Alaska USA is part of the business plan for companies in Alaska, Washington, California, and Arizona. The Alaska USA Business Spotlight focuses on some of these businesses, featuring the people that run them and the work that they do. Check out their inspirational stories and find out how Alaska USA can help your business.
Jack Lewis knows a thing or two about restaurants. During his high school and college years, he worked his way through the McDonald’s corporate ladder before deciding to go into business for himself. At 27, he opened his first restaurant in Anchorage: the Sourdough Mining Company. The following years would see one successful endeavor after another, with the acquisition and expansion of the Peanut Farm, and the opening of McGinley’s Irish Pub and two FireTap Alehouse locations.
Jack later applied his entrepreneurial skills toward franchising, bringing the relatively young BurgerFi chain to Anchorage. While working under the direction of a franchise took some getting used to, he later learned to embrace the convenience. It wasn’t long before Jack would set his sights on bringing another iconic franchise to Anchorage.
“I was thinking about what would be the next fun thing to do, and an acquaintance asked if I ever looked at Krispy Kreme for Alaska,” recalls Jack. “Usually these things take a long time, but I caught the timing just right. I called headquarters and they were up the next week, loved what they saw, and the process began.”
Even with Jack’s many years of experience, opening any business can be slow and complex. Finding the perfect location, constructing a new building, hiring and training employees, and working within the framework of a long-established franchise were just some of the hurdles Jack describes on the road to opening a Krispy Kreme. One thing that was easy was turning to Alaska USA for financing – his longtime financial partner that helped him launch FireTap Alehouse and BurgerFi.
“I originally did most of my financing through commercial banks, and it was more of a big bank feel. I was surprised when one of my partners led me to Alaska USA for FireTap,” explains Jack. “The whole experience was different. I originally thought Alaska USA, being a credit union, wasn’t going to be familiar with what my needs were going to be. I thought it was going to be a tougher road, and it wasn’t. They have a small credit union feel, but they have big resources.”
One of the more unique obstacles Jack experienced while opening Krispy Kreme was having to adjust financing in the middle of the application process. Unlike FireTap Alehouse and BurgerFi, which he financed with SBA loans, Jack had to switch midstream to a more traditional loan.
“It’s a tough process to apply for a loan, even with all my experience. Joe Donahue did a great job of walking me through and making sure I had everything,” says Jack. “My favorite thing about Alaska USA is clarity. As a businessman, I need to know the answers. I don’t have time to wait around because things are moving, and Alaska USA was instrumental at helping me keep moving. It’s a lot of service, more than you normally get.”
Krispy Kreme opened in Anchorage on August 30, complete with an extravagant block party, campers waiting in line the night before opening, and long in-store and drive-thru lines for weeks after. According to Jack, it was the highest grossing domestic opening the company ever had. And for him, seeing the impact of bringing up such a beloved franchise has been a wonderful experience.
“The customers and the job creation are a lot of fun. As an entrepreneur, making opportunity is one of my favorite things to do, and the staff here is wonderful,” describes Jack. “Also, bringing up an iconic brand. I’m shocked at the reaction of the people having such a good time, especially the kids. They’re so excited watching the doughnuts come down the machine. And a lot of the military guys – they’re from places that have a Krispy Kreme, so seeing the logo makes them feel more at home during a time that can be a lonely experience. It’s incredibly satisfying.”
It’s been more than two months since Krispy Kreme’s warm welcome in Anchorage, and things are just now slowing down enough for Jack and his team to start planning for what’s ahead.
“The volume was so high out of the gate, you can’t really prepare for that. But we’re just now catching our breath and now we’re getting into fundraising,” says Jack. “We’re scheduled to put up four more locations, and they’ll take some pressure off this one. If the equipment falters, I can at least get doughnuts from another location to get us by while we do repairs. It’ll make things a bit easier.”
Despite the much-deserved break that comes after successfully launching a global franchise in Anchorage, Jack is not one to slow down. Not only is he wasting no time in planning Krispy Kreme’s next steps in Alaska, he’s already looking forward to his next business idea, both in state and beyond.
“I’m looking at some Seattle projects and I know Alaska USA has an arm down there, so they’ll be a good partner on a lot of projects coming up,” explains Jack. “My wife and I are empty nesters now. People think this is the time I slow down. Not only am I not done, I’m just beginning. As long as I’m having fun and I’ve got support from Alaska USA, I’ll have things to do.”
With mountains, rivers, auroras, and wildlife, any direction you look in Alaska is a sight to behold, and Nova Eyecare Center wants to make sure everyone is able to witness its beauty to the fullest. Originally founded as Family Eyecare Center in 1977 by Dr. Thomas Roselius, the practice has come to be recognized as an Anchorage leader in providing personalized vision and medical eye care for generations of Alaskan families.
Nova Eyecare Center’s current owner, Dr. Nhan Tran, understands the importance of family-focused eye care. “I was 12 years old when I got my first eye exam and glasses. My very first pair allowed me to see the leaves on a tree from 20 feet away. I thought that was amazing!” she recalls. “But I first wanted to become an eye doctor when I volunteered at an optometric practice during college. The doctor I volunteered for was unlike any of my previous doctors. He was thorough, detailed, and kind. I knew then I wanted to be just like him.”
After receiving her doctorate in 1998, Dr. Tran practiced ophthalmology in Southern California from 1999 to 2003. She then moved to Anchorage and eventually came to meet Dr. Roselius in August 2006. “We both had the same ideas of how eye care should be and I joined the practice immediately,” she describes. In January 2012, Dr. Tran took over Family Eyecare from Dr. Roselius and renamed it Nova Eyecare.
Dr. Tran knew she needed to expand the practice to keep up with their growing clientele and staff. While searching for a new home, she found a 20-year-old fixer-upper not far from their original midtown location. The next step was finding a financial institution to partner with. “I needed funding to remodel and went to three different banks in town and none of them were able to fund me in a timely manner,” explains Dr. Tran. “The leasing company then recommended that I talk to Robert McNaughton at Alaska USA. The rest, as they say, is history!”
In order to move forward with her goal of growing Nova Eyecare, Dr. Tran secured a business loan from Alaska USA. “I’m very grateful for Robert McNaughton, Dorothy Michael, and the Alaska USA team for their efforts. They’re fantastic, fabulous, and fun to work with. I couldn’t have achieved this dream without them! I love Alaska USA so much I switched all our accounts there!”
After four years of development and renovation, Nova Eyecare was able to relocate to their new location in April 2016. Dr. Tran describes their new location as a “state-of-the-art, family-oriented office and retail space with an open, modern concept. It’s been completely remodeled from the inside out! I’d say it gives Tudor Road the fresh look this community has yearned for.”
While the new facility is a huge milestone for the practice, Dr. Tran already has her sights set on the future. “Next year Nova Eyecare will be celebrating 40 years in business,” she says. “We’d like to have another doctor join our practice and continue to grow, but never get too big that we forget who we’re serving. We love that we know all of our patients, their families, and friends. It really is a family eye care center!”
Alaska Energy Services began as a true leasing company specializing in the rental of equipment and vehicles to Alaska’s oil and gas companies. Established by Diane Bachman in 2010, Diane recognized the need to provide true leasing services in which all of the risks – as well as the benefits – are carried by AES, freeing up their clients to focus on their business operations.
“I was passionate about starting my own business and working in the resource development support industry,” says Diane. “I learned there was a need for smaller and more agile companies to provide leasing services for oil and gas producers. We then started leasing vehicles, special equipment, and even furniture. I remember how accomplished I felt when we secured our first lease and continue to be energized toward that success each time we’re awarded a new project.”
In 2013, Diane expanded AES to provide support to the telecommunications industry in Alaska. The company has since gone on to hold several service contract agreements with a number of telecommunications companies in the state.
“A client referred me to a telecommunications company for services they required. We received our first contract from this company over two years ago,” she describes. “I believe it to be one of AES’s largest milestones – receiving the telecommunication service contracts that allowed us to become a valued partner with our clients in that industry.”
ince their inception, AES has partnered with Alaska USA for their financial services needs, opening all of their business deposit accounts, a line of credit, and term loan. For Diane, who has been a member of the credit union for decades, choosing to partner with Alaska USA was the clear choice.
“When I was searching for a financial institution that shared and understood AES’s vision, I knew who I wanted to be my financial partner. I believe Alaska USA has always outperformed banks with their service, rates, terms, and personal attention to detail,” Diane says. “We owe a great portion of our success to the commercial lending division at Alaska USA. The entire staff demonstrates attentive and outstanding professionalism, start to finish, business or personal.”
Most recently, AES has grown to include facility and ground leasing. In 2015, after securing a lease for five acres of North Slope land from the State of Alaska, AES once again partnered with Alaska USA and acquired financing to construct a 7,800 square foot office and shop building in Deadhorse, Alaska. The new property is being leased to UIC Oil and Gas Support, LLC, which is a subsidiary of the Ukpeagvik Inupiat Corporation.
“This was a large and quickly developed project in Prudhoe Bay. Building on the North Slope brings an unusual set of hurdles, but the project worked beautifully for both parties from start to finish,” recalls Diane. “AES was very pleased with the opportunity to work with such an established and culturally diverse Alaska Native Corporation. It’s quite satisfying to know we’ve contributed to the North Slope development.”
Diane is excited to continue AES’s involvement in North Slope development projects while proceeding to grow the company’s already proven telecommunications business. But what excites her most is being able to steer the company toward success with the people who inspire her every day.
“The most rewarding component of this business is being able to work with our staff, contractors, and teaming partners. They’re what allows AES to exceed our clients’ expectations and makes owning AES such a rewarding and worthwhile experience.” She adds, “I’ve been most fortunate to have the continued support of Alaska USA. Without them, AES wouldn’t be where it is today. It’s been a pleasure conducting business with Alaska USA and I look forward to a successful relationship for years to come.”
Alaska is often referred to as The Last Frontier, and for good reason. As development continues further into the arctic regions of the world, one of the prevailing complications facing planners, engineers, and contractors has been permafrost. Building on permafrost can be difficult as the heat generated from the structure risks thawing the permafrost and destabilizing the foundation. The severe Alaskan climate causes repeated thawing and freezing which can easily degrade and destroy foundations in a matter of seasons. Climate change only intensifies these issues and makes permafrost even more fragile.
Understanding the engineering and construction issues presented by Alaska’s frozen ground, Erwin “Erv” Long developed several technologies to address these unique challenges and founded Arctic Foundations in 1972. Long’s flagship patent, the Thermopile system, is a heat-transfer device used to preserve frozen ground conditions by extracting excess heat from soil. The company handles every aspect of the Thermopile system in-house, including research and development, engineering, design, manufacturing, and installation, as well as offering other construction services.
Over time, Arctic Foundations has continued to refine and improve their products, going on to become a leader in state-of-the-art permafrost solutions. In 1981, Edward Yarmak joined the firm as their chief engineer and went on to become president of the company in 2013.
Before partnering with Alaska USA Insurance Brokers, Yarmak recalls the frustration of being shuffled from broker to broker. “We had previously used smaller brokers for our business insurance, and several times they were bought up by larger firms,” he describes. “The last time this happened, the company was very large. At first we thought this might be beneficial, but it turned out we were just another number and the everyday service was nonexistent. After a year of that, we moved our business insurance to Alaska USA.”
To protect the business and their people, Arctic Foundations relies on Alaska USA for property, casualty, and auto insurance, as well as workers compensation and international coverage. “These insurance products are absolutely necessary for our business. Having those at a competitive price with the personal service we get from Alaska USA makes our work a little easier,” Yarmak says.
Today, Yarmak enjoys the stability and attention Alaska USA provides to Arctic Foundations. “We have an excellent relationship with Alaska USA,” explains Yarmak. “Jack Grieco and his department ensure that we get excellent service with a personal touch. I would encourage other business owners to invite Jack over to talk with them about their business insurance needs.”
After more than 40 years in business, Arctic Foundations continues to thrive. Both Long and Yarmak remain the leading names in permafrost solutions and are regularly cited in publications and journals for their expertise. And, the company’s award-winning systems continue to ensure the stability of hundreds of construction projects in Alaska, Canada, Greenland, and Russia. In fact, the earliest of these installations – built near Gakona by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 1960 before the company was founded – is still functioning today.
Ask Brian Horschel why he started Body Renew, and without skipping a beat, he’ll answer: “The people, hands down.” According to him, “a lot of people will go into a gym and it’s a real off-putting experience. It takes a lot of courage to go there in the first place, and then you get there and are met with opposition. We want to create a warm environment for clients to come in and be able to achieve those lifetime or short-term goals.”
This focus on the individual and the community is the cornerstone of their business, as well as what sets them apart from other gyms. “When you come in, the first thing you’re going to have somebody ask you is, ‘tell me about you. Why are you here?’ And they’re going to listen,” Brian explains. “Other gyms are owned by national chains, and they don’t seem to care about Alaskans as much as I feel everyone who works for Body Renew does.”
Before opening, Brian describes there being a void in the Alaska market. “We didn't have programs to help people achieve results. We had gyms with weights in them, but those have been around since the days of the Romans. The obesity rates are climbing throughout the nation, and we wanted to go out and do something that would change that in our little part of the world.”
Body Renew opened their first facility on July 7, 2007. “It was a little bit of a risk. My wife and I went all in. If we didn’t make it, we were starting over,” recalls Brian. “Our first location was in South Anchorage. It was a 3,000 square foot facility. We had change rooms, two bathrooms, a line of cardio and fitness equipment, some really good people, and the promise of doing better than what Alaskans had seen up to that date. I think we’ve lived up to that promise.”
The gym and their philosophy was a success. “Everybody bought in,” says Brian. “Between our customers and our employees, everybody was excited about what we were doing. They come in and they’re floored. They didn’t expect what they’re experiencing. That’s why we’ve grown so quickly over the last seven years.”
In order to grow his business, Brian partnered with Alaska USA to bring three new locations to Alaska, including facilities in Wasilla, Eagle River, and Midtown Anchorage. To do that, he secured financing for equipment and commercial real estate. “They’re unlike any financial institution I’ve dealt with. Alaska USA is truly a partner in our business, and that’s one of the reasons why I think we’re successful.”
Most recently, Brian worked with Alaska USA on their biggest milestone: a 25,124 square foot building down the street from their original facility. “Alaska USA jumped in and helped us from the initial planning stages. We bought the land, designed the building specific for our business. We completed the project a year behind schedule, but I feel the finished product is great. That’s what Alaska USA does. They’re in it to help their clients succeed,” he says.
Today, Body Renew is thriving with four gyms in Alaska, several in California, Idaho, Oregon, and Virginia, and more on the way. “2016 will be a big year,” explains Brian. “We’re working with Alaska USA on another location in Anchorage, there are some new classes that are going to be unbelievably exciting the way we’re running them, and incorporating technology in what we do. There are a lot of cool things happening and it’s unlike anything we’ve seen in the state.”
While a lot has changed since opening eight years ago, the focus on people remains the same. “I get almost choked up about the people here. Whether they’re members or employees, they’re taking this business to places all on their own, and they get me excited to come into work every day,” says Brian. “I hope that everybody realizes that we at Body Renew are striving to provide the best service for our community. We’re about changing lives, and I think we’ve done that.”
“We are a coffee lover’s coffee company,” describes Jonathan White, owner of SteamDot Coffee Roasters. “We have a dedication to finding the highest quality raw materials. I spend a lot of time in other countries meeting the different farmers, finding the best ingredients, and getting it all the way back here to Alaska. Then we find what makes that bean taste the best. In everything we do, we ask one question: how is this making the coffee taste better?”
Before making it his profession, Jonathan had a very romantic notion of the industry. “I always had a passion for coffee,” he remembers. “What fascinates me the most is that the amount of work it takes to get that cup of coffee is staggering. To think that these little beans come from some of the farthest flung places on the planet, and that they made it all the way through this journey to your cup is really somewhat of a miracle.”
Jonathan eventually found himself going through a career change, making it the perfect time to explore his passion. “I was a lobbyist, so one career ended and I sort of found myself working with a local coffee company. Next thing you know, I’m running SteamDot,” he says. “It was scary. But I spent a lot of time researching whether this was a good thing to do, and I determined there was a need in this market for the kind of coffee company I wanted to create.”
The first café opened in 2009 in a freight shed located in the Ship Creek area of Anchorage dubbed the “Scare House.” Named after the shed’s position on an old railroad network map marked with a big red dot, SteamDot was to be part of an effort to breathe new life into the area. “The Alaska Railroad was working on a project to revitalize Ship Creek,” recalls Jonathan. “We were going to be a part of that. Although the budget didn’t work out, they helped us find where we grew into our own.”
While the company moved into their current location across town in O’Malley a year later, Jonathan will always appreciate where they started. “There was doubt whether this was going to work, there were trains running by, we didn’t have a lot of customers, and we’re in this big, vacant warehouse. But I wouldn’t trade it for anything because it gave us a humble beginning that’s important to remember.”
After four successful years, Jonathan looked to expand SteamDot. To do that, he turned to his long-time financial institution, acquiring a working capital line of credit and equipment line of credit. “A major turning point was taking on our first loan. We were able to build most of the company without getting institutional financing, though when it came time to choose a partner to do that with, Alaska USA was the easy choice.”
As the company grew, so did their insurance needs. “When we were a young business, the broker taking care of us was great for our needs, but we didn’t have many.” To protect his people and resources, Jonathan took advantage of commercial auto insurance, workers compensation, property insurance, and general liability, explaining, “We needed a more robust, personal outfit, and Alaska USA Insurance Brokers came along at the perfect time when we started adding cafés, vehicles, and equipment.”
SteamDot has come a long way since its start in the Scare House. Now with two cafés and another on the way, the company shows no signs of slowing down, and Jonathan is excited about the opportunities in the years to come. “The best part is that I don’t really have a specific blueprint. I guide the company, but where we go is driven largely by what our customers want from us and where our employees want to take us. Usually those two things meet in a nice place and our company grows naturally.”
Whatever the future brings, Alaska USA will continue to be a part of the journey. “Right now we’re moving our entire relationship – our checking, our loans – over to Alaska USA. We’re currently going through the largest growth period in the company’s five-year history, and Alaska USA has been essential to that growth.
“I really do consider myself one of the luckiest guys,” says Jonathan. “It’s not every day you get to have a dream and get to the point where you feel like you’ve achieved some of it, much less all of it. We have a long way to go, and it’s challenging, but I don’t think there’s anything more gratifying in a professional career.”
Kelly Nichols had a long history working in the restaurant industry before opening Suite 100. “It started with McDonald’s. 14 years old, moved up here from California. I was young, wanted a job. I’ve been in restaurants ever since then,” he recalls. “I went to college in Arizona and came back, and started bussing tables. Then I waited tables when I turned 21 and just worked my way through the industry. Next thing you know, you’re the head waiter, then the night manager, and then you’re closing up. I ended up at Humpy’s, which was a great experience. Then I left to be the general manager when they were opening the Bear Tooth. Eventually, Heidi, my wife and partner, and I started asking ourselves if we were ever going to get into this or if we were going to keep running someone else’s place.”
Over the years, the idea of opening a restaurant continued to grow. “I had a couple people tell me I was going to own my own place someday. Those people owned two of the more successful restaurants and bars in town, and when people you respect tell you this, you put it in the back of your brain and it rattles around,” describes Kelly. The final push came in Vancouver, B.C., when Kelly and Heidi visited a restaurant upon a friend’s recommendation. “We’re in this restaurant and we’re eating this cool food in this great environment and it’s not expensive. Heidi and I made a decision that if we did this in Anchorage, we’d be successful. And then we thought if we’re not going to do this in Anchorage, who is? We should put our feet in and see what happens.”
Kelly met with several financial institutions before partnering with Alaska USA. “The time, place, and space were just right,” he says. “David Hamilton in commercial lending helped us out a lot with our construction loan and walked us through the process of learning how to do all this. It was a good relationship and it started building to a point where I now consider him a friend. With Kristin Muir in commercial insurance, it was competitive pricing and user-friendly. The service is better and you know the person. That’s why we’ve been with them ever since.”
With financing and insurance secured, it would be another 16 months before Kelly could acquire all the necessary permits, licenses, and finish construction to be ready in time for the projected open date of Valentine’s Day 2007. “We had 124 reservations that I had taken long before that I was not turning away,” he remembers. “This place was built by friends, families, neighbors, and people I used to know. The beer crews, the sweat equity crews, that’s what we called them.”
After months of hard work and long nights, Suite 100 opened successfully and on schedule, realizing Kelly and Heidi’s goal of being “your neighborhood bar and grill at one of the busiest intersections in town.” Kelly describes finally owning his own restaurant as “a great job. People come to us when they’re happy or sad. They come to us when they’re celebrating, or when they just don’t want to cook. You get a window into people’s lives that usually develops friendships, relationships, or acquaintances – it’s a good way to make a living.” He continues, “when a guest comes up and slaps down his hand on the counter and goes, ‘that was the best steak I ever had!’ it goes down the line of cooks and you can feel it. It’s not an ‘atta boy!’ It’s better than that. It’s a cool feeling to have that kind of relationship with people.”
For Dana Walukiewicz and Shane Kingry, owners of the King Street Brewing Company, their passion for brewing beer first started around 20 years ago. For Dana, it was experimenting with different grains and batches. As for Shane, he picked it up from a family friend, recalling that, “When you’re a young man, you think it sounds really neat if you can make your own beer.”
Dana met Shane in 2007 at a Fourth of July picnic, and upon realizing Shane was a fellow home brewer, instantly started talking about their mutual interest. “We started this conversation and talked about recipes and beers that we brewed, and all of a sudden I mentioned to him, ‘You know, I always wanted to open up a brewery,’” says Dana. “One thing led to another, and before we knew it, it kind of just steamrolled into King Street Brewing Company.”
Like with any new business, getting started had its share of challenges. “There was a big transition. We were home brewers going up to a commercial system,” describes Dana. “Managing our growth has been challenging as well, buying additional equipment and getting it installed, getting it ready, and keeping up demand.”
In addition to the normal hurdles of starting a business, Dana and Shane had to navigate the obstacles and regulations that are specific to the brewing industry. Shane adds, “On top of working through the leasehold improvement process for our initial build out, our business is regulated by all three levels of government – local, state, federal – and to an extent some of these layers and processes are intertwined. It was a big learning process for us. Even with all of our research, I think we ran into something new and unexpected every week!”
When it came time to secure financing, they both turned to Alaska USA, their credit union of many years. “We worked with Robert McNaughton in commercial lending. He helped establish us with our initial equipment loan,” says Dana. “Since then, we have expanded the brewery three times. All through that process, Robert has been there helping us with additional loans. On the insurance side, Dena Lythgoe with Alaska USA Insurance Brokers has helped us make sure we were properly covered with insurance for our equipment, auto insurance for our vehicles, and workers’ compensation for our employees. It has been one-stop shopping for us.”
“Alaska USA has been a great partner, not only in our initial success and initial opening, but in our subsequent expansions,” continues Shane. “We sit down with Robert about once a year and assess where we are and where we need to go.”
November 2014 marks the third anniversary of King Street Brewing Company. According to Shane, “People are happy when they drink our beer. It’s really neat to actually make something that other people enjoy.” After recently expanding their equipment line and with plans to bring on more employees, they show no signs of slowing down. “It’s amazing how fast we’ve grown. Alaska USA has been there every step of the way, and we look forward to continuing with that,” says Dana.
When Eric Cray decided to open a Great Harvest Bread Company shop in Fairbanks, he recruited some trusted partners: his family. “My wife and I really liked the product and Great Harvest was one of our must-stop places when we were going to Anchorage,” says Cray. “On one of our visits, I saw a brochure, and didn’t even realize it was a franchise. Then we started seeing Great Harvest bags everywhere, so we were more aware that a lot of people were buying this and there was nothing like it in Fairbanks.”
With Eric’s wife, Tricia, on board, he then proposed the idea to his sister and brother-in-law, Alicia and Steve Sundborg. “I talked to Alicia about running day-to-day operations, and she was interested in it, because she was also a Great Harvest fan. She had the same thought about opening a franchise in Fairbanks. We sent a letter to the franchise to see what we needed to do to get qualified, and it went from there.”
Despite previous business ownership experience, the Crays and Sundborgs struggled to find a financial institution to back them. “We did go to several banks, shopping around, trying to find out who would give us a loan. A lot of banks turned us away. They weren’t interested in doing an SBA loan, they would only do a standard loan, they didn’t want to give a loan to a restaurant, or they wanted 50% of the loan funds upfront. So there were a lot of hurdles that we went through before we decided to give Alaska USA a shot.”
Through Alaska USA, CS Bakery acquired an SBA 7(a) loan and opened the northernmost Great Harvest shop in the U.S. in August 2012. “Alaska USA took us through the entire process from start to finish, answered all of our questions, and gave us a single point of contact for any issues.”
That contact is Sheli Dodson, Senior Member Business Development Officer.
“Sheli was very responsive, and any time we needed to talk she was there to pick up the phone or call us back in short order. Any apprehension we had about dealing with someone in another city was completely mitigated.”
Cray relies on a variety of Alaska USA products to manage finances, and he especially enjoys the convenience of the online services. “We use UltraBranch® Business Edition almost daily to check the status of deposits from merchant accounts, make sure checks clear, and check balances. It has been really easy to use. Accessing the mobile site on your phone at any time is also a pretty handy tool. All of that makes our lives easier as business owners.”
Cray says he’s even recommended Alaska USA to others looking for small business loans. “We went into this not knowing a single thing about the SBA process, and everything was laid out for us as far as what we needed to do. Anybody who’s looking for an SBA loan doesn’t need to worry. There will be somebody there holding their hand throughout the entire process. We did our due diligence trying to find different sources of funding and what it came down to was Alaska USA was the easiest to work with, they were very upfront, and they were there to guide us through what looked like an insurmountable process. Now I look back and think that wasn’t so bad.”
Transportation is often a challenge in Alaska, with small communities separated by thousands of miles and a less-than-forgiving climate. But distance is no match for Big State Logistics. Over the past 30 years, the freight and fuel transportation company has consistently delivered diesel, gas, and other bulk products all over the state.
“The company started in the early ‘80s by my dad, Harold, servicing gold miners on the Steese Highway,” said owner Mervin Gilbertson. “We then expanded to off-road rigs, and started hauling into Bettles. Petro Star was just getting started that same time, and we hooked up with them and started a long-term working relationship that still exists today.”
Since then, Big State Logistics has grown, and works hand in hand with refineries, taking fuel from its two hubs in Valdez and Fairbanks to Whitehorse, Dawson, Prudhoe Bay, and other parts of Alaska. It also serves miners near Coldfoot and Manley, and at Usibelli Coal Mine.
With an ever-expanding operation, Gilbertson relies on the experienced team at Alaska USA Insurance Brokers to keep things running smoothly. “I was initially drawn to Alaska USA because of the people. I began working with broker John Gates, who’s since retired. He knew my business almost as well as I did.” For the past two and a half years, Gilbertson has counted on Account Executive Adam Dunlap and Alaska USA’s Fairbanks office for all of his insurance needs. “I have a growing business with insurance needs every day. Whenever I need to add more trucks to our policy, they’re right there on the spot. I would absolutely recommend Alaska USA to other business owners. The team provides a great product with great service.”
Big State Logistics recently brought its health insurance to Alaska USA, and now all facets of the company’s insurance are under the Alaska USA umbrella. “We had another health insurance carrier for about 15 years and moved to Alaska USA this year. It was a major endeavor, and so far, we’ve had more than 50 employees sign up,” said Gilbertson.
Like Big State Logistics, Dunlap focuses on building relationships with his clients for the long haul, looking for ways to save them money by combining policies. “At Alaska USA, there are lots of solutions all in one place,” he said. “We’re able to give a lot more to our clients by putting it all together.”
Dunlap even flew all the way to Florida to learn about insurance programs that could help Big State Logistics, and as a result, was able to recommend cost-saving solutions. “I believe in the personal touch,” he said. “As much as the world is shrinking with the Internet, there’s really no substitute for being able to meet with someone face-to-face.”
Rene Haag is a true artist. She knows how to shoot a stellar photograph, frame a painting just right, and design a successful business.
As the owner of Blaine’s Art, her business philosophy is simple: treat others as you would like to be treated. This belief, combined with her love of Alaska, has helped her generate many long-lasting personal and business relationships, including one with Alaska USA. “I’ve had a personal account with Alaska USA since moving here in the early ‘80s and my first car loan was through Alaska USA. I like to keep things local and work with companies that support our local industry.”
In 1998, after managing Blaine’s for many years, she purchased the business from the family who opened the Spenard landmark nearly 50 years earlier. Although the mural-adorned building Blaine’s leased was recognizable and well-known to most people in the community, the space was limited. Rene yearned for more square footage, a more accessible layout, and more space for art classes and parties. Her wish came true in 2010, when Blaine’s constructed a larger store just a few hundred yards away.
Although the building sprouted quickly, it took nearly two years of remediation and petitioning with the Municipality before construction began. Financing, however, was a much smoother process. “I went to several lenders to determine who would be interested in my project and willing to work with the SBA (Small Business Administration),” says Rene. “David Bennett, one of the commercial loan officers at Alaska USA, was very enthusiastic about the project and we sat down to look at my finances, history with the business, and to determine which SBA program would work best for me.” With the help of Alaska USA and Evergreen Business Capital, Rene acquired an SBA 504 loan, a long-term, fixed-asset loan for the construction of the new building. From there, Rene hired a construction firm and contacted her architect. “We wanted to get the project off the ground quickly as the building window in Alaska can be small.”
Since the move, Blaine’s has thrived in its new location. It has space for more inventory and an expanded framing and matting department on the ground floor. Employees and customers can easily take the elevator to the second floor, which houses space for classes and art parties. Blaine’s also offers free meeting space for business and nonprofit groups, and features a coffee bar, which is becoming a popular attraction. Revenues are up, too, and Rene was able to hire four more employees this year.
In light of her success, Rene was recently selected by the SBA as the 2012 Alaska Small Business Person of the Year. “I received a call from Sam at the Small Business Development Center. I was totally surprised about being selected. Had he been in the room, I would have jumped up and given him a hug. I know there are a lot of good business people in Alaska and I am humbled to be chosen.” Rene was honored at the Alaska District’s Small Business Award luncheon in April and joined other state winners during National Small Business Week ceremonies in Washington, D.C. in May. Winners were chosen based on staying power, growth in number of employees, increase in sales and/or unit volume, financial strength, innovation, response to adversity, and community contributions.
Rene has one recommendation to other business owners interested in the loan process. “There is no doubt that Alaska USA would be at the top of my list of recommendations for lending needs for any business owner. The support, respect, and care I received from all of the Alaska USA employees throughout the loan process was impeccable. David Bennett, my loan officer, was instrumental in keeping my building project going, and he certainly raised the bar on service.”
Healthy living seems to be a high priority lately, and people are generally more receptive to the idea of investing in healthier food, healthier lifestyles, and a healthier environment. Dr. Linda Wrigley couldn’t agree more, and she’s doing her part by helping Alaskan women live healthier.
Dr. Wrigley opened her practice, Alaska Ob-Gyn Associates, LLC, in 2000. Several years later, she opened Alaska Body Aesthetics, LLC, providing a variety of aesthetic and dietary treatments to help her clients look and feel their best.
Located within Providence Alaska Medical Center, Dr. Wrigley and her team work to provide the best in cutting-edge care for total women’s health. Gynecology, obstetrics, facials, laser treatments, thermage, weight loss programs – Dr. Wrigley provides comprehensive treatment and care for women in all stages of life. She enjoys working in a close-knit community where she can watch babies she’s delivered grow up, and where she has the privilege of developing a bond with her patients.
Dr. Wrigley’s team includes a nurse practitioner midwife, two estheticians, and a weight-loss coach. They take time to get to know each patient in order to develop individualized treatment plans.
As a provider, Dr. Wrigley employs the latest advances in medical technology to care for her patients. As a business owner, she relies on Alaska USA for efficient, practical, and cost effective products and services.
“I love Alaska USA!” Dr. Wrigley said. “I’ve used other banks, but I find Alaska USA’s online system is much easier to use.” With two businesses to run, Dr. Wrigley appreciates the timesaving features of UltraBranch® Business Edition and the convenience of Alaska USA’s business depository ATMs. “With a depository ATM at Providence Hospital, we just walk downstairs and make a deposit – no need to carry cash outside or drive to a branch.” And when they’re running low on depository supplies, they order more right in UltraBranch at no cost and have them delivered to the office.
An Alaska USA Member Business Development Officer helped Dr. Wrigley set up UltraBranch Business Edition, and she remembers the process being very fast and painless. By using UltraBranch, Dr. Wrigley’s office saves time, money, and paper. In fact, Dr. Wrigley doesn’t remember the last time she or her staff needed to make a trip to a branch.
Dr. Wrigley also appreciates the fact that she can call the Member Service Center and speak to a live person if she has questions about her accounts. “When you call you actually speak to a human being and aren’t put on hold or transferred a bunch of times.” That personal connection members have with Alaska USA is a tangible testament to the “people helping people” credit union philosophy – especially when the trend for most financial institutions is to minimize human contact as much as possible.
Alaska USA isn’t responsible for delivering babies or saving lives, but it can save you valuable time and energy. With so many resources and tools dedicated specifically to streamlining business finances, you might be surprised to learn how much easier your job could be.