ECON 919

Sabine Poux/KDLL

Mama Cupcake is a fluffy white Angora rabbit who lives in Cooper Landing. 

On Tuesday afternoon, she was snuggled up with three of her newborns in a big blue bucket.

“I left most of her babies at home, because we’re in the process of weening,” said Rachel Sullivan. She’s the owner of these bunnies and of Hibernation Textiles, a Cooper Landing-based small business.


The peninsula has most of what it needs for an emergency cold weather shelter. 

“The food bank is ready, willing and able to provide the evening meal and a light breakfast to go in the mornings. We have transportation available through a couple different avenues," said Leslie Rohr. She's executive director of Love INC, one of several peninsula groups that are spearheading the initiative to get a shelter going this winter.

What they’re missing is a space. And there’s not much that can happen without one.


It makes sense that the Alaska Food Hub has done so well this year. The virtual farmers market uses the same sort of online delivery system that brick and mortar stores have adopted during the pandemic. It was COVID-safe before COVID even came into being.

In 2020, the Food Hub tripled its sales. And famers are reaping the benefits.


Some of the Kenai Peninsula’s best holiday shopping begins as soon as Thanksgiving ends.

That’s when artists and art lovers from as far away as Fairbanks flock to the Kenai Arts and Crafts Fair, a holiday market the Peninsula Art Guild has put on for over four decades.

It usually fills the halls of Kenai Central High School the last weekend of November, said board president Marion Nelson.


Following a spring and summer of uncertainty, the last thing any business owner wants is to have to close up shop again due to a coronavirus exposure.

Willow King chose to make the best of it when she shuttered her catering business Where It’s At temporarily in October. The Soldotna-based chef also works at The Flats restaurant, which saw an employee test positive as a crush of COVID-19 cases started sweeping the Kenai Peninsula last month.


To get into the “Peninsula ~ Free ~ Buy ~ Sell ~ Trade” Facebook group, you’ve first got to go through Rookie. Rookie, who’s been going by that name both on and offline for years, is one of the group’s administrators and de-facto bouncers. 

“If you’re in Anchorage, sorry. If you’re in Utah, nope. Florida, I don’t think so," she said. "It’s carefully guarded so only people on the peninsula can be members.”

To date, a whopping 18,700 Kenai Peninsula residents are members. 


Courtesy of Nikki Corbett

In a purple qaspeq with blue trim and patterned patches, Nikki Corbett and her sewing machine greet her YouTube subscribers.

“Hi, it’s Nikki with Sew Yup’ik. And today I’m going to show you, I’m going to record a video in various parts. So this first part I’m going to show you how to add the trimming onto your traditional qaspeq.”

She instructs viewers in this video, almost 500 of them, how to make a qaspeq, a hooded garment with a large front pocket and hood typically worn by Yup’ik men and women. 


It’s been a tradition for the last 50 years that the owners of Kenai Fabric Center raise their kids in the store. Geneva Stasek bought the place in 1970 and her three daughters, Wendy McGahan, Gwen Woodard and Lynn Dykema, worked and sewed there until they ran it themselves. Their kids and grandkids were later folded into the business, spending time with aunts and cousins at the Willow Street storefront.

But that pattern will repeat no longer. The store will close its doors for good Oct. 31. While owners were close to selling  earlier this fall, it didn’t end up working out.

 There’s a real method to the way this store is arranged.

“As you go around the space, you’ll see all of these beautiful pieces of art that are really inspired by Alaska. I’m looking right now at some pieces of octopus and moose and polar bears and just all of these images that we love about Alaska,” said Ana Scollon, the store’s owner. “And then, as you move around the rest of the space, my hope is that as we think about all these wonderful things that we love about Alaska, we can also … basically change some of the things that we do to protect this space.”

This is The Goods, a Soldotna shop-to-be that sells zero-waste products and local art. It’s opening Oct. 17.

Jacob Caldwell’s family purchased Kenai Aviation from Bob and Jim Bielefeld two years ago. The Bielefelds’ operation flew workers from Kenai Municipal Airport to the oil fields, but their business waned when oil companies started making their own flights in house. When the Caldwells took over, they sought to make charter flight services and pilot training part of their operations. 

And that’s exactly what they did.

Businesses and nonprofits hoping to mitigate the financial hit from the coronavirus pandemic got disappointing news last week — the $290 million Alaska CARES grant program has been “oversubscribed.” Meaning, the amount of grant requests still waiting review is greater than the amount of money left in the program.

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.

While the coronavirus has interrupted just about every aspect of life, there is a bastion of normalcy this summer — fresh, local produce from farmers markets.

Market managers and vendors were anxious in May, not knowing how or if they’d be able to operate this summer. The markets operated differently — more spacing between booths, masks, hand sanitizer and the like. But some things haven’t changed this year — gardens are still growing and people are still shopping.

Thanks to Marti Pepper with Redoubt Realty for her perspective on the local real estate market.

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.'”

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.

ECON 919 - Developing the Blue Economy

Jan 20, 2020

  This week, we revisit the Kenai Peninsula Industry Outlook Forum. Earlier this week, we reported on efforts by the Kenai Peninsula Borough to expand agriculture opportunities on the Peninsula, but what about all of that ocean around us? Mariculture was a major topic at the forum last week in Seward.

 


ECON 919 - Winding down the AK LNG project

Jan 10, 2020

 

The AK LNG Project is still alive, but its prospects for moving forward in 2020 are slim. The Alaska Gasline Development Corporation, the state agency that’s been spearheading the project since 2016 when the big oil companies got out, saw another large cut to its budget this year.

 

 


ECON 919 - Industry Outlook Forum

Jan 3, 2020

 

The annual industry outlook forum is coming up next week. This year’s forum will take place in Seward. The Kenai Peninsula Economic Development District, along with Chambers of Commerce from Kenai, Soldotna, Homer and Seward all work to organize and support the event.

 

 


ECON 919 - Protecting coastal infrastructure

Dec 20, 2019

 

This week, keeping the boats moving safely in and out of alaska’s many harbors. Communities all along Alaska’s coasts are joining in the call for help funding local infrastructure projects. Both the borough and the city of Kenai recently adopted resolutions urging legislative action.

 


ECON 919 - Mayoral candidates talk taxes, annexation

Dec 6, 2019

 

This week, the city of Soldotna will hold a special election for mayor on December 17th. The election comes a little more than three months after the unexpected death of former mayor Dr. Nels Anderson. Two candidates are in the race, former mayor Pete Sprague and Charlene Tautfest. They took on a range of local economic questions at a forum this week sponsored by the Soldotna Chamber of Commerce. 

 

 


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.

ECON 919 - Fishing fallout from the Swan Lake fire

Nov 15, 2019

 

This week, continuing to unpack the full costs of the Swan Lake Fire. Senator Peter Micciche got a meeting together this week with officials from an alphabet soup of local, state and federal agencies. They talked about how the plan to fight, or not fight the fire, unfolded and how those plans changed as conditions on the ground changed, or, didn’t change. It took months for fire dousing rains to return to the Kenai this fall. And until they did, a number of businesses that rely on access to the Kenai river, either directly or indirectly, suffered.

 

 


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 - Fire costs, brush piles still growing

Oct 25, 2019

 

This week, continuing to count the costs of the Swan Lake fire.

 

 


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.

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