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The new 49ers: sifting for gold.

For most of the major Alaskan-owned businesses, it was hard to get excited about 1991: Revenues dipped for many firms, and no outstanding projects or events appeared to liven up a lackluster state economy.

Although last year might not have been outstanding for Alaska business, the gains tended to be larger than the losses, and the New 49ers posted an overall growth of 29 percent. In 1991, total revenues for these companies was a formidable $3.6 billion, a 3 percent increase from 1991 to a total of $3.5 billion. The New 49ers provided employment for 22,769 Alaskans, compared with a work force of 21,108 in 1990.

Still, things could have been better. While there were definitely some bright spots, 24 of the New 49ers posted drops in gross revenues last year. In 1991, 23 showed gains and 2 were unchanged; in contrast, 41 of the 49ers registered gains in 1990.

Gains and losses were not evenly distributed, but seemed to reflect a stagnant economy and a rising population. Grocery suppliers such as Odom Corp., Yukon Express and Port West saw revenues rise (proving again that "people gotta eat"), while many natural resource-based businesses showed only small gains or losses.

Even though several sectors of the state's economy suffered in 1991, exceptions could be found in almost every category. For example, bank revenues were down, reflecting the state's sluggish economy, but First Bancorp of Ketchikan managed a gain. Building and oil service companies also stumbled last year, but Arctic Slope Regional Corp. and Cold Weather Contractors posted increased revenues.

Automobile dealerships struggled in 1991, but Parts Inc., a dealer in NAPA auto parts, posted a gain, perhaps showing that Alaskans were fixing up that old clunker instead of buying a new car. Services such as Plus Fours Inc., which deals in information systems, and General Communications Inc., the telecommunications company, saw rising revenues. Finally, one company, Supreme Alaska Seafoods, founded late in 1990, registered a very respectable $32 million in revenues in its first full business year.

Several companies posed problems for our survey. A dilemma arose when former New 49er Chugach Alaska Corp. changed its accounting system. Previously, the company had posted 1990 revenues of $46.9 million, but the new accounting changed that figure to $5 million and $9.9 million for 1991. We decided we had no choice but to accept the new, lower revenue figures.

Computer problems at Debenham Electric Supply prevented us from getting an official revenue total. However, company president Ray Debenham estimates the 1991 figure to be the same as 1990's $3.7 million; we decided to use that number rather than drop Debenham from our list. Another former New 49er, Ukpeagvik Inupiat Corp., was not able to release its 1991 figures by press time.


To qualify as a New 49er, a business must be operated for profit, headquartered in Alaska and owned -- at least 51 percent -- by Alaska residents. Although the majority of Alaska firms are privately held, publicly-held firms are eligible. State-owned businesses and cooperatives are not.

Gross revenues are usually the total value of goods and services sold. For financial institutions, the figure used includes total interest income, fees and other income. For travel agencies, real estate firms and insurance companies, revenue consists of commissions or fees and other income.

In most cases, the company itself is the source of the data. Although some information is available for financial institutions, some air carriers and many Native corporations, most New 49ers are private corporations that have provided the information themselves.

While these requirements may seem straightforward enough, it seems that every year it is a little more difficult to decide what is an Alaskan business, an Alaska resident or (as mentioned above) what are revenues. For example, after talking to company managers, we decided that Odom Corp. should be considered an Alaskan company, though technically its headquarters is in Seattle.

Our requirements did eliminate such state-sponsored enterprises as the Alaska Railroad Corp. and the Chugach Electric Association. Many other companies familiar to Alaskans -- Alyeska Pipeline, Alascom, Alaska Airlines, Nye Imports and The Anchorage Daily News -- are owned by Outside interests.

Companies use different business calendars; we have asked for information that most reflects the calendar year 1991. As always, we have done everything to make the New 49ers as accurate and as complete as possible. If we have made any errors of commission or omission, please let us know.

It's not easy starting and maintaining a business in the Last Frontier. We publish the New 49ers as a token of our admiration for those who have succeeded and as an inspiration for those who are still trying. Many thanks to all those who helped us bring our readers this latest New 49ers.
COPYRIGHT 1992 Alaska Business Publishing Company, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:top companies in Alaska
Author:Gerhart, Clifford
Publication:Alaska Business Monthly
Date:Oct 1, 1992
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