State officials seek financing help for seafood plant

Posted: Friday, September 22, 2000

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- State officials plan to travel to Taiwan next week to try to salvage foreign financing for the new but idled Alaska Seafood International factory in Anchorage.

The huge plant was built with $50 million in state money. It began limited production last fall but has been reeling since spring when Taiwanese backers withdrew their support.

The seafood plant has laid off its 40 production workers and stopped making fish portions and patties as company executives search for a major new investor.

Officials with the state lending agency that financed construction of the 184,000-square-foot plant, the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority, say they believe the state's investment is protected. AIDEA owns the building and has some multimillion-dollar guarantees from the Taiwanese.

But the state doesn't want to see the seafood plant fail, said Bob Poe, AIDEA's executive director. Rather, the agency will do what it can to save a project that could mean hundreds of new jobs and more sophisticated local seafood processing for fish-rich Alaska, he said.

Poe said he'll travel to Taiwan next Tuesday with Jon Rubini, an attorney for AIDEA and company founder Howard Benedict.

Poe said he is ''cautiously optimistic'' the meeting might rekindle interest by Taiwanese and possibly other investors. The Alaskans will meet with executives of the Central Investment Holding Co. and Bank SinoPac.

The holding company, a business arm of the former ruling political party in Taiwan, is a major partner in the seafood plant, while Bank SinoPac was to be the plant's main source of operating cash.

Plant executives said the holding company asked that its investment be replaced and the bank all but ended its line of credit after stunning Taiwanese elections in the spring resulted in a new ruling party for the country.

Seafood plant executives say it's not their fault that the elections so disrupted plans for the factory. The company has asked AIDEA to lend more money, but aside from a $2.5 million loan in April, the agency has so far declined.

Poe said Thursday, however, that the Taiwanese have made some positive moves recently to keep their commitments. The holding company has renewed a $17 million letter of credit at Chase Manhattan Bank that AIDEA can draw on if the seafood venture fails and the big building at Raspberry Road must be converted, in the worst-case scenario, to a warehouse, he said.

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