It takes a good idea, the right market and a lot of research, planning and preparation to get a new business off the ground.

Ready cash doesn’t hurt, either.

If you’ve got the first part, the Soldotna Chamber of Commerce has the second in its Spark Soldotna competition.

It’s patterned off the “Shark Tank” TV show, where entrepreneurs submit a business pitch for a panel of sharks — experienced businesspeople — to review. Five finalists are selected to pitch their ideas to a live audience, and one will win $4,000.


Every few years, the Kenai Peninsula Economic Development District steps back and builds a comprehensive economic development strategy, or CEDS — a document of plans and priorities the federal government encourages organizations to have before it distributes funds like coronavirus relief.

Tim Dillon is executive director of the district. He said KPEDD submitted and received approval on its new 2021-2026 CEDS this summer.

Lemonade Day fills streets with sweet treats

Jun 28, 2021
Elizabeth Earl / KDLL

If you looked around the central Kenai Peninsula on Saturday, you might have felt heavy pressure to buy a glass of lemonade. Dozens of entrepreneurs were trying their hands at all kinds of advertising, from sign-spinning to price undercutting, on the streets of Kenai and Soldotna.

Photo: Sabine Poux/KDLL

There have been a lot of “help wanted” signs in store windows this spring. The Kenai Peninsula, like the rest of the country, is facing a worker shortage, with too many job openings and not enough applicants.

It’s impacted Shelly Endsley, who owns the Orca Theater on Kalifornsky Beach Road. 

It was a turbulent year for business owners on the Kenai Peninsula, trying to survive the ecnomic impacts of the coronavirus pandemic. What strategies and programs were helpful? What not so much? Brittany Brown, Shanon Davis and Tim Dillon, the executive directors of the Kenai and Soldotna chambers of commerce and Kenai Peninsula Economic Development District, take a look back and peer into their crystal ball for the year to come.

Welcome Growler Bay Brewing, in Valdez, to the Alaska craft beer family. Plus, interviews with Barnaby Brewing Co. in Juneau and Double Shovel Cider Co. in Anchorage and a return to the simple pleasure (but not-so-simple to brew) pilsner. Cheers to surviving 2020!

Kenai River Brewing Co.

Pumpkin beer has come a long way since its roots in colonial America. Learn its history on this month's Drinking on the Last Frontier. Plus, Bill visits with Odd Man Rush Brewing in Eagle River, Bleeding Heart Brewery in Palmer and Kodiak Island Brewing Co. Cheers!

Grace Ridge Brewing

Tour the craft beer scene in Alaska as Bill checks in with Grace Ridge Brewing in Homer, Valdez Brewing Co. and the new Lat 65 Bewing Co. in Fairbanks.

Jenny Neyman/KDLL

A year and a half ago, Rhonda McCormick localized a nationwide effort to support shopping and eating at locally owned businesses. The Soldotna Cash Mob was born.

Once a month, she invited any interested participants to eat at a designated restaurant at a designated time, then, as a group, go shop at a selected store. But since March, the “mob” mentality needed to change.

“Well, when COVID came and we went into lockdown, that kind of changed things a little bit and someone asked me if we were going to do a takeout version,” McCormick said. “And I was like, ‘Well, that’s a great idea.' So I set that up and then I thought, 'Well, we might as well do shopping that way, too.'”

Alaska CARES grants have been slow to get to the businesses and organizations struggling with the economic impacts of the coronavirus pandemic.

Legal issues have been dismissed, processing problems are being addressed and on Thursday, Gov. Mike Dunleavy proposed modifications to expand eligibility.

The city of Kenai has rolled out another way to boost businesses through the economic impacts of the coronavirus pandemic. It’s now taking applications for grants to help with online marketing and e-commerce.

“As they look to recover, marketing is going to be a key element to bringing folks into the door or growing their business, so we felt that this was something that folks probably were going to need and this was, we felt, an innovative way to get money out into the community for that specific purpose, said City Manager Paul Ostrander.

The marketing grants are $1,000 for businesses located in the city that have experienced a loss of sales or changes in their operations due to the pandemic.

The money can be spent to build or redesign websites, develop systems for online sales, expand social media marketing, improve search engine optimization or anything along those lines.

The money can’t be spent just anywhere, though. Businesses must work with Divining Point, LLC, which provides website and online marketing services in Alaska and Texas. Divining Point had a contract to update the city’s logo and marketing. Ostrander said the city issued a request for proposals for a company to do the marketing work for the grant program and Divining Point was the only proposal received.

Businesses can develop their own scope of work with Divining Point. Once the $1,000 grant is spent, they can choose to pay for additional work, or not. Applications are due Nov. 6 and the money must be spent by the end of the year.

On this month's Drinking on the Last Frontier, Bill talks to Erik Slater, of Seward Brewing Co., and delves into what makes British beer worth a slow pour.

Elizabeth Earl

This year has been a rough one for tourism businesses everywhere, but especially in Alaska.

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, very few out of state visitors are coming. Alaska relies heavily on them for its summer tourism season. There are only about 731,000 of us, while more than two million out of state tourists arrive every year, the majority of them by cruise ships. But without them, regions of the state are lobbying for those in-state tourists to come and salvage some of the season.   

Kenai River Brewing

Doug Hogue with Kenai River Brewing joins Bill for a live Drinking on the Last Frontier as past of KDLL's 2020 Spring Membership Drive. Your questions, their answers and the debut of the Champski.

It’s going to be a little less fashionable for women on the central peninsula, with a much-loved clothing design businesses leaving town. After 14 years creating colorful, cozy hoodies, pullovers, pants, skirts and more in Soldotna, Susanna Evins is buttoning up Mountain Mama Originals and selling off her fabric, trim — even her signature chunky buttons.

Her family is moving back to Montana. The move isn’t completely COVID-19 related but the pandemic has been an impetus to embrace life as it comes.

“I think that’s kind of what I’ve heard with a lot of people in the last few months. They’re kind of readjusting and figuring out, ‘OK, this means the most to me, so I if want this, then I need to make it happen,’” Evins said. “Yeah, family does (matter). And that’s where it comes down to is I want a better balance. And not even just family, I want to have time to learn other things besides just hustling and bustling, doing the same thing.”

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.

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.

St. Elias Brewing

Breweries are being crafty to survive the economic impacts of the coronavirus pandemic — St. Elias took the shutdown as a chance to remodel, Baleen Brewing in Ketchikan is rethinking its expansion timeline and Magnetic North Brewingin Anchorage is focusing on homebrew. Listen to this month's Drinking on the Last Frontier to find out more.

The Kenai Peninsula Economic Development District is collecting follow-up information to identify the economic impact of COVID-19 on businesses in the borough. This peninsula-wide, confidential survey is live until 7 p.m. Friday, May 1. The overall data will be used to identify the needs of the region to the state and federal governments. An identical version of the survey was conducted last month. This one wants to see how things have changed. Businesses and organizations large and small, in all sectors are welcome to take this survey, even if they didn’t take the first one.

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.

Redoubt Reporter file photo

The COVID-19 pandemic will not prevent Alaskans from fishing this summer. 

But, residents are being asked to take precautions to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

“We’re not closing anything. Every fishery out there is going to run as they would normally,” said Rick Green, special assistant to the commissioner of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

On April 13, Fish and Game released guidelines aimed at allowing Alaskans to participate in sport and personal-use fisheries, while following state health mandates. 

“We came up with the guidelines of how, basically, you can get through a community without interacting with the locals to stave off any possibility of spreading of COVID,” Green said.

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.

The city of Soldotna is contemplating ways to help its businesses and residents get through the financial upheaval of the COVID-19 pandemic.  

During a city council meeting Wednesday, council member Justin Ruffridge voiced concern about businesses in the city.

“Obviously, our economics are going to take a pretty big hit and it’s hard to predict what that’s going to be but our businesses probably have a tough road ahead, especially if tourism season doesn’t happen,” Ruffridge said.

City Manager Stephanie Queen says the administration is considering various ways the city can help ease the financial strain. One idea is to adjust water and sewer rates. The city already announced that water and sewer payments can be deferred and no interest will be charged until July. Queen said that measure was to buy the city time to decide what else it might do.

Courtesy of KPEDD

A survey to quantify impacts to Kenai Peninsula businesses from the COVID-19 pandemic shows disheartening results.

The Kenai Peninsula Economic Development District collected responses throughout the borough last week and crunched the numbers over the weekend. Executive Director Tim Dillon says the cheeriest number was participation.

“I was hoping for 250, 300 responses from businesses on the peninsula and, low and behold, we had 721 businesses across the borough respond. I have 45 pages of comments,” Dillon said.

Kenai River Brewing

In this month's Drinking on the Last Frontier, Bill takes a look at how breweries are coping with government mandates on social distancing, with an interview with Doug Hogue of Kenai River Brewing. Plus, a look behind the scenes at the role of distributors in Alaska, a sampling of the stout beer stye and some recommended reading to get you through quarantine.

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 state mandate closing all bars and banning dine-in service at restaurants in Alaska went into effect at 5 p.m. March 18.

The governor’s announcement was made Tuesday evening. It includes, “All bars, breweries, restaurants, food and beverage kiosks or trucks and other establishments serving food or beverages within the state of Alaska.”

Carryout, drive-through and delivery services are still allowed. Grocery stores and other retail food establishments are not affected, except that buffets and salad bars are closed to self-service.

Many restaurants on the Kenai Peninsula are shifting to take-out and are starting up delivery service to compensate.

Veronica’s Café in Kenai will start doing deliveries Thursday. They’ll bring food to your vehicle or drive it to your location.

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.

James Roberts

Tune in to the December Drinking on the Last Frontier for a beer year in review with Dr. Fermento, interviews with the new owners of Kassik's and a new homebrew supply shop in town, a winter warmer beer style and more!

Girdwood Brewing Co.

Raise a glass to the holiday season. Join Bill for beer news (including some good regulatory news for Alaska craft breweries, for once), a look at how Alaska compares to other alcohol quota states, an interview with Bearpaw River Brewing Company, a guide for pairing holiday menus with craft beers, learn about the barley wine beer style and get some gift ideas for the beer lover in your life.