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Alaska Thrives on Energy and Biotech Investment

The state's proximity to Asian markets and maturing native corporations are emerging as development drivers.

Oct/Nov 08
Energy - in the form of oil, gas, wind, hydro, geothermal, and solar - continues to promise a "phenomenal investment," says Bill Popp, president and CEO of the Anchorage Economic Development Corporation (AEDC). "We expect to see significant diversification of the energy mix in urban and rural areas." A recent incentive plan provides for $250 million in renewable energy project funds and grants over the next five years. Putting Alaska's Resources to Work (PARW) coalition is partnering with the AEDC, state, federal, government, and business partnerships to identify and train oil, gas and mining workers during the next decade.

 The Alaska Natural Gas Development Authority (ANGDA) is building a $2 billion to $3 billion in-state spur pipeline project that will connect in-state natural gas markets to Alaska's North Slope natural gas supplies. The spur pipeline is designed to connect to a proposed larger $30 billion pipeline that will supply natural gas to the lower 48 states

In wind energy, Alaska's first large-scale wind project will result from an exclusive relationship between CIRI and enXco Development Corporation to develop, in cooperation with several Railbelt utilities, the state's largest wind energy project on Fire Island. The first phase of the project could be online in 2009.

According to Popp, the mining industry generated $1.5 billion in 2007, with higher expectations for 2008. The mining industry's resurgence is causing a ripple effect in Anchorage, which is home to many headquarters or operational offices and logistical support for the industry. In Northwest Alaska, the Red Dog mine is reputed to be the largest zinc mine in the world. Other natural resources include lead, gold, coal, copper, and silver.

Alaska native corporations that have grown and matured over last 20 years have emerged as a significant national and global economic force. "We have at least four native corporations that are now in the billion dollars-plus annual revenue category," says Popp. These firms are involved in high tech, real estate, tourism, resource extraction, civil engineering, architecture, and special services.

Potential for exploration in the life sciences, pharmaceuticals, and biotechnology hinge on Alaska's strategic location between Europe, Asia, and the Western United States, according to Popp: "These companies can stage pharmaceutical shipments through this region into the Pacific Rim as well as explore opportunities in the form of plants and wildlife to produce biotechnology products and pharmaceuticals from our unexplored and underdeveloped biomass.