Agency urged to provide more aid to struggling seafood plant

Posted: Tuesday, August 15, 2000

ANCHORAGE A state lending agency is being urged by lawmakers and members of the Alaska business community to provide $15 million more in financing to keep a local seafood plant running here.

The Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority has been reluctant to provide more money unless the operation meets certain conditions, which include finding a new investor with seafood experience.

Many established seafood industry players have predicted trouble for the $125 million seafood plant, contending it won't work in a city so far from primary markets.

AIDEA is being deluged by letters from the plants supporters asking the agency not to turn its back on the factory even though it has gone through more than $50 million in state money.

Rep. Gail Phillips is among the supporters. The Homer Republican said too many people and too much private and public money have been invested in the plant for the state to walk away.

The naysayers would like for you to do nothing and sit back and say, I told you so!, she wrote.

The letter writers argue that the seafood plant provides a chance for Alaska to create a new industry turning raw seafood into finished meals and that the idea needs money and patience.

This is the kind of value-added manufacturing and economic diversity that we desperately need in Alaska, wrote Rep. Fred Dyson, an Eagle River Republican.

Alaska Seafood International founder and chairman Howard Benedict remains optimistic about the plant's prospects, even though his company was forced recently to ask for a $2.5 million loan from the agency after a Taiwanese investment company that had been the primary source of the plant's operating cash declared a desire to get out of the project.

Wilson Hughes, AIDEA board chairman, said Monday the agency must weigh carefully whether giving the seafood plant more money makes good business sense.

I appreciate all the advice we get, but we're trying to make the right decision, not just the politically correct decision, he told the Anchorage Daily News. That's the way we've got to do it. We've got to see the business plan and understand whether that infusion of money will help ensure the business succeeds, not just prolong what could be a terminal case, if you will.

Agency staff and consultants are in the marketplace trying to verify information from the seafood company, Hughes said.

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