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Lisa Haas: woman entrepreneur & environmental consultant.

Lisa Haas, president and chief executive officer of an Anchorage-based environmental consulting and resource management firm, knew early in her career what she wanted. The trained wildlife biologist and former investigator for the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency wanted to concentrate on environmental issues, and she wanted to build her own company from which to do it. The Anchorage company, which she formed in 1987 with partner Glenn Akins, would provide Alaska businesses with environmental services of an Alaskan company.

The partners' initial total investment was about $10,000. Today America North Inc. has more than 60 employees and operates additional offices in Fairbanks and Juneau. In 1990, the firm generated gross receipts of $18 million, with net revenues of $7.4 million.

In May of last year, Haas and Akins sold America North. The company became a wholly-owned subsidiary of Emcon Associates of California, which provides comprehensive engineering and consulting services in waste management and environmental protection.

Haas, 33, says it's not unusual to find women in project management positions with environmental firms, a development she attributes to several things. First, as a fairly new field, environmental services rely on people with a variety of educational and work experiences. Women have been accepted in the sciences for some time, and women also tend to bring good communication skills to the environmental field. That's important because much of what firms such as America North do is coordinate the efforts of several professionals to get a project done.

"I think it's a fairly woman-friendly business," says Haas, who worked for Anchorage's Dowl Engineers before starting the business with Akins. "I do see a number of women who are stars."

America North offers an array of services, including environmental permitting, site investigation and remediation, database management, and working with businesses on health and safety issues. The company also has a public training center and offers instruction on health and safety, hazardous waste handling and emergency response.

America North opened when the Anchorage economy was less than healthy, but work for Exxon after the 1989 oil spill helped speed the young firm's growth. A variety of studies were done for the oil giant, including tests of sediment and water quality, beach cleaning techniques and the taking of soil samples.

Robert Whisenhunt, director of business operations for Barrow's Ukpeagvik Inupiat Corp., says Haas' ability to land such a large contract was impressive, especially for such a young firm. "The fact that they chose her says a great deal about her and her firm," says Whisenhunt. "She's pretty exceptional."

Doug Davis, a partner in the Anchorage-based law firm of Bradbury, Bliss and Riordan, agrees: "Lisa definitely has both feet on the ground." A major portion of the law firm's work involves maritime accidents and America North serves as Bradbury's sole consultant on the environmental issues that often accompany such cases. "We want the best, our clients want the best, so we call Lisa," says Davis.

Both men developed a working relationship with Haas while she was still with Dowl Engineers. Her response to a small fuel spill impressed Whisenhunt enough that he decided to go to her when Barrow's village corporation sought to purchase a former naval scientific station. The 130-building, 7,500-acre site is now a multi-use complex housing a North Slope wildlife department, scientists, gas field facilities, a construction company and other operations.

Whisenhunt describes Haas' role in the complex discussions as "very instrumental." One of her greatest strengths, he adds, is an ability not to be bogged down by technicalities.

"What I like about her company and about Lisa is that she deals with the problem in a common-sense manner, as well as having the technical and scientific expertise. ... She has a very good grasp. She can put the technical into perspective," he says.

Haas expects America North to continue to do a great deal of work involving wetlands. Such projects include helping identify and map wetland areas and assisting developers in mitigating the impact future projects might have on such areas. Damage to wetlands can be reduced by designing projects around protected areas or by actually building new wetland habitats, says Haas.

Solid waste management, including designing and permitting of landfills, monitoring groundwater quality and helping businesses comply with complex and ever-changing government health and safety issues, will keep environmental consultants busy, says Haas. Further, mining operations will increase substantially in the next few years, thereby creating a need for more environmental work.

"I've seen a big change since I moved here six years ago in terms of awareness," says Haas. She explains that people have become concerned about protecting themselves, their workplaces and their environment.

"When I first got here I felt Alaska was behind other states in terms of awareness," Haas adds. Now she sees little difference between Alaska and the rest of the United States.

Haas believes the Alaska business environment looks healthy and so expects America North to experience steady growth. "In general, the state is small-business friendly," says Haas.

She notes that she and Akins still scratch their heads and wonder if they've succeeded. "We still look at each other and say, 'Did we make it?'"
COPYRIGHT 1991 Alaska Business Publishing Company, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
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Author:Hill, Robin Mackey
Publication:Alaska Business Monthly
Article Type:company profile
Date:Aug 1, 1991
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