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Top Business Stories of 2017


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Alaskans gather around and applaud US Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke after he signs a secretarial order directing Interior agencies to review management and leasing of the North Slope NPR-A and to conduct a new oil and gas assessment of the coastal plain of the Arctic Wildlife Refuge coastal plain.

Photo by ABM Staff

Despite significant challenges, many of Alaska’s businesses, associations, nonprofits, and other economic drivers—from colossal industry players to one-employee entrepreneurial operations—kept a steady keel as they navigated tough terrain in 2017. Alaska Business has pulled together a few news highlights from 2017 in celebration of the drive, innovation, longevity, and commitment each of these operations.
 

Alaska LNG

In November Alaska Governor Bill Walker signed the five-party joint development agreement for the Alaska liquefied natural gas (Alaska LNG) project. This historic signing is the most significant step toward finally monetizing Alaska’s vast resources of natural gas. President Donald Trump and President Xi Jinping were present for the signing ceremony at the Great Hall of the People, underscoring the international importance of the agreement.
 

Chugach | ML&P | MEA

Three of Alaska’s Railbelt electric utilities signed an agreement to collectively utilize their generation and transmission assets to benefit tens of thousands of customers. The Power Pooling and Joint Dispatch Agreement, signed by Chugach Electric Association, Municipal Light & Power, the Municipality of Anchorage, and Matanuska Electric Association, was filed with the Regulatory Commission of Alaska.
 

Vigor | Maritime Works

Vigor and Maritime Works jointly announced an innovative training program aimed at developing an advanced manufacturing workforce comprised of Alaska residents. Advancing Alaskan Workers is essential to combatting the high turnover rates seen at the Ketchikan shipyard and elsewhere that result when non-Alaskans are recruited to fill critical skills gaps in state, the companies say. The Advancing Alaskan Workers project offers structured on-the-job training, leading to industry-recognized credentials, and family wage careers.
 

Chugach Alaska Corporation

Chugach Alaska Corporation sold its Bering River coal rights to New Forests, a sustainable forestry and conservation investment manager. New Forests will retire those rights by transferring them to The Nature Conservancy and the local Native Conservancy land trust, while generating revenue through the California cap-and-trade carbon market.
 

Ahtna

Ahtna concluded operations on the Tolsona No. 1 gas exploration well after completion of the initial flow testing. All personnel, equipment, and materials were successfully demobilized from the drilling site, the well was suspended and all that remains is the well head. The well data will be fully evaluated over the next several months.
 

Repsol | Armstrong 

Repsol and partner Armstrong Energy made the largest US onshore conventional hydrocarbons discovery in Alaska in thirty years. The Horseshoe-1 and -1A wells drilled during the 2016-2017 winter campaign confirm the Nanushuk play as a significant emerging play in Alaska’s North Slope. The contingent resources identified with the existing data in Repsol and Armstrong Energy’s blocks in the Nanushuk play in Alaska could amount to approximately 1.2 billion barrels of recoverable light oil.
 

Arctic Slope Telephone Association Cooperative

Arctic Slope Telephone Association Cooperative turned up 4G service in Kaktovik in 2017, finishing the conversion in all eight of the villages it serves as well as expansive Prudhoe Bay coverage. The conversion from 2G to 4G, in collaboration with AT&T, brought the first HSPA+ high-speed data service to the region. The new service extends miles out to sea and onto the tundra. 
 

Alaska Aces

The ownership group of the Alaska Aces professional hockey organization ceased operations after fifteen seasons and three Kelly Cup championships. Aces management said as a result of the economic downturn, sponsorships were down $600,000, season ticket sales were down $262,000, and attendance was down about 1,500 spectators per game from just a couple of seasons ago. The organization has lost more money in its final season than in the past two seasons combined and the team expected the downward trend to continue. 
 

Chukchi Sea OCS

President Donald Trump signed an order reopening the Chukchi Sea OCS and portions of the Beaufort Sea for potential exploration. The prior administration withdrew the entire Chukchi OCS and the vast majority of the Beaufort OCS from the Department of Interior’s 2016 Five-Year Offshore Leasing Plan. 
 

Eni

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management conditionally approved a Beaufort Sea exploration plan it received from Eni US Operating Co. In its plan, Eni describes its intent to drill four exploration wells into the federal submerged lands of the Beaufort Sea from its Spy Island Drillsite, a pre-existing facility located in Alaska state waters. Drilling will be conducted during the winter months only and is scheduled to begin in this month.
 

GCI

GCI made significant advances developing statewide infrastructure, including a new wireless tower near Coldfoot, which brought the first voice and high-speed data service to Dalton Highway traffic. 
GCI also celebrated the completion of the heavy construction phase of the Terrestrial for Every Rural Region (TERRA) high speed Internet project in 2017. TERRA is a massive Alaska infrastructure project that connects eighty-four rural communities to modern technology with high-speed terrestrial broadband.
 

PenAir

PenAir filed for Chapter 11 reorganization with the State of Alaska. “The steps we are taking today will allow PenAir to emerge as a stronger airline while continuing our focus on safe operations,” said PenAir CEO and Chairman Danny Seybert. “We will be working with a restructuring officer to present a reorganization plan that will allow the management team to focus on our employees, safe operations, retiring debt, and taking care of our customers.”
 

Office of the Governor

Governor Bill Walker signed into law Senate Bill 30, which is expected to generate between $22 million and $27 million in revenue to the state. The legislation, which the governor introduced, approves a four-year contract in which the State of Alaska will sell royalty oil to Petro Star Inc. 
 

Foss

The final of three state-of-the-art Arctic Class tugs, the Nicole Foss, was christened in June at the Foss Waterway Seaport in Tacoma, Washington. The NICOLE is designed to operate in the extreme conditions of the far north, and entered service in the summer of 2017. The first of the three Arctic tugs, the Michele Foss, debuted in 2015 and in her first year of operation led the way in safely pioneering a new route across the North Slope. 
 

Lyft and Uber

Governor Bill Walker signed a bill into law allowing ridesharing companies such as Lyft and Uber to operate in Alaska. Under HB132, drivers working for ridesharing companies are labeled as independent contractors and must be insured. HB132 passed the Alaska State Legislature in 2017 with strong bipartisan support. 
 

NOVAGOLD

NOVAGOLD and its partner Barrick Gold Corporation announced that Donlin Gold LLC, the co-owned operating company advancing the Donlin Gold project in Alaska, approved a drill program designed to further optimize the project. The partners approved an $8 million budget for a drill program that collected geologic and geotechnical data in 2017.
 

Tesoro | Petro Star

Tesoro Alaska Petroleum Company entered a purchase and sale agreement that transferred ownership of Tesoro’s Terminal 1 at the Port of Anchorage to Petro Star Inc. The State of Alaska required the sale of Terminal 1 in order to preserve competition in Alaska’s fuel market. The state imposed the requirement as part of a consent decree between Alaska and Tesoro when Tesoro sought to purchase most of Flint Hill’s fuel storage assets in Anchorage and Fairbanks. 
 

Pebble Partnership

The Pebble Limited Partnership announced an agreement to resolve the long-standing preemptive actions by the US Environmental Protection Agency against the project. The resolution effectively ended the litigation and established a clear path for the Pebble Project to initiate permitting under the Clean Water Act and the National Environmental Policy Act. 
 

AOGA

At the second AOGA Annual Conference, US Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke delivered the keynote address during which he signed a secretarial order directing Interior agencies to review management and leasing of the North Slope NPR-A and to conduct a new oil and gas assessment of the coastal plain of the Arctic Wildlife Refuge coastal plain. 
 

Cash Tax Credits

The state will stop offering cash tax credits to oil companies at the end of 2017, following a Senate vote in May. HB111 eliminates the state’s cash exposure by ending the program of refundable oil and gas tax credits while protecting the basic components of the tax regime in place today. The current tax regime boosted production and investment, drawing royalties and tax revenues to Alaska’s treasury and supplying thousands of jobs to Alaska workers.
 

ConocoPhillips

ConocoPhillips announced plans in January to sell its Kenai LNGplant. The plant, which processes gas from Cook Inlet, includes a dock and loading facility to transport LNG. For fifty years the Kenai LNG plant was the only export facility of domestic LNG in North America. Though still functional, the plant has not exported gas since 2015 due to market conditions. Unable to find a suitable buyer, the company plans to scale back and potentially shut down the plant. 
 

Mergers/Acquisitions

Mergers and acquisitions are ongoing among the companies that operate in the Last Frontier; Alaska Business has compiled some of the notable mergers and acquisitions from 2017. 
 
  • Chugach Alaska Corporation acquired Rex Electric and Technologies
  • Northern Lights Media, operator of Anchorage-based KTUU-TV and Channel 2 News, acquired local NBC (KTVF), CBS (KXD), and Fox (KFXF) television affiliates.
  • Idaho-based Kendall Auto Group bought Cal Worthington Ford and Lincoln of Anchorage and Mercedes Benz of Anchorage.
  • Alaska USA Insurance Brokers sold its commercial insurance and employee benefits books of business to ACRISURE. 
  • Alaska Air Group Inc. acquired Virgin America.
  • Delta Leasing purchased substantial North Slope assets from MagTec Alaska.
  • Hub International Limited acquired the assets of Denali Alaskan Insurance, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Denali Federal Credit Union.
  • SouthEast Alaska Regional Health Consortium merged services with Alaska Island Community Services. 
  • Bristol Bay Industrial purchased Alaska Directional. 
  • GCI and Liberty Interactive Corporation merged certain assets and liabilities to form GCI Liberty.
  • Tesoro acquired Western Refining and changed its name to Andeavor.
  • Avitus Group merged with The Growth Company .
  • Northrim Benefits Group sold substantially all of its assets to Michigan-based Acrisure.
  • Solitario Exploration & Royalty Corporation acquired Zazu Metals Corporation.
  • Jacobs Engineering Group Inc. acquired CH2M HILL. 
 

New Businesses/Locations

Throughout Alaska, new businesses have been founded, new-to-Alaska franchises have been established, and new locations and branches of existing companies have been built. 
 
  • Alaska Regional Hospital opened a clinic, the Alaska Regional Community Health Clinic, at 3701 Mountain View Drive in Anchorage. 
  • New company EVENT! Alaska, a professional meeting and event planning company, opened at 110 Seward Street in Juneau.  
  • Orangetheory Fitness, a personal training, interval fitness franchise, opened its first studio at 
  • The new Clare Swan Early Head Start Center opened in Anchorage at 800 Northway Drive. It provides eligible Alaska Native and American Indian families a safe and supportive learning environment for children six weeks to three years of age.
  • Brooke Sandoval-Banker launched FIRM 49, a digital marketing firm, in Anchorage.
  • The Anchorage School Board established the Anchorage School District’s first STEM elementary school at Campbell Elementary.
  • Global Diving & Salvage added a new office in Juneau at 13395 Glacier Highway. 
  • Hyatt House Anchorage opened the first Hyatt Hotel in Alaska, located at 5141 Business Park Boulevard.
  • The Surgery Center of Wasilla opened on the rapidly expanding Meridian Park Medical Campus at 3190 E. Meridian Park Loop in Wasilla. 
  • The Salvation Army, established a new 24,000-square-foot Family Store in Eagle River at 12001 Business Boulevard Unit 3. 
  • RIVR, a new online radio station, launched in Alaska providing 24 hours of daily streaming content. 
  • A Subway restaurant opened in Utia─ívik at 1611 Okpik Street.  
  • Southside Garden Supply, owned by locals Rob and Julie Martin, opened a new superstore in Anchorage at 2809 Arctic Boulevard. 
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