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Nikiski plan gathers interest

Posted: Thursday, July 18, 2002

An Anchorage-based company hired by the Kenai Peninsula Borough is conducting a Web-based survey of borough residents as part of a feasibility study on a proposed industrial park on the Kenai Spur Highway near Nikiski.

If eventually developed, the industrial park would be located within five miles of Cook Inlet and between Mile 15 and Mile 30 of the Kenai Spur Highway.

Northern Economics Inc. of Anchorage is conducting the feasibility study for the Kenai Peninsula Borough Division of Community and Economic Development. According to the division, if the park proves feasible and is built, it would provide space for light manufacturing, support services, warehousing and retail businesses.

The survey is available on the Web. A link can be found on the Kenai Peninsula Borough's Web site.by clicking the "Community/Economic Development" button.

A link also also can be found by going to Northern's Web site at http://www.northerneconomics.com.

Zoomerang, a division of MarketTools Inc., a Web-based survey company, is running the survey for Northern Economics. Originally, the survey was to terminate by the end of July, but the deadline has been extended until the end of August.

Although the survey and other aspects of the feasibility study continue and results aren't expected before the end of September, early results appear positive, Jack Brown, business development manager for the division, said Wednesday.

"Preliminary results of Northern's study indicate an industrial park would benefit borough residents and the economy," he said.

That was confirmed by Cal Kerr, project manager for Northern Economics.

"We are hearing, so far, general acceptance of the concept," he said. "There is a place for an industrial park up there. We are hearing a lot of interest about a deep-water dock. That's been an issue of discussion there for quite a while."

Kerr said Northern has looked at the availability of oil and gas and other resources.

"To nobody's surprise, oil and gas, fertilizer and liquid natural gas have good demand characteristics," he said. "We have seen quite a bit of interest from support industries -- fabrication, welding, traditional heavy-equipment folks. One person even suggested that with all the businesses in the park, it might be good to start a quick-lube auto business where they could pick up cars in the parking lot and service them while people are at work."

Survey respondents are being asked what types of businesses they think should be located at a Nikiski industrial park, as well as what other businesses they would expect to be located there. The survey asks whether the company they work for would be a potential tenant for such a park.

Respondents are asked to rate various benefits of an industrial park, such as developing a broader tax base, centralizing industrial businesses, enhancing economic diversification, and creating jobs. They also are asked how they view possible negative effects of an industrial park, including environmental impacts, risks to health and safety, increased traffic and land use conflicts.

Even though early indications suggest a park would prosper, Kerr encouraged residents to fill out the survey anyway, because it asks about their preferences for businesses as well as their concerns.

"We need to have that type of input, too," he said. Kerr said the company would like to have at least 100 respondents by the time the survey ends. So far, he said, they have "somewhat less than 50."

The Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly OK'd a contract with Northern Economics in May. The company is being paid $75,000 to conduct the Nikiski Industrial Park Economic Feasibility Study.

The assembly appropriated funds to conduct the study back in January and issued a call for bids in February. At the time, assembly members acknowledged the expenditure was a bit of a gamble. The study could show such a park is not warranted. On the other hand, the study may show the park would give a lift to the local economy by attracting new business.

Borough officials said members of the business community have expressed interest in relocating to the Kenai Peninsula, specifically Nikiski because of its oil and gas development and dock facilities. However, Brown said Wednesday that the division expects that Northern Economics will recommend seeking a diverse spectrum of businesses for the park.

The proposal for a feasibility study first arose as a request from the North Peninsula Community Council, which sought funding from the state for a feasibility study. The assembly cut the request from its legislative wish list when it opted to fund the study itself.

Funding the survey did not obligate the borough to finance building a park, however, assembly members said.

Bill Popp, then a member of the assembly from the Kenai South district, said that if the study shows an industrial park would fly, development funds might be found through the federal Economic Development Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Assembly President Tim Navarre, of Kenai, said he hoped the study would reveal ways to entice business to the borough.



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