to invest more time, energy, and resources into keeping it going,” says Willis. “Because of social media we were able to connect with regulars, stay relevant, and communicate with our patrons. We don’t want to lose the ground we’ve gained just because we’re starting to re-open for in-person visitors.”  Willis is excited about exploring a hybrid model for Pub Trivia after The Pub re-opens for in-person customers. Mind and Mountain  Sarah Histand is the founder of Mind and Mountain, a woman-centered training program for winter (“Ski Babes”) and summer (“Summer Strong”) outdoor recreation. Although most of her work pre-pandemic was in-person, she had already developed an existing online platform meant to complement sessions in Anchorage. “Because I had the technology, it was a pretty easy decision to pivot to all online delivery,” Histand said. “There was a learning curve working with people who hadn’t done online workouts before, helping them see that they could get the benefits of going to the gym from their living rooms, but overall it went well.” Her response to the pandemic quickly paid off, as she nearly doubled the number of people signed up for her program in 2020. As Histand built up the digital Ski Babe and Summer Strong experience she made sure to emphasize both physical and mental health, as a lot of her clients were struggling with disconnection and isolation. “I heard from a lot of people that they appreciated having a way to interact online that wasn’t social media,” she said. “The support of our community was a big benefit for people, and helped them manage their stress.” Despite her success this year, Histand is looking forward to a return to in-person training and hopes to bring it back as soon as the summer. “As a teacher it’s really different to interact with people in-person, and I’m excited for it to be an option again,” Histand said. “But I’m definitely going to keep the online platform going; it’s so easy for people to access at any time and is an incredibly effective way to get strong from anywhere, plus now I really believe in the possibility of creating community connections online.” Histand says there’s balance to find between in-person and online experiences, across industries. “The pandemic showed us that it’s possible to operate online but emphasized how valuable and irreplaceable in-person time is,” she said. “There’s a hybrid, a place in the middle that’s the way of the future.” Gretchen Fauske is a marketing-minded economic developer fueled by a passion for innovation and entrepreneurship. She is the associate director for the University of Alaska Center for Economic Development, Board President for Launch Alaska, Vice Chair for Anchorage Downtown Partnership, and a Gallup-certified CliftonStrengths coach.

FISH FACTOR: Halibut prices start strong but catch rates slow

Halibut prices for Alaska fishermen for 2021 started out significantly higher than last year, despite sluggish demand and transportation logjams in some regions. The Pacific halibut fishery opened on March 6 and two weeks later only 80 deliveries were made: 46 at Southeast ports and 34 from the Central Gulf totaling 355,524 pounds. Most landings appeared to be small lots that were purchased on consignment. The first fish typically fetches higher prices and then drops off as the season progresses. No Alaska ports reported paying less than $5 per pound whereas the 2020 price to Alaska fishermen averaged $4. Early prices at Sitka and Juneau, where there is daily air service, were reported at $5.50 to $5.75 per pound, up by a dollar from last year, and deliveries at Petersburg paid out at $5.75 straight. No ferry service and high costs for airfreight bit into buying at nearly all Southeast ports where major processors said they aren’t purchasing halibut until April or May. Fishermen delivering to Homer were paid $5.50 per pound, also up by more than a dollar. Other buyers on the Kenai Peninsula were paying $5.25 to $5.45 for 10- to 20-pounders and slightly more for larger fish. Reports from Whittier pegged the price at $5.50 to $5.75. Except for small amounts bought on consignment, few halibut sales were reported at Kodiak where the price was reported at $5 per pound straight. Pacific halibut from Alaska has been getting hit hard in recent years by fish from Eastern Canada, mostly Nova Scotia and Newfoundland, with one Alaska buyer saying that region is now in the “front seat” for fresh market sales. Federal trade data show that in 2020, more than 10.5 million pounds of Atlantic halibut were imported to the U.S. from that region, valued at $70.2 million. Another 1.5 million pounds of Pacific halibut came into the U.S. from British Columbia valued at $22 million. Alaska halibut fishermen also are getting pinched from fresh farmed halibut from Norway which last year totaled about one million pounds, valued at $6.3 million. Halibut caught by Russian fleets and processed into frozen fillets in China also is making inroads into U.S. markets and underselling all others. In 2019 that totaled 2 million pounds, valued at nearly $7 million. Alaska’s catch limit for Pacific halibut is 19.6 million pounds. The fishery was extended by one month this year and will run through Dec. 7. New twists to seafood sales  Seafood sales set records at U.S. retail last year and the trend is continuing. Sales of fresh, frozen and pantry shelf items increased by nearly 30 percent in 2020 to almost $17 billion, outpacing meat, produce, and deli items. Perceptions of health and wellness are driving the surge, according to Seafood Source and a newly released Power of Seafood 2021 report from FMI-The Food Industry Association. In a national survey, FMI found that one-third of Americans ate seafood twice a week in the past year and nearly 60 percent said they believed upping their intake boosts their immune systems. A whopping 75 percent said they are eager to learn more about cooking seafood and want to be more knowledgeable about preparing and flavoring it. How and where seafood is caught also was important and 36 percent said they preferred wild-caught fish “because it is more nutritious.” However, preference for farm raised fish grew to 29 percent, up 10 points from 2019, with 35 percent saying it has better traceability than wild and is a healthier option.  “I believe there is more acceptance about farm-raised seafood due to more awareness about farm-raised options. Also, salmon is a major species in seafood and often farm-raised salmon is lower priced compared to wild-caught options,” Rick Stein, FMI Vice President of Fresh Foods, told SeafoodSource. The FMI report also showed that plant-based imitations have become more accepted by U.S. shoppers. Another report by Barclays claims that the fake fish industry is estimated to be worth $140 billion within the next decade, and could capture 10 percent of the $1.4 trillion global meat industry. Nearly 60 percent of frequent seafood eaters said they are likely to try such products, while 31 percent said they would not. There also was a high correlation with healthy eating, and 62 percent cited sustainability as a major reason for turning to fish imitations. Overall, 71 percent of American consumers said they are concerned about seafood sustainability, with 41 percent saying it is a top factor in their buying choices.  That was most evident among younger consumers Seafood Source said, citing a survey by GlobeScan shared during a Seafood Expo North America panel that called it “a key trend among seafood purchasing.” Since 1999, GlobeScan has asked thousands of seafood consumers worldwide if they choose to reward companies that show they are “socially responsible.” Through 2017, about 20 percent said they would consider doing so, but in 2020 that number increased to 38 percent. The recent survey found that 70 percent of consumers want more information from companies about sustainability and 63 percent want to be able to trace their fish purchases back to a trusted source. But only 25 percent said they actually look for ecolabels on products, except for those aged 18-34. “That is something to really keep an eye on,” said Walmart Senior Manager of Sustainability Marife Casem. “There’s really a power in this generation,” she said. “They read not only the labels but the story behind the packaging.” “The younger consumer is really leading the way and influencing change,” said Kristen Stevens, senior marketing manager for the Marine Stewardship Council, which spearheaded the seafood ecolabel movement over 20 years ago. “I suspect we’re going to continue to see this momentum caused by this younger generation.” ComFish takes virtual to a new level  Kodiak’s ComFish Alaska trade show later this month puts the “social” back into social distancing.  Attendees can move in and out of forums and the trade show just like in-person events thanks to a new platform called Hopin. “It is not some boring Zoom meeting where you just have to sit and listen, it is nothing like that,” said Sarah Phillips, executive director of the Kodiak Chamber of Commerce, host of ComFish for 41 years. “Hopin is a completely immersive, engaging social experience. I think social is that key word that we've been missing out on so many of these virtual meetings.” Nearly 30 exhibitors have signed up so far for the event, scheduled for Mach 30 and 31. “It allows you to visit exhibitor booths, see what kind of specials and discounts they are offering, and engage face to face with the representative,” she explained. The forum line up provides the same opportunities. They include appearances by Alaska’s congressional delegation and state lawmakers, updates from the governor’s office, marketing, fishery updates, crab research, sea stories and much more. “Any questions that you type into the chat box will be answered by the moderator or the presenters. And afterwards, some of our speakers are willing to go into a private, face to face session,” Phillips added.  Hopin also provides for enhanced connections to socializing with anyone who’s registered for ComFish. “As soon as you log in, you'll be able to see every person that's registered. You can click on their name and request a video chat or schedule a meeting, the possibilities are endless. It’s just like if you were at ComFish and you run into someone you haven't seen in a long time and say gosh, I'd love to catch up. And if there's a few people you see, you can get the whole gang together.” Phillips credits local and corporate sponsors for enabling the Chamber to purchase the Hopin platform for ComFish. “People have really stepped up because they know the importance of this show to not only our community, but all of Alaska and the Pacific Northwest.” Registering for free at www.comfishak.com also enters your name for prizes and a sneak peek of the Hopin platform. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.  

Federal gasline funding pitch gets chilly reception in Senate Resources

Lawmakers expressed skepticism toward the plan backed by Gov. Mike Dunleavy to seek more than $4 billion in federal money to spur construction of the $39 billion Alaska LNG Project in their first official briefing on the proposal. Alaska Gasline Development Corp. President Frank Richards told the Senate Finance Committee March 22 that the state-owned corporation has all 36 of the major federal authorizations and permits it needs to build the megaproject in-hand and is now working to gain support in Washington, D.C. for funding the vast majority of the project’s initial $5.9 billion phase. Pitched as a development-ready project that would fit well into a massive, nationwide infrastructure spending bill — a stated priority of both the Trump and Biden administrations that has yet to materialize — and an energy project that would help displace dirtier coal and oil use in Alaska and abroad, members of Congress and the new administration are becoming more and more receptive to the concept, according to Richards. Dunleavy unveiled the latest Alaska LNG funding concept in a late January newspaper op-ed that would have the federal government contribute 75 percent, or about $4.5 billion, of the $5.9 billion AGDC believes it would cost to build the first section of pipeline to from the North Slope to the Fairbanks area as well as spur lines to connect ExxonMobil’s Point Thomson gas unit and Fairbanks utilities to the 42-inch export mainline. “We’re trying to identify this as an opportunity to build a critical piece of infrastructure for the state of Alaska,” Richards said. Earlier on March 22, AGDC officials received notice that the Department of Natural Resources had approved the right-of-way for the segments of the 807-mile gas pipeline that cross state lands, a necessary but expected step that now gives AGDC access to about 90 percent of the pipeline and North Slope gas treatment plant corridor, he added. Richards said in a prior interview with the Journal that AGDC is in commercial negotiations with a “world-class pipeline operator” that would contribute the remaining investment for the first section of pipeline construction. He emphasized that some members of the Biden administration are starting to see LNG as the “bridge fuel” between traditional fossil fuels and the large-scale clean energy production sought by Democrats that industry representatives have pitched it as. Still, Senate President Peter Micciche — who managed the existing Kenai LNG plant when it was owned by ConocoPhillips — and other Republicans on the committee questioned the economics of the initial phase of the project and the likelihood of getting billions in federal money for a hydrocarbon project given the political implications. “It’s hard to look at the economics of the first stage if the second stage is not a reality,” Micciche said. The second, $20-plus billion phase of Alaska LNG to build the rest of the pipeline between Fairbanks and the Kenai Peninsula as well as the 20 million tons per year LNG plant would have to be ready to go in order to make the first pencil out, Richards acknowledged. “If we are successful in capturing the federal stimulus funds that reduces the (private) cost of this project and makes it even more economically viable,” Richards said in response to Micciche’s questions. He suggested backing the Alaska LNG Project could help the Biden administration smooth over relations with the traditionally Democrat-friendly labor unions upset with the president’s decision to cancel construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline. “It is an uphill battle but we see if we don’t ask for the funding, if we aren’t willing to march uphill, the funding won’t be made available to us,” he said. Resources chair Sen. Josh Revak, R-Anchorage, said he continues to worry that the state will end up “subsidizing this gas in the future,” a common refrain particularly among Republican lawmakers when former Gov. Bill Walker pushed hard for the state to take control of Alaska LNG from the North Slope producers, which happened in 2016 amid an oil price crash. While AGDC still owns the project — that ostensibly amounts to vast files of engineering and other data along with the government permits — Dunleavy has long said he wants to move it to private control. The AGDC board of directors has a goal for making that hand-off by mid-year, at which point it will be up to the Legislature and administration to determine what, if any, stake in the project the state should keep, Richards said. He noted further that if the state sells the entirety of the project it would capture tax and royalty revenue from the gas but not other potential revenue streams. “What is the optimal percentage that the state should retain and what is the risk associated with it?” Richards asked rhetorically. He additionally said state officials will need to approve a long-term production and property tax plans for the project to attract private investment, which are potentially problematic hurdles. Settling the Alaska LNG “fiscal stability” issue was previously seen as requiring a constitutional amendment to get around the prohibition of one Legislature binding future lawmakers to abide by any contract or legislation. Alaska’s current property tax structure for the project is also about 15 times more expensive to a project owner than payment in-lieu of tax, or PILT, plans negotiated for some Gulf Coast LNG projects, according to Richards, who also said local governments may be able to take a share of the Alaska LNG Project instead of applying existing oil and gas property tax rates. Qilak LNG Former Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell also told committee members that the offshore North Slope LNG plant his company is proposing should move forward because it would provide one of the cleanest sources of LNG in the country. Treadwell is CEO of Qilak LNG, a Lloyd’s Energy-backed firm that went public with its plan to use icebreaking LNG tankers to export gas from the Point Thomson field directly off the North Slope in October 2019, but has mostly been quiet since. At the time, Qilak leaders said they hoped to complete the project as soon as 2025. The mid-sized $5 billion project would be anchored by an LNG facility located nearly 10 miles offshore from Point Thomson and would produce about 4 million tons of LNG per year for export to Asian markets and potentially some coastal Alaska communities. “There is great interest in our feasibility studies to do a screening on reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, including the possibility of bringing CO2 back to Alaska for reinjection in (oil) fields that could use it such as Cook Inlet,” Treadwell said. He insisted Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm supports LNG exports because of the role the fuel can play in displacing coal and oil consumption worldwide and the relative efficiency of a North Slope LNG plant — they run best in cold weather — gives Qilak and Alaska a competitive advantage in that regard. “We believe that we are America’s best choice for LNG. We believe that the state of Alaska has much to benefit from pursuing this project,” Treadwell said, adding that Arctic LNG projects in Russia have proven the icebreaking tanker concept. Micciche quipped that the government-backed Russian projects rely on “creative” economics and questioned how the Qilak project competes with LNG deliveries from traditional global suppliers even with Alaska’s logistical advantage of being closer to East Asia ports. “We have a better climate story; we have a better transportation cost story. We do not have competing gas prices at the wellhead with, say, the Henry Hub (market) where you can see a lot of volatility in that area. We do not have the Panama Canal and we have a cost of overall production which I believe is competitive with other supplies,” Treadwell said. The $5 billion price for Qilak’s LNG plant and the subsea pipeline roughly equates to a development cost of $12.50 per ton, Treadwell noted. AGDC officials have said the much larger Alaska LNG Project could provide delivered cargoes for approximately $7 per million British thermal units, or mmbtu, a standard industry measure. That is at the high end of the production and supply chain costs future LNG projects are likely to need to meet to be competitive but it is not out of the realm, according to a paper from the University of Oxford Institute for Energy Studies. Richards said the two, despite seemingly competing for the same gas, can co-exist because of the immense size of the North Slope resource, which is roughly 35 trillion cubic feet, or tcf, of proven gas in Prudhoe Bay and Point Thomson and possibly up to 100 tcf of probable resources, many state and federal officials believe. Treadwell said Qilak primarily needs “moral support” from state officials now but the company could need to discuss fiscal issues down the road. Qilak representatives have discussed their project with Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority officials, according to Treadwell, who suggested the state development bank could be used as an avenue for Alaskans to take ownership in the Qilak project as much as an underwriter. “While we’re not looking for state support — this project has many financing options — we do look to have some ownership of the project held by Alaskans and I believe AIDEA can help do that,” he said. An AIDEA spokeswoman did not respond to questions in time for this story. Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected]

GUEST COMMENTARY: All-of-the-above must be U.S. energy approach

Two months ago, President Biden stood before the nation and declared in his inaugural address “I will fight as hard for those who did not support me as for those who did.” Hours later, his call for unity came to a screeching halt. With a stroke of a pen, the Biden administration sent a striking blow to thousands of Alaskan and American energy workers and numerous communities that rely on responsible resource development as a meaningful tool for investment in social and economic advancement. These executive orders – including a sweeping moratorium on new oil and gas development on federal lands and waters, and a unilateral halt to leasing in ANWR’s 1002 area – have left many Alaskans fuming and understandably questioning our collective futures as an energy producing state, particularly in the face of unprecedented revenue and budget shortfalls. As the chairman of the Senate Resources Committee, I write today to outline my commitment to Alaskans in the face of these unprecedented attacks. 1. Alaskans must be at the forefront of federal decision-making, and the incoming Biden administration must understand that Alaskans and Americans alike demand an all-of-the-above energy approach, not a systematic destruction of critical sectors of our economy. 2. Alaskan and American energy workers, and the communities that support them, can’t be left behind. We must work to advance economic opportunities during these challenging times, not eliminate them. 3. We must fight to defend the promises made to Alaskans in our state constitution and Statehood Compact – which underpins our place as a resource development state and secures our right to develop our rich mineral resources, access our federal lands, and manage our fish and wildlife. 4. We must collectively work to counter the harmful actions of Wall Street banks and financial institutions that have succumb to the political pressures of extremists and red-lined resource development projects in Alaska and the Arctic. 5. We must underscore Alaska’s role in U.S. energy security, including our vast untapped resources (both traditional and renewable) and longstanding place as a global leader in clean and environmentally responsible development. 6. We must build upon the community driven successes of the past to lower energy costs, including natural gas deployment, renewable energy technologies like hydropower, wind and geothermal, and work to modernize energy infrastructure such as microgrids and renewable storage into the 21st Century. 7. We must understand that each and every Alaska community is different. Therefore, our commitment to an all-of-the-above energy strategy must address the diverse needs found in communities and regions across the state. As a committee, we have already begun the critical work to reaffirm the promises made to Alaska and fight back against an onslaught of federal overreach that has for too long ignored the will of local communities and stakeholders. We have begun examining our collective energy future, including steps to sustain investment and jobs on our North Slope, boost production, grow throughput in the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System, and help build a more resilient economic base through resource and energy development. This also includes a commitment to developing areas beyond traditional resources and energy sources, such as increasing development of wind, hydroelectric, biomass systems and microgrid projects that have lowered costs and reduced the reliance on costly diesel power generation throughout Alaska. Alaska has and continues to be a shining example of responsible resource and energy development where conservation and development have been proven to live in harmony; where stewardship of our lands, resources and environment is not falsely defined as mutually exclusive. But now, as a cornerstone of our vulnerable economy comes under attack, we must prepare for a tough road ahead. Like those before me, I am committed to working with our Alaska congressional delegation and bipartisan leaders to underscore the important role resource and energy development plays in Alaska’s collective DNA. The incoming Biden administration has placed heavy burdens on our already struggling economy with their clear desire to freeze new resource development projects across our state, but we must stand united to help shape these discussions and demand a commitment to an all-of-the-above energy approach. Now, more than ever, it’s vital that we stand up for our statehood right to develop our natural resources for the benefit of all Alaskans and Americans. I remain hopeful that, in the end, common sense will prevail. Josh Revak, R-Anchorage, is the chairman of the Senate Resources Committee.

GUEST COMMENTARY: Working together to make higher education accessible to all Alaskans

The University of Alaska system is home to three distinct and independent universities working in tandem to provide the best outcomes for higher education in the state. This is all to the benefit of Alaskans: our students, our future workforce, employers, and our communities at large. We’re looking to the future with a cohesive vision to offer solutions to the issues Alaska faces today, and to create an accessible path to higher education for any student. While each of our universities has its own identity and specialty, our strength comes from our shared vision for the future of higher education in Alaska. As we adjusted to college during the COVID-19 pandemic, each university harnessed its expertise and area of focus to help support the issues our state faced. In some instances, that work involved collaboration across universities as researchers and students from UAA and UAF joined state public health efforts to help identify new, more contagious variants in Alaska, sequencing the virus’ genes in a process critical to keeping the virus under control. Others who were already studying coronaviruses shifted their focus to COVID-19 research in the past year. Amidst the pandemic, our academic programs have continued to reinforce Alaska’s industries. UAS and UAF now also offer a joint fisheries program, which graduated its first student last spring. The fisheries program offers hands-on learning, producing qualified personnel to support this in-demand sector, which is so important to Alaska’s economy. As we seek to create a college-going culture in Alaska, we know teachers educated within the University of Alaska system are critical to our future. Alaska school districts want to hire teachers trained in Alaska because they are more likely to stay in-state, and their coursework covers topics unique to Alaska. Working collaboratively allows us to provide greater accessibility and flexibility to accommodate teacher training, and we’re working hard to attract students into the teaching profession with programs that begin as early as middle school. We’re helping to pave the way for all students seeking higher education to reach their goal, including students who may not traditionally see themselves in a university environment. While we offer many different four-year degree programs, as well as master’s and doctoral programs, we also understand that for some students, it’s an associate degree or a certificate that will help them enter the workforce in their chosen field. We serve all of these students and are responsive to their educational goals. The university system is also an environment rich with opportunities for research, discovery, innovation and outreach. Opportunities to explore and solve tomorrow’s challenges today await students at all three universities at both the graduate and undergraduate levels. Research across the UA system contributes to economic development by creating new businesses or new ways of doing business for Alaska’s companies. Under University of Alaska Interim President Pat Pitney’s leadership, we are committed to moving the University of Alaska system into the future. The students who progress through our universities will be the future leaders of our state. We know that when Alaskans go Outside for college, they are much less likely to return; this is one of the most important reasons to continue investing in our university system. Nearly 90 percent of residents agree or strongly agree that Alaska businesses benefit from a workforce trained by the University of Alaska. We are energized by the unity of leadership across the system and look forward to welcoming UAA’s new permanent chancellor to the team. We are buoyed by the positive momentum created by our faculty, staff and students’ good work. Our researchers’ groundbreaking discoveries are solving some of the state’s most pressing issues. We continue to strengthen our effort to become the universities of choice for Alaska’s students. Our alumni are supportive, engaged and our biggest advocates. Together, they continue to share personal stories of the university’s impact on their lives with friends, neighbors and colleagues. With the upcoming public launch of the university system’s philanthropic campaign, we look forward to working with our new colleague to write the next chapter in our universities’ history, one focused on leadership in higher education, research, innovation and economic development. Together, we continue building a positive future for Alaska for generations to come. Bruce Schultz is the interim chancellor of the University of Alaska Anchorage. Dan White is the chancellor of the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Karen Carey is the chancellor of the University of Alaska Southeast.

Low rates, PPP loans drive bank gains for 2020

Homebuyers taking advantage of record low interest rates and businesses utilizing federal disaster funds led to a banner year for Alaska’s banks. The three largest Alaska-based banks all saw increases in annual income and achieved total asset growth greater than 15 percent in 2020. Anchorage-based Northrim led the way with 29 percent year-over-year asset growth to more than $2.1 billion. First National Bank Alaska, the largest Alaska-based institution, surpassed $4 billion in assets and nearly reached $4.7 billion on 23 percent growth. Ketchikan-based First Bank grew by more than 16 percent to $689 million in assets by years-end. Jed Ballard, chief financial officer for Anchorage-based Northrim, said the bank likely had its busiest fourth quarter for mortgages ever. Throughout the year bank officials reported a strong consumer response to sub-3 percent mortgage rates even when the pandemic led long-term plans to be paused in many other aspects of life. “There were just a lot of folks over the past year that upgraded square footage or number of bedrooms — whatever they wanted,” Ballard said in an interview. The Alaska Housing Finance Corp. reported 30-year mortgage rates starting at 2.75 percent March 23. The rate-driven buying spree extended beyond homes to other large items such as cars and recreational vehicles, according to bank leaders. Northrim, which netted $32.9 million for a 59 percent annual income increase, also saw the Small Business Administration ramp up processing of forgiveness applications for the immensely popular Paycheck Protection Program in December, according to Ballard. Best known as PPP, the agency has used it to offer widely forgivable loans to small businesses across the country. That allowed the bank to realize the fee income from the transaction immediately. “When (loans) are forgiven you no longer need to amortize it so you get it all in one fell swoop,” Ballard said. He noted the second round of PPP applications closes March 31 unless Congress extends it. As of March 21, the SBA had approved more than 3.1 million loans totaling $195 billion in this year’s round of PPP funding, leaving roughly $90 billion available. Northrim increased its total loan and lease portfolio 41 percent in 2020 to $1.6 billion. FNBA similarly recorded nearly 10 percent portfolio growth to more than $2.2 billion and First Bank added loans for 14 percent growth to $241 million to end the year, according to the bank’s filings with the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. Wells Fargo Alaska Market Executive Joe Everhart said the national bank’s Alaska portfolio performed “remarkably well” through the economic downturn of last year and continues to. “Wells Fargo and a lot of banks were really proactive with deferrals and loan extensions,” Everhart said, adding that the stimulus funds, such as PPP loans, have helped keep large numbers of small businesses afloat. Northrim leaders still expect to handle a significant amount of applications in the second round of PPP loans even with added restrictions on the funds, according to Ballard. “There’s still a lot of folks out there that need money, but overall it hasn’t been as bad as originally anticipated,” he said. He noted many tourism-centered companies in Southeast will continue to have extremely tight cash flows through much of this year if a second cruise ship season is ultimately called off or drastically reduced. Traditional borrowers largely made their payments in 2020 as well despite the income disruptions brought by business activity restrictions at various times of the year. FNBA experienced a 3.6 percent increase to the value of loans up to 89 days past due to $2.7 million over the year, while Northrim’s past due volume was cut nearly in half to $889,000 and First Bank held no loans up to 89 days past due, according to the FDIC filings. FNBA did have a rough doubling of its loan volume in nonaccrual; however, it was a return to more normal levels at $13.6 million to end the year. Northrim finished 2020 with $11.1 million in nonaccruing loans, a 27 percent decline and First Bank went from nothing to $781,000. Despite the continued strong financial performance and largely improving COVID-19-related metrics, there is still an air of uncertainty among many bank leaders as is evidenced by a 10 percent increase in their loan loss provisions to end the year each by FNBA, Northrim and First Bank. Ballard said he doesn’t believe the mortgage boom is sustainable because relatively few new homes are being built in Alaska, adding that interest rates are bound to rise at some point. He added that the with the profits came long hours for many bank employees throughout 2020; a lot of the work came from handling deferrals early in the year and later processing PPP loans. It was a significant strain on banks’ IT staff as well, Ballard noted, calling the year an “all hands effort.” “The profits are one thing but the actions are something else, so it was a really tough year,” he said. Everhart said it’s too soon to forecast much on whether the commercial real estate market will take the long-term hit many expect following the pandemic. He noted that while many office-based companies are downsizing their footprint as employees choose to work from home permanently, some of Wells Fargo’s clients that require an onsite workforce have had to increase their workspace to provide more space for their employees. He expects visitor-based businesses along the Railbelt to have a better 2021 even if the cruise traffic doesn’t materialize. “The hope is that we see people on railcars and on busses, using hotels and restaurants from the Kenai Peninsula to Anchorage and Fairbanks,” Everhart said. Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected]

SPONSORED: Keep your resume up to date

As a management consultant and small business owner, I work with hundreds of senior level and executive candidates each year. One thing I cannot stress enough is the importance of maintaining an up-to-date resume. Your resume is far more than a tool to get you to your next opportunity. It serves several purposes: you can track your career goals, set new goals, better understand your transferable skills, and prepare to “sell” yourself. This past year has been turbulent for most of us. The unprecedented circumstances leave so many feeling uncertain of the future and less prepared for change. The good news is, at Alaska Executive Search, we have seen no shortage of career opportunities, even for candidates more senior in their career. What we have seen is candidates who are not prepared to jump at a great opportunity. Whether it is because they didn’t anticipate entering a competitive job market or because they have not maintained a current and relative resume. Maintaining your resume is an opportunity to self-audit and compare your experience to your competition’s. This exercise prepares the candidate to speak to their strengths and how their experience can offer any organization a competitive advantage. When a candidate sits down to review their resume against a job posting there is an opportunity to compare your work history and accomplishment to what employers are currently seeking. At Alaska Executive Search, our recruiters review thousands of resumes each year and welcome the opportunity to help job seekers polish up their resume and prepare for interviewing. These experts thrive on putting people to work while satisfying their client’s unique needs. A candidate does not have to go it alone. Many candidates do not realize firms like AES do not charge the candidate for services. Employers look to a firm to find employees because they know recruiters are masterful in uncovering transferable skills and look beyond job descriptions. If a candidate finds themselves unable to navigate the automation of applicant tracking systems, a recruiter can help open doors and serve as the job seekers advocate. Even if you are not seeking employment, it’s a good exercise to review and update your resume. Things are changing fast. More workers are telecommuting, and more businesses are willing to look outside of their community to identify top talent. Maintaining your resume provides you with an opportunity to self-audit. You can easily uncover a gap in your skills or alternatively you can identify where you might have an advantage over other candidates. Furthermore, updating your resume is a great way to look back on the goals you have set. Maybe, like many of us you are hard on yourself, reviewing your resume might provide you with a reason to celebrate your successes. Maybe, it is time to set new goals to further advance your career. Either way, taking the time to understand the job market and how you compete is a necessary exercise to aid in continued growth. Remember, agencies like AES, are happy to help you. These experts talk to hundreds of employers and candidates each month. They can review your skills, help uncover skills you may not have already identified, prepare you for what current employers seek, and act as your champion when your dream job becomes available. Paula Bradison is the president of Alaska Executive Search and Bradison Management Group.

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