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Hecla donates $300K to UAS for mining training program

Posted: May 19, 2011 - 9:50pm
Hecla Green Creek Mining Company CEO Phil Baker speaks to the Juneau Chamber of Commerce during their luncheon at the Moose Family Center on Thursday. Hecla gave $300,000 to the University of Alaska, Southeast, to fund a three-year Career Pathways in Mining program .   Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Hecla Green Creek Mining Company CEO Phil Baker speaks to the Juneau Chamber of Commerce during their luncheon at the Moose Family Center on Thursday. Hecla gave $300,000 to the University of Alaska, Southeast, to fund a three-year Career Pathways in Mining program .

Hecla Greens Creek Mining Co. made its biggest single donation ever Thursday before the Juneau Chamber of Commerce.

The mine gifted $300,000 to the University of Alaska Foundation to support a local vocational outreach and training program for the mining industry.

The donation will fund a special career development program for mining at the University of Alaska Southeast. It will aid students in preparing for mining industry jobs through education, job shadowing and training.

“We’re giving the biggest amount of money we have in our history,” said Hecla President and Chief Executive Officer Philip Baker.

Baker said there is a need for qualified employees in the industry and this outreach, combined with internships, will help provide a pathway for students coming out of high school and through college to go directly into the workforce.

UAS Chancellor John Pugh said the money will be used in a three-part plan. The first part involves the university’s coordination with the school district to offer a single-semester high school curriculum to help students understand the mining industry.

The second part is a two-week mine training institute at Greens Creek in the summer.

Finally, the money will aid a two-year curriculum for mine mechanics at UAS.

“We’re just really pleased that Hecla has determined to invest in the university to prepare local workers that are going into mining,” Pugh said.

“We appreciate an opportunity to partner with UAS, and we feel it will be an important workforce development and career opportunity for the youth in our area,” said Greens Creek Vice President and General Manager Scott Hartman.

Baker said mining is highly technical, and early training will go a long way in securing such jobs.

“We really want Alaskans to have an advantage here,” he said.

The subject of Greens Creek’s employment had come up earlier at the Chamber that day. Baker said the mine is currently Juneau’s largest private sector employer and is working on raising that number even more. He said about 60 percent of Greens Creek’s hires are local, 20 percent are from outside Juneau but are still within the state.

The remaining 20 percent come from the Lower 48.

Baker also spoke about how Greens Creek has helped Hecla become a changed company, with a lot of that being growth.

That growth is evident in both company size and financially, as Baker explained how Hecla has increased its balance sheet from $45 million at year end 2008 to $322 at the end of 2011’s first quarter.

Baker credited Greens Creek’s silver, lead and zinc as strong contributors to Hecla’s growth. He said these minerals have particularly grown in demand due to changing technology and world development.

“I want to encourage Alaska to embrace mining. There is a real opportunity for Alaska to capture the demand for minerals that is unprecedented,” he said.

Baker also commented on Greens Creek’s power usage, saying the mine uses hydropower but only after the power goes to the neighboring communities. Other than that, it runs on diesel.

“The only reason Juneau is not running diesel right now is because Hecla is running theirs,” said Alaska Electric Light & Power’s President and General Manager Tim McLeod.

Hecla is also in the process of developing plans to expand its tailings facility to add at least 30 more years of capacity. Baker encourages public comment on the issue.

• Contact reporter Jonathan Grass at 523-2276 or at jonathan.grass@juneauempire.com.

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