Rick Whitbeck: AIDEA needs your vocal support

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By RICK WHITBECK | POWER THE FUTURE

This state agency is self-sufficient and profitable, returning nearly half a billion dollars in dividends to the State of Alaska throughout its history.

This year’s dividend was announced this week at $17.046 million, a nearly 18% year-over-year increase.

The same state agency has provided hundreds of loans for micro-economic and entrepreneurial ventures across the state, leading to employment for thousands of Alaskans, who may not have had the chance otherwise.

And yet, this agency – misunderstood by most Alaskans – receives regular criticism for secrecy, working against Alaskans’ interests, bad investment decisions, and wasting money.

As I’ve gotten to know The Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority (AIDEA) over the past few years, I’ve seen with my own eyes that these allegations are misguided and false.  It is long past time to give credit to AIDEA for its wise business practices over the years, and its leadership in helping to secure jobs for generations to come.

Let’s start with the elephant in the room: While any investment firm will tell you that a perfect track record is unrealistic, AIDEA has made some poor investments over the years.  The Alaska Seafood International plant in Anchorage – now ChangePoint Church – was notable for its size and amount (a $20 million loss) in the early 2000s, and there have been other investment losses detractors could take exception with. However, AIDEA’s overall performance is significantly net-positive to the state and economy, with many more “hits” than “misses.” 

AIDEA was involved in the early stages of the Red Dog Mine in the Northwest Arctic Borough, the nation’s largest zinc producer, and a job-creating giant for Borough residents. They invested in the Ketchikan Shipyard, which has been a boon for the Southeast community and helped launch industrial opportunities throughout the region. 

Its investment in the Bonanza fuel farm in Nome, the More dock in Homer, a FedEx hangar at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport and the Skagway Ore Terminal are all examples of AIDEA making wise decisions with its investment dollars. These projects are paying back, not only with monthly and annual payments, but with increased jobs and opportunities across the state. Plus, the total income generated from these family-supporting and long-term jobs far outweighs the amount of dollars from investments that haven’t had a positive return.  

AIDEA’s Board of Directors is tasked with overseeing the mission and overall scope of the agency.  It includes some of Alaska’s most successful business leaders, as well as the Commissioners of Commerce and Community and Economic Development, and Revenue.  Having attended the majority of AIDEA board meetings the past two years, I’ve heard the discussions and have seen the thoughtful deliberations. AIDEA takes its charge seriously.

This week, they announced a new Executive Director in Randy Ruaro, formerly Governor Dunleavy’s Chief of Staff, and an accomplished attorney and businessman. I’m excited to see AIDEA’s future with Ruaro at the helm, especially as it continues down the path with three investments that could pay huge dividends for the state. 

AIDEA is the only current leaseholder in the Coastal Plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), having bid on and contracted for seven tracts, totaling just over 365 thousand acres, from the December 2020 initial lease sale. Although the area has been ruled off-limits by the Biden administration – in stark contrast to the Congressionally-approved development plan – the leases remain relevant to an overall energy plan for America, and AIDEA’s decision to plug ahead with plans to turn the leases into jobs and revenues down the road is commendable.

AIDEA is also leading the way for investment in two roads to resources – something Alaska desperately needs – as both the Ambler mining district and West Susitna development areas hold tremendous promise for strategic and critical minerals, copper and other deposits necessary for the U.S.’s plans to transform our nation’s energy mix. The two projects would allow world-class environmental stewardship to work hand-in-hand with world-class mining technologies and strategies; bringing jobs to rural Alaska, revenues to the state and establish a domestic supply-chain for what industry and eco groups alike are clamoring for.

Alaska, I hope you’re more aware of the positive impact AIDEA has had on our economy with this article. Now, it’s time for you to get involved. The Board and staff need Alaskans to stand up and provide support for AIDEA’s ongoing efforts, as its enemies in the environmental and ‘let’s shut down Alaska’ movements are regularly lambasting the agency. Their Board meets every month, with a public comment opportunity as the place for you to have your say. The 2023 schedule can be found here.

Join me in supporting an agency that has been – and will be – a job and revenue creator for Alaska’s bright energy future.

Rick Whitbeck is the Alaska State Director for Power The Future, a national nonprofit organization that advocates for American energy jobs. Contact him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @PTFAlaska.

17 COMMENTS

  1. secrecy, working against Alaskans’ interests, bad investment decisions, and wasting money. You got that right.

  2. Of course we have all seen the projects that failed. And I know that Red Dog Mine is one of the biggest success stories.
    It IS surprising to hear about the dividend successes over the years. I would like to know what the other success stories are?
    I wish I had a sugar daddy like AIDEA to fund all my ideas for projects! lol

    Seriously, now is the best time to invest in infrastructure and economic development. We (Alaska), unlike everyone else, are Fat City! We have a Permanent Fund which can provide a sustainable annual income of $3 Billion for example. And I still do not understand why we cannot take advantage of our biggest asset: Stranded North Slope Gas. Whether its lowering the cost of energy to every resident of Alaska or enabling valuable gas-dependent industries.
    I guess the main reason is we have all lost sight of the primary purpose of “government”. Instead we spend all of our wealth on the Dividend. I wish I could change it but politics over the Dividend is virtually unmanageable. The People are “voting themselves a raise”. In the long run – it all gets crapped away.
    Merry Christmas Everyone!

  3. Correct me if I’m wrong but weren’t all of the positive strides made by AIDEA done when the economy was much better than it is now (several of the negatives were from the same period, IIRC)?

    Now while on shaky economic ground the State is competing w/ business by making speculative purchases from itself? You tout that leasehold purchase as a positive but I wonder if purchasing mineral rights for State lease property seems like a great idea to anyone outside of AIDEA?

    I recall when that made the news and it sounded like a terrible idea to me at the time. It definitely doesn’t seem better now.

  4. AIDEA is pro pebble and Whitbeck having not studied the mining plan is ignorant of the worlds largest red salmon spawning grounds which I had learned on a radio interview, so thumbs down.
    Pebble which is owned by Northern Dynasty is a foreign company that has never developed a mine before. Trump made his position clear ”no” and it also also goes against his America first concept 😉

  5. List all investments from day one, warts and all, WITH all those associated with receiving said monies. Full disclosure.

  6. Sorry, but AIDEA failed Fairbanks.

    The legislature made 100 million available for the IEP- Interior Energy Plan. The promise was to get Fairbanks clean, affordable energy so that the toxic, Winter air quality in Fairbanks would be fixed. That was about ten years ago. The air quality in Fairbanks is still terrible, causing cancer, heart disease and stroke.

    As part of the IEP AIDEA decided to spend about $70 million buying a company that was only worth a few million. A whole bunch of insiders got rich on that corrupt deal.

    Fairbanks now has well over 100 million in deferred debt, and when that deferral ends, Fairbanks will have the most expensive natural gas in the world.

    So, no, AIDEA is not worth our support.

  7. I worked on the FedEx Hangar, original budget, $14 million, final construction cost $28 million. That was back when AIDEA was well run.

  8. Even if AIDEA seems successful, I am still opposed to its existence. Government should never be involved in such projects. Even if they make money, the end does not justify the means.

    • In a free market, a state run investment company is generally not going to be an efficient allocator of resources. BUT – in a market with heavy federal interference, and a market that needs infrastructure, there COULD be a more narrow and disciplined path forward. For example, AIDEA is likely the best entity to challenge the feds on North Slope issues.

  9. Wow, this guy sure glossed over the failures of AIDEA. The list is endless, and he only points out the seafood processing plant (that AIDEA built for $104 million and sold for $2.4 million). The “roads to resources” are black hole, money pit boondoggles to help foreign mining companies explore. Large chunks of Alaska will be sacrificed and ruined to enrich a few CEOs that pump and dump mineral prospects. Alaska would be a better place without AIDEA. If a project makes sense, the private sector can finance it. AIDEA should not be needed. If AIDEA is “needed”, then that is a red flag that the project is a boondoggle.

    • Well and perfectly said, Timo!
      .
      It never ceases to amaze me that more Alaskans, who recognize the value of the free market, do not condemn the AIDEA as the socialistic, central-planning boondoggle that it is. It is nothing, NOTHING but a shameful blight on the Alaskan economic landscape.

  10. Rick, I agree AIDEA needs our support – a State investment bank should be a driver for economic expansion and diversification and a benefit to all. I’ve had the pleasure of working with them – nice folk who understand business but are at a huge loss when it comes to Alaska politics. They need someone who can bridge the gaps between our people groups and steer our politicians into sound policy. AIDEA’s handling of the Ambler Road has been a very wasteful disaster, when it could have developed a process for opening the Bush acceptable to all parties.

  11. I’m not sure why I should lend my support for a government corporation that competes directly with private sector companies…even if it were successful, which is debatable.

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