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N.Y. buyer may give fish processor new life

Troubled Anchorage plant could open for salmon season

Posted: Tuesday, April 03, 2001

ANCHORAGE - A New York investment firm has agreed to buy a 51 percent interest in a struggling South Anchorage fish processing factory, Alaska Seafood International says.

If the $5 million deal closes as hoped within the next 30 days, the plant could be running in time for this summer's salmon season, said Jeff Bush, an economic development official with the state.

The new investor, Sunrise Capital Partners, specializes in buying bankrupt or financially strapped companies in hopes of turning them around.

ASI is not bankrupt but it has been essentially dormant since last summer. That came after financing problems erupted with the company's backers in Taiwan.

Since then, ASI executives and state officials have scrambled not only to improve relations with the Taiwanese but to find another investor who could give the fish plant fresh cash and a fresh start.

A recent financial restructuring made the state, via the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority, a 25.4 percent owner in ASI.

The state already owns the 202,000-square-foot factory building near the Anchorage airport. It was built in the late 1990s with a $50 million legislative appropriation.

To take the quarter interest in ASI, the state invested $2.5 million and forgave or deferred $8 million in rent on the building.

That investment would stay in place, but with the Sunrise deal the state's ownership would drop to 16 percent or lower if Sunrise later puts in more money, said Bush, who is acting as ASI's board chairman.

Sunrise would invest not only $5 million but provide a line of credit to run ASI, which needs millions of pounds of raw fish and other materials to operate at full capacity.

AIDEA executive director Bob Poe said the state would guarantee $1.8 million of the line of credit. Bush told the Anchorage Daily News the Taiwanese also would guarantee some money, but that most of the risk would fall on Sunrise.

"I feel very good," Bush said of Sunrise. "These guys are definitely enthusiastic about the business. They're not coming in with a conservative business approach or looking for a quick deal and liquidation."

ASI and the big factory building were conceived as a way to revolutionize the seafood industry in Alaska, which is fish rich but which also sees most fish leave the state raw or with little value-added processing.

ASI had hoped to employ some 450 people to make a wide range of heat-and-eat meals from salmon, cod, halibut and other seafood.

But the factory was wracked by financial problems and never has operated at anything close to capacity or employed more than a few dozen people since opening in 1999.



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