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Alaska editorial: A welcome expansion

Posted: February 17, 2012 - 12:04am

This editorial first appeared in the Ketchikan Daily News:

The sale of Alaska Ship & Drydock is the only way to build Ketchikan Shipyard into a world-class facility.

Make no mistake, the shipyard has that potential. It will be realized because of the work ethic of Ketchikan folks and the state’s pride in its shipyard.

The shipyard has been 30 years in development, 18 of those under the direction of Randy Johnson. Johnson, his staff and crew made the shipyard a viable business, an anchor for Ketchikan as a maritime hub. It was risky and rough-going at times, but the determined shipyard professionals focused and plodded forward despite challenges.

Their step-by-step commitment to the shipyard and the local economy earned them the community’s confidence and respect.

With word this week of ASD’s impending sale, the question on Ketchikan’s minds: Would the out-of-state buyer, the incoming shipyard operator, continue the commitment to building the shipyard and providing jobs for Ketchikan or was its purchase an attempt to eliminate the competition and direct Alaska projects to its other properties in the Pacific Northwest?

Vigor Industrial’s Adam Beck, who will become the ASD president while Johnson takes a vice presidential position, answered, confirming the former and dismissed the latter, explaining how the properties will be managed to enhance each operation.

Johnson is Ketchikan’s shipyard expert, and the community has trusted him through the years to make the best decisions for the facility. As ASD’s top official, he is best positioned to decide what is the wisest course to take.

Acknowledging that the shipyard’s growth and possibilities exceed his ability to finance future projects, he has sought and vetted an operator which can continue to expand the shipyard, handle larger projects and increase the jobs in Ketchikan.

The state, under the direction of the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority, continues to own the shipyard. If Vigor proves lacking in its commitment to advance and increase the value of the shipyard, AIDEA will be able to seek another operator.

Vigor will have to prove itself, just as Johnson’s operation did over nearly two decades.

Vigor is owned by Frank Foti, who is scheduled to be in Ketchikan later this month to meet with local officials concerning the shipyard. The sale must be approved by AIDEA, and transfer of ownership won’t take place until the end of February.

Foti has been in the shipyard business for several decades. He operates ship-repair and ship-building yards in Portland, Ore., and Bremerton, Everett, Port Angeles, Seattle and Tacoma, Wash.

Ketchikan expects the Alaska Class Ferries will be built in its shipyard. While the shipyard has built three vessels, the ferries will require deeper financial pockets for the builder than other vessels built there. A higher sum will be expended before revenue replenishes it.

The first of four ferries is expected to cost $120 million and provide three to four years of 120 full-time, year-round, high-paying jobs. In all, it will affect at least 200 community jobs and be almost a $35-million economic infusion for Ketchikan. By the time the shipyard completes the four ships, it will have provided as much as 16 years of jobs.

The likelihood of the ferries being built in Ketchikan increases with Vigor’s financial abilities.

In the meantime, exploration and development of natural resources is occurring in Alaska’s Arctic.

The shipyard will be in position to capitalize on building, maintaining and repairing marine craft used in the Arctic. It’s already begun. The Arctic Endeavor, a 200-foot response barge, operating in the Arctic for an oil company was repaired at the shipyard and is waiting out the winter in Ward Cove where the climate is less harsh than farther north. This one vessel generated revenue for the shipyard and for the Ward Cove owners.

Vigor has been interested in Ketchikan’s shipyard at least since 2002 when it attempted to become its operator. Its sustained interest speaks well of the possibilities for the shipyard. Its continuing interest will be monitored by Ketchikan.

Jobs, projects and continuing site development is what this course must supply. As long as all occur, Ketchikan shipyard’s new operator will be judged a success by Alaska standards.

At this juncture, it’s welcome to the community, Vigor Industrial.

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