Agrium task force still planned

Posted: Friday, January 21, 2005

A governor-appointed task force to address the closure of Agrium's North Kenai plant supposedly will be named by the end of next week.

Gov. Frank Murkowski's office gave no indication of who would be sitting on the task force, but Murkowski spokes-person Becky Hultberg said the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development and the Alaska Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development will be participants.

"We want to put the workers first," Hultberg said.

The task force will still explore options to keep the plant open, she said. However, there will be a heavy focus on helping the employees losing their jobs, she added.

Originally, the governor said the task force would focus on exploring options to keep the plant open. It was initially going to be named at the beginning of January. Since the governor made that announcement, the company made "strong statements" that they were closing, Hultberg said. Those statements slowed down the process and caused the governor to broaden the group's mission, she said.

"We've tried to take our time ensuring that we do this right," Hultberg said.

Lisa Parker, spokesperson for Agrium, said the company will work with the task force in any capacity it can.

Gary Superman, president of the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly, said he hopes the task force is able to work with other employers in the state to provide employment options for Agrium workers.

Superman said one option is to try facilitating early retirements for older workers at other large employers in the state, such as North Slope companies, to free up jobs for some of the Agrium employees.

"I hope (the task force) can facilitate finding some of them jobs," he said.

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