Alaska company plugs in

Posted: Thursday, October 30, 2003

FAIRBANKS (AP) A group of Fairbanks entrepreneurs hopes to solve a problem for cold-weather drivers.

They're making and marketing the Arctic Leash, a flexible, retractable extension cord that mounts onto a car or truck.

The device is designed to keep motorists from driving off with an extension cord dragging from the car or having to fumble with cords.

The Arctic Leash can be mounted on a vehicle, usually in the wheel well or behind the bumper.

Ken Forster, president of Alaska Products Co., unveiled the Arctic Leash to potential distributors in Fairbanks this summer.

''When I first started going around town showing people they were almost upset they din't do it,'' said Forster. ''It seems like a simple, stupid idea.''

Forster hopes the idea will catch on not only in Alaska but in cold weather states and Canada.

In fact, Forster and his partners are banking on it.

Forster and fellow Fairbanks investors shelled out upward of $1 million to purchase the patent for the device, formerly known as the Cord Reel.

''Everybody that has lived here for a while has dragged a cord to work or had a cord stolen,'' said Chris Dailey, one of eight partners in Forster's company.

''Nobody can steal your cord without stealing your car,'' said company vice president J.P. Hoff.

Forster found out about the device on the Internet. He read a story about a former school teacher from Toronto who had designed a retractable extension cord for his wheelchair-bound wife.

Forster called the man and acquired exclusive distributor rights for the United States. When he found out there were companies talking to the inventor about buying the patent, Forster approached him with an offer.

The Arctic Leash resembles a giant tape measure with a 12- or 18-foot extension cord instead of a tape.

It is enclosed in a 12-by-9-by-3 plastic polypropylene case and weighs six pounds.

The unit has a built-in circuit breaker that prevents the cord from overheating and catching fire.

The Arctic Leash fits light, medium and heavy-duty trucks and most cars and minivans. Forster rented several different compact and mid-size cars to test for space. The only two cars he found that do not have enough room are the new Volkswagen Bug and Dodge Neon.

The Arctic Leash retails for about $150 and is being carried in NAPA stores statewide, as well as several other retail outlets in Fairbanks and Ancho-rage.

While the Arctic Leash comes with mounting brackets and instructions, Forster suggests getting it professionally installed. Once installed, the only thing visible is the end of an extension cord sticking out of a small rubber grommet that fits into a hole drilled in the bumper.

The first Arctic Leashes hit the market in Fairbanks in May. Sales picked up as the mercury has dropped.

The company has distributed more than 500 of the units in Alaska and Canada and Forster is expecting an order of 1,000 to arrive soon.

The company plans to manufacture 1,000 units a week throughout the winter.

While the extension cords are made in Anchorage, the rest of the Arctic Leash is made by Alert Manufacturing in Ohio, in large part because Forster can't find a company that does injection molding in Alaska.

''We'd love to do the manufacturing here if somebody could injection mold,'' he said.

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