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Recruiting regional business: Kodiak business managers seek customers among Southwest Alaska neighbors.

Two years ago this fall, 14 Kodiak business people went hop-scotching across the Bristol Bay region and down the Aleutians on what was billed by the Southwest Alaska Municipal Conference as a business opportunity trip. Marideth Sandler, executive director of the non-profit regional development organization known as SWAMC, explains that the objective was for people from Kodiak and the towns they visited to begin talking about doing business together.

Wayne Stevens, executive director of the Kodiak Chamber of Commerce, says the trip was beneficial for Kodiak business people with something to offer and for rural residents looking for goods and services. Among those Kodiak businesses that soon found themselves with clients or new contacts in Sand Point, Dillingham, King Salmon or Dutch Harbor were representatives of City Mortgage and Western Alaska Land Title. "You've got to know the people before you can do business with them," says Stevens.

A second trip in spring of this year almost immediately brought results for Ed Randolph, an insurance agent based in Kodiak. "I made lots and lots of good contacts," says Randolph, who's been working in Kodiak about 10 years. "Pick it and they need it. Anyone who's willing to do just a little bit can establish a business relationship."

The idea of reaching across Shelikof Strait to do business with those in Bristol Bay or along the Aleutians is nothing new, says Randolph, who is past president of the Kodiak chamber and a member of the Alaska State Chamber of Commerce. "We've always talked about trying to make Kodiak more of a regional hub. Over the years we've been trying to pull the various points together."

Adds the Kodiak chamber's Stevens: "We're starting to look beyond the shores of Kodiak Island, looking at the other 20,000 residents in the region that need goods and services. It's thinking beyond those traditional geographical roles." For too long, say Stevens and others, residents in Bristol Bay and Dutch Harbor have relied on Seattle for their goods and services. Alaska businesses hoping to whittle out a niche need to make themselves available to area residents and to work toward changing firmly established business patterns.

Meeting over a cup of coffee with Kodiak business people is an important first step in doing business together, say residents of those communities that were visited. While people in outlying areas learn what goods and services are available, Kodiak residents learn more about the region and the needs of its communities.

Notes Scott Janke, economic development planner for the Bristol Bay Borough, "From discussions I've had, the trip opened tour participants' eyes to what's available out here."

Randolph and others agree that improved transportation between Kodiak and outlying communities is essential if stronger business ties are to develop. People in King Salmon or Sand Point willing to buy supplies and equipment from Kodiak merchants have to be assured of safe and timely delivery. Business people like Randolph have to be able to get to those communities without doubling back to Anchorage between stops.

"Transportation, in my opinion, is going to be the hurdle that's going to have to be overcome," says Randolph. Although a lot can be done over the phone and with a facsimile machine, Randolph says his company prides itself on "being a good neighbor" and so personal contact is important.

For that reason, he plans to focus on developing business ties in King Salmon and Dillingham, communities that are relatively close to Kodiak and are easily accessible by air. Residents in those communities have told Randolph they'd be happy if he could visit a couple of times a year and stay in touch electronically.

Between them, MarkAir and Era Aviation provide 11 daily flights between Kodiak and Anchorage. But no direct commercial air service links Kodiak with Dutch Harbor, for example, says John Chya, manager of the Kodiak State Airport. Peninsula Airways offers scheduled service between communities on the island but not to the mainland.

Freight and cargo also may be shipped on the Alaska State ferry system, on the all-cargo airline Northern Air Cargo or with Sea-Land and other marine transporters. Northern Air Cargo provides daily service, except on Sundays, between Kodiak, Dillingham and King Salmon, with Sea-Land ships making twice-weekly runs between Anchorage, Kodiak and Tacoma. Once a week, a Sea-Land vessel stops in Dutch Harbor.

Limited transportation options have prevented Dick Waddell, owner of Waddell Marine, from pursuing business opportunities in Bristol Bay and beyond. Although he went on SWAMC's 1990 trip, he hasn't been able to discover ways to ship supplies to those communities efficiently.

He agrees with others that expanded transportation services would make it easier for Kodiak to do business in those regions. "I wasn't able to develop any new business, but I could see where Kodiak could become more of a regional hub," says Waddell.

Tim Hurley, president of Western Alaska Land Title, has been doing business -- title work on everything from canneries to homes -- in Dutch Harbor since 1982. While on the 1990 business opportunity tour, he received the distinct impression that, given the choice, residents in Southwest Alaska would prefer to do business with business people in Kodiak than those in Anchorage or Seattle.

Residents of the scattered Southwest communities feel that Anchorage has ignored the market and failed to deliver good service to customers. "I got a feeling from those people down there that they don't want to spend their money in Anchorage," says Hurley.

But he, too, faces obstacles to meeting the Southwest market's needs. Hurley points out that at about $1,000 a trip, he can afford to visit clients in Dutch Harbor only once a year -- less than he'd like.

Stevens and others say that the ties between Kodiak and points farther west are natural, and so it just makes good sense to develop working relationships that benefit those on both sides of Shelikof Strait. "Kodiak residents have a better grasp of doing business in remote areas, working with purchase orders and (allowing customers to) pay after fishing," says Stevens. "It's a process that's begun."
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Author:Hill, Robin Mackey
Publication:Alaska Business Monthly
Date:Aug 1, 1992
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