Econ 919 — How the Kenai Peninsula Works

9:01 a.m. and 5:01 p.m. Fridays
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Econ 919 is a weekly economic report for the Kenai Peninsula from the KDLL News Team.

Through the CARES Act, municipalities are receiving millions of dollars to help recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.

But governments can only use the money for direct costs related to COVID-19, like paying emergency responders or buying protective equipment. In Alaska, the biggest economic hit to local governments has been lost revenue, primarily a drop in sales taxes, which isn't an eligible use of CARES money. Cities and boroughs can’t use most of the money they’re being given.

So, municipalities are coming up with ways to pass CARES Act money on to their communities. The city of Kenai has developed a grant program that is becoming a template for other municipalities in the state.

The Kenai City Council approved the program at its meeting June 3.

To require 14 days of quarantine or not to require 14 days of quarantine — that is the question state officials might answer today. While many of the state’s COVID-19 health mandates have been rolled back as Alaska re-opens for business, the mandate requiring arrivals to the state to self-isolate for two weeks is in effect until June 2. That requirement is particularly challenging for Alaska’s tourism industry.

Gov. Mike Dunleavy in a virtual town hall Thursday, said state officials are trying to balance public health with easing impacts to the economy.

“We’re working on some protocols to be able to try to have some outside folks come to Alaska to help with the very business that we’re talking about today that are seasonal, that are tourist-related, fishing-related, etc. We’re going to do our best to this thread this needle where we keep Alaskans safe but also try to get our economy back up off its knees,” Dunleavy said.


Now that the Alaska Legislature and governor have come to an agreement about how federal COVID-19 relief funds will be distributed on the Kenai Peninsula, the final details are being worked out to get that money passed through to communities.

Just under $290 million will be made available to small businesses and certain nonprofit organizations through Alaska CARES grants. The Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority will be the umbrella organization overseeing the grant program and Credit Union One was selected to be the financial institution processing applications and making payments. 

The Kenai Peninsula Economic Development District is tasked with public outreach about how the program will work.

“I know folks have been kind of frustrated over the last couple of months about what was going on and when moneies will become available,” said Tim Dillon, executive director of KPEDD. “For the $290 million that will be out there for small business relief, that is statewide and it’s all in grants. There’s no loan with the potential of it being a grant, it is a straight grant right from the beginning. So we’ve been working through the polices and procedures. And everybody had their ideas on what they thought should happen. And the bottom line was there was a variety of us that said, 'We need to get money and we need to get it to our small businesses and we've got to get it to them ASAP without nine million strings attached to it.'”

Phase II of the state of Alaska's plan to scale back COVID-19 restrictions goes into effect today. If you want to go out and have a beer to celebrate or watch a movie at a theater, that is now allowed.

Not all businesses are choosing to participate but there are some new options on the central Kenai Peninsula.

Bars are allowed to open to 25 percent capacity. The Vagabond Inn on K-Beach Road plans to be open until 11 p.m. or midnight, depending on patronage.

"Even though the bar was closed, we had a lot of people call and come up and try to patronize, (want to) come in and have a drink. I don't know if they weren't aware of the situation or not. But a lot of people would like to get back in here. And I think it's just the social aspect, people are missing that," said owner George Bowen.

Bowen is excited to get the bar back open and bring his staff back to work. The Vagabond includes a liquor store, which stayed open during the shutdown, but Bowen says sales have been down about 70 percent.

The city of Kenai is contemplating ways to help residents and businesses through the economic hardships caused by the coronavirus pandemic. At a council meeting Wednesday, city manager Paul Ostrander said he heard about a town in Oregon that is trying to boost businesses by rewarding people for shopping. 

“It would encourage people to go out and shop locally but also provide some benefit to our residents that are members of our utility,” Ostrander said.

The idea is for any city resident who spends $25 at a local business to get a $15 credit toward their city utility bill. Turn your receipts into the city and get up to a $75 credit for spending $125.

Businesses across the country are suffering the financial effects of the coronavirus pandemic but businesses on the Kenai Peninsula are dealing with a couple of extra doses of insult to injury.

Timing of the economic shutdown could not be worse for fishing, lodging and other tourism-season businesses. On top of that, businesses from Cooper Landing through the western peninsula already took a hit last year from disruptions due to the Swan Like Fire.

Cliff Cochran, director of the Kenai Peninsula Small Business Development Center, on K-Beach Road, says he’s been getting a lot of anxious calls from businesses wanting some sort of crystal ball. He says the best research he’s seen shows it takes six to eight months following a pandemic for travel and spending to return to normal. That’s not an answer any seasonal business wants to hear.

“Folks I’ve talked to the number of cancelations they’ve received is just astronomical. Obviously, we need the revenues from June, July and August to make it through September to May this winter. So if this summer is gone, it impacts not just the next six months but the next 15,” Cochran said.

Alaska businesses and workers struggling with impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic might soon have help on the horizon. Gov. Mike Dunleavy announced Thursday a variety of efforts to help support Alaska’s economy and workers.

“This is a government-induced situation because of the health issue and we believe that government needs to be involved in this particular case. This is not something that occurred because it was a bad business deal or one sector was not doing well. This is widespread across all sectors and, so, we are going to do everything we can to stabilize the economy,” Dunleavy said.

A bill overhauling Alaska’s alcohol laws made it to the halfway point in the Legislature on Wednesday. Senate Bill 52, sponsored by Kenai Peninsula Sen. Peter Micciche, was voted out of the Senate and sent over to the House.

Micciche calls it a grand compromise hashed out by the factions that have been at odds over the state’s existing alcohol regulations.

“This bill a true compromise. All stakeholders got something but no stakeholder group got everything,” Micciche said. “The bill modernizes the reorganizes the 35-year old hodgepodge of alcohol statutes in Alaska into a comprehensive, reorganized Title 4 Rewrite. The primary focus is on public health and safety. It provides clarity for licensees, local governments, law enforcement and the public and will result in a common-sense, consistent and less unnecessarily burdensome regulation of the alcohol beverage industry.”

In March, Alaskans can expect to find a census questionnaire in the mail. It takes 10 minutes to fill out and is only done once every 10 years.

The consequences for an individual of not completing and returning their census are, really, pretty minimal. The worst that will happen is you’ll get reminders in the mail and a census worker might — politely — end up at your door.

But the consequences for state and local governments of not getting an accurate count could be costly.

Much of the federal funding that is distributed to states is divvied up based on population.

“It does matter to Alaska’s economy — $3.2 billion of annual federal funding allocation is determined by our census data. The federal funding comes into over 70 local programs in Alaska,” said Jenny Carroll, with the city of Homer, who is part of a Complete Count Committee for the Kenai Peninsula Borough to help facilitate the 2020 census.

Where there are masses of fish, there’s likely to be masses of people. And where there are masses of people, there are likely businesses attempting to make some money.

That’s the case with the Kenai personal-use, dip-net fishery. All sorts of businesses have sprouted up along the mouth of the Kenai River, trying to net revenue off the fishermen trying to net fish.

One of those types of businesses came under fire at the Alaska Board of Fisheries this week. The board is meeting in Anchorage to review Upper Cook Inlet fishery proposals through next Wednesday. On Thursday, they voted on a proposal that would ban a relatively new practice — guiding for dip-netters.

Glen Trombley, of Chugiak, owns Expeditions North LLC guiding service. During July, when the reds are running, he runs the Dip Ship in the mouth of the Kenai River, taking dip-netters out to get their personal-use sockeye.

“Some, for whatever reason, cannot physically access this particular fishery without some type of assistance. Not to mention families with small children that would normally not be able to participate from shore due to safety issues,” Trombley said.

This is Econ 919, your weekly look at how the Kenai Peninsula works. I’m Jenny Neyman.

As Alaska’s economy worsened and state and local governments ratcheted back spending, one of the first things to go by the wayside was money for facility replacements and improvements. Deferred maintenance has been the order of the day, but that day is catching up to the Kenai Peninsula Borough and school district.

The borough assembly and school board met in a joint session Tuesday to talk about a $30 million bond proposal they plan to put to voters this fall. 

“As you well know, the days of sending in our top 10 capital priorities request through our Legislature through Juneau is probably a thing of the past,” said Borough Mayor Charlie Pierce.

When you think of economic drivers on the Kenai Peninsula, the manufacturing sector probably doesn’t jump first to mind. But it’s a broader category than you might think and has been holding steady even while other areas of the economy saw a downturn.

Alyssa Rodrigues is the director of Alaska’s Manufacturing Extension Partnership. She gave a presentation at the Kenai Peninsula Industry Outlook Forum held in Seward earlier this month.

She said that manufacturing in Alaska held its own during the recent recession.

Econ 919: Kenai coming to grips with dipnet fishery

Dec 27, 2019

This week, as we shiver in the sub-zero glow of Christmas tree lights, we cast our minds back to the warm summer that was, and talk about dip netting for salmon.
    This summer participation increased significantly over the past two years, according to city of Kenai figures, as sockeye salmon returned in numbers not seen for 13 years. KDLL spoke with Kenai City Manager Paul Ostrander about the fishery.

Econ 919: The people who make Soldotna thrive

Dec 13, 2019

In any thriving city you’re going to find a thriving Chamber of Commerce. They’re a community’s head booster, a cheerleader for local business, and they’re always good for a parade when the time seems right.
    On Wednesday, the Soldotna Chamber recognized the individuals and businesses in town who keep both the city and chamber thriving, with its annual community awards.
    It’s impossible to fit all the honorees into five minutes from a ceremony that took over an hour, so we gathered a few highlights. The complete is list below.

Starting your own business involves taking big risks but has the potential for big rewards. The trick is finding the balance — between research and taking the leap, spending money to make money, giving it your all and keeping some time for yourself to keep your sanity.

As part of Kenai-Soldotna Business Startup Week, the Kenai and Soldotna chamber of commerce held a business owners forum Nov. 20 for established entrepreneurs to share the lessons they learned to make the path a little easier for someone just starting out.

We’ve discussed non-profit organizations on the show before, and how important they are for filling in the gaps left in society. Last week Kenai Watershed Forum Executive Director Brandon Bornemann gave an excellent “elevator speech” about non-profits to the Soldotna City Council, which was well worth the listen.

ECON 919 - Cutting regulations to court investment

Oct 18, 2019


This week, Governor Mike Dunleavy was in Homer Thursday to speak to the Alaska Homebuilders Association. His talk highlighted not just what he sees as Alaska’s best economic opportunities, but also the hurdles in accessing some of those opportunities. But the big question, he said, is about politics.



Econ 919: Kenai Kombucha Taproom opening

Oct 11, 2019

This week on Econ 919: kombucha. No, not that scary thing your friend's wife has steeping in a jar above the refrigerator, but commercially brewed kombucha, a fermented, but non alcoholic, sparkling tea.
    The popular acceptance of the refreshing drink has seen it to go from home-brew oddity to store shelves in the last couple of decades. And now it’s coming to the Central Peninsula’s first kombucha tap room, which is opening tomorrow in downtown Kenai.

Econ 919: 'Job Fair' for entrepreneurs

Sep 13, 2019

On Wednesday, representatives from the U.S. Small Business Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture will be in Kenai with Rural Strong Alaska, something akin to a job fair for small business owners and aspiring entrepreneurs.

And, emergency repair funds will start flowing to the Peninsula as the result of floods last October and the earthquake last November.

Econ 919 - Soldotna aims to increase city size

Sep 6, 2019

On this week's Econ 919, we visit with Soldotna City Manager Stephanie Queen about the city's proposal to expand its boundaries by about 3.8 square miles through annexation.

Correction: The annexation public hearing is being held at 2 p.m. Sept. 7 at the Soldotna High School auditorium.

Information on Soldotna's annexation petition can be found on the city's website.

When you think of the value of farmers markets, what likely comes to mind is fresh, local produce, where you can meet the people who grew it just down the road from where it’s sold.

And, sure, it’s commerce, so there’s money involved. But shoppers might not be thinking about everything they’re supporting when they buy that zucchini or jar of jam.

In honor of Aug. 4 through 10 being national Farmers Market Week, let’s take a look at the economics of farmers markets.

Econ 919: Pebble Prospect looking up

Aug 13, 2019

    Last week the Pebble Limited Partnership’s plan to mine for gold and copper across Cook Inlet was given a boost when the Environmental Protection Agency dropped its proposal for a preemptive veto of the project, a policy begun under the Obama Administration.

Econ 919: A spark of hope for Pebble Mine backers

Aug 8, 2019

Last week the Pebble Limited Partnership’s plan to mine for gold and copper across Cook Inlet was given a boost when the Environmental Protection Agency dropped its proposal for a preemptive veto of the project, a policy begun under the Obama Administration.

ECON 919 - A changing Cook Inlet natural gas market

Aug 2, 2019


The latest LNG project proposed on the Kenai is the Kenai Cool Down Project. It’s currently going through the federal review process and a public comment period is now open for the environmental review.




Econ 919: The Swan Lake Fire by the numbers

Jul 11, 2019

This week, we look at the numbers surrounding the Swan Lake Fire that’s been burning northeast of Sterling for over six weeks now.

ECON 919 - Peninsula Tourism

Jul 3, 2019


If you hadn’t noticed, they’re here. And with the Kenai river dipnet fishery set to open next week, the flow of tourists through the central peninsula  will get a lot bigger.



Econ 919: Salmon waste to fertilizer

Jul 1, 2019

The Kenai City Council recently approved a conditional use permit to allow Alaska Salmon Fertilizer of Anchorage to set up a fish-cleaning station on the North Shore Beach during next month’s personal use dipnet salmon season.
Ryan Bacon is one partner in the endeavor. He says he and business partner Taylor Evenson started Alaska Salmon Fertilizer to address the waste of salmon carcasses, which too often remain to litter the beach.
Bacon says the process to turn fish guts into concentrated liquid fertilizer is, surprisingly, not that … odoriferous.

The owners of the former Agrium fertilizer plant in Nikiski could be close to deciding whether to restart the facility. But first, beer.

  Saturday, the Central Peninsula chapter of the American Cancer Society holds its biggest fundraiser of the year, the Relay for Life. It’s something they’ve done for most of the decade, but there is a change this year: The course will be laid out at Soldotna Creek Park, and be more of a path than an oval track.

KDLL spoke with three members of the local chapter — all volunteers — during last week’s KDLL spring fundraiser. First we’ll hear from Alana Martin, and then Laura Niemczyk and Joe Yourkowski.

ECON 919 - The borough's own permanent fund

May 24, 2019


This week: the borough’s land trust fund. It was a bit of a political football last year. Sitting with around $7.5 million, there was some interest in using that account to fund education or balance the borough budget or both. Those efforts from borough administration failed to get past the assembly.