Progress Through Adversity 2022

Page 1

PROGRESS THROUGH ADVERSITY Comprehensive view of the Mat-Su • Real estate • Economy • Education • Healthcare

MARCH 2022




Who We Are

Connect Mat-Su is a service that provides free local information, referrals and social connection.

Your Connect Mat-Su Experience Connect with us by phone or email

We get to know you and your needs

We offer options and help you navigate them

We provide a warm handoff to further assistance

Connect With Us!







PAGE 14 Progress through adversity


Each year the Frontiersman puts together a special edition we call Progress. It is one of our biggest projects on the calendar and an opportunity to take a big picture look at a trend or theme related to our community. In the past, we’ve focused on philanthropy, the unsung heroes of the Mat-Su and business struggles and growth.

Real Estate Residential real estate . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6 Real estate growth . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9 VanDiest . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 10 Growth and local gov . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 11 H5 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 12

Last year our focus was on the pandemic. While residents are still feeling impact from the pandemic, the narrative has changed. This year our theme is progress through adversity.

Road construction State roads . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 14 Borough roads . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 16

In the last few years residents in our community have faced adversity at different levels. But regardless, we continue to see growth in the Mat-Su.

Business Economy . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 17

This year we took a look at a handful of topics we feel are very important to the Mat-Su: real estate, local business, healthcare, tourism and education.

GCI . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 19 Weed tax . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 20 Local biz covid impact . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 22

The growth in residential and commercial real estate in the borough has been incredible. That growth includes the healthcare industry. The tourism outlook continues to improve. Local businesses have worked through issues such as staff shortages as they continue to rebound from the pandemic.

Staff shortages . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 23 Tourism . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 24

Education PHS IB . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 26

In both good and bad we have all endured a historic stretch during the past year. We at the Frontiersman are proud to tell these stories through our local perspective.

4 Cs . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 27

Medicine MSRMC . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 29 Capstone . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 30

Thank you for reading,

Med district . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 31

Jeremiah Bartz, managing editor

Dennis Anderson Group Publisher, Wick Communications Alaska


Tawni Davis General Manager, Regional Marketing Director Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman

Jeremiah Bartz Managing Editor, Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman

Petra Albecker Regional Multimedia Marketing Consultant

Ben Borg Regional Multimedia Marketing Consultant

Mark Kelsey Contributor

Kyle Wilkinson Contributor

Jacob Mann Contributor Progress Through Adversity 2022 is a product of the Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman.



HIGH-DEMAND CAREERS START HERE. NIT’s vocational training programs and corporate training support programs will get you on your road to success.

Construction Equipment Training - Train on various pieces of equipment and ancillary subjects. Over 70% of this program is spent on hands-on operation. Heavy Duty Mechanic - Train to fulfill the primary duties of an entry-level heavy-duty mechanic, which includes performing preventive maintenance for equipment on the job site. Over 50% of this program is spent on practical application. Administrative Assistant - Learn how to properly navigate Microsoft Programs, and the skills necessary for an entry level Administrative Assistant position. Welding Programs - All welding programs, structured on NCCER curriculum, provide training for code quality welding on plate in all positions. Over 50% of this program is spent on practical application. CDL Programs - Designed to take the student from permitting and classroom safety training to behind the wheel drive time - with the goal of commercial licensure. All programs meet Federal Entry-Level Driver Training Requirements. Advanced Carpentry - Classroom and practical hands-on experiences developed by the National Center for Construction Education and Research (NCCER); Training for carpentry level one with key elements of carpentry level two to help familiarize them with real-world situations. Grant Funding Available for eligible applicants. Guaranteed Employment Opportunities upon graduation.

AWS, ATF, NCEER Accredited Training facility Contact us today to build your future! • Palmer: 907.357.6400 • Anchorage: 907.743.7700 • JBER: 907.761.6701



Residential housing market heats up BY MARK KELSEY


here may be nothing like a pandemic to heat up the local real estate market. As Covid concerns put downward pressure on the supply of homes for sale on the market, an already robust demand remained. The result has been one of the hottest sellers’ markets in memory for local real estate professionals. Karen Ross has been involved in real estate for three decades, first as an investor, and now as a Realtor for Jack White Real Estate in Wasilla, where she has incorporated her own company – Karen, Kelly, & Co. – with partner Kelly Caraway. She said the market in Alaska has been relatively steady since the late 1980s. Even through the nationwide downturn in 2008, negative real estate trends were felt less severely in Alaska. That changed when Covid hit. People who were thinking about selling were afraid to have buyers come into their homes, Ross said, so they waited to list. Other prospective sellers just decided to stay put.

“It seemed everyone was afraid to make any moves. But buyers in the marketplace still needed to buy,” she said. “So the normal inventory was used up quickly.”

“EVERYTHING SEEMS TO FLY OFF THE MARKET.” DEVON DORAN, SIGNATURE REAL ESTATE ALASKA The result was a rapid decline in the average number of days that a mid-priced home would be on the market – from about four to six weeks, down to just a few days in the current market. Even higher-end and luxury properties – those in the $750,000 to $1 million range – which were often on the market for a year or more, sometimes only require a few weeks on the current market before selling. But the greatest demand in the Mat-Su is still for midpriced housing. Ross noted that nice homes on 1-acre lots in designed subdivisions are popular with buyers, as are

Devon Doran is the owner of Signature Real Estate Alaska in Wasilla. Courtesy photo

properties on lots larger than 1 acre. Location, as always, is also a major driver of demand for housing. ”Properties along the commute path to Anchorage have always reflected a higher val-

A Pretty Competitive Housing Market 2021-4th qrt, Average price of single-family home, MLS

Mat-Su Anchorage Kenai Peninsula Fairbanks* Juneau

ue,” she said. “10-20 percent, as compared to properties west of Wasilla.” Devon Doran, owner of Signature Real Estate Alaska in Wasilla, agreed. She said proximity to Anchorage keeps construction moving in The Ranch subdivision, near the

Record Home Sales, Again In The Valley Mat-Su home sales, MLS

$351,145 $417,913

1,979 1,871 1,979 1,733 1,803



$315,738 $284,002 $492,471







2021 Source: MLS



intersection of the Parks and Glenn highways. “Shorter commute locations still are in high demand,” said Doran, a lifelong borough resident who has been a licensed Realtor since 2003 and opened her Bogard Road company in 2018. She also listed the Palmer-Fishhook area, with its ready access to Hatcher Pass and the Government Peak Recreation Area, as having particularly hot demand for new construction. Jesse Sumner, a local home builder and two-term borough assemblyman, agreed. “The Fishhook area demand is not surprising, with the Arctic Winter Games coming in 2024, the recently passed bond package projects, an operable ski lift at Skeetawk, and many trails and cross-country ski opportunities,” he said. “It is, and likely will continue to be, the most desirable part of the Valley to reside in.”

Karen Ross has been involved in real estate for three decades, first as an investor, and now as a Realtor for Jack White Real Estate in Wasilla, where she has incorporated her own company – Karen, Kelly, & Co. – with partner Kelly Caraway. Courtesy photo

Sumner said a typical new home built by his Sumner Company, in business since 1983, is in the 2000- to 2,500-square-feet range with

three or four bedrooms, and carries a price tag starting in the mid-$400,000s. But he noted that part of the fallout of rising values and high demand

is a shortage of entry-level housing.

continued on page 8

Mortgage rates are on the rise, and the more they go up, the more your purchasing power goes down. Did you know that for every 1% increase in mortgage rates, your buying power decreases by about 10%? In other words, you get less home for your money. Why take that risk? If you’re ready to buy, make your move now while rates are still affordable.

Contact us to get started!

Inside Northrim Bank 850 E. USA Circle, Suite B Wasilla, AK 99654

Inside Re/Max Dynamic Properties 892 E. USA Circle, Suite 105 Wasilla, AK 99654

(907) 376-0353

(907) 646-8729



HOUSING MARKET HEATS UP, CONT. “Paradoxically, a hot housing market disincentivizes builders to build starter homes,” he said. “Many fixed costs do not scale with house size well. Builders are capital- and capacity-constrained, so there is a strong builder preference, when market conditions support it, to target higher-margin larger homes.” Sumner also noted the market pressures presented by living in a pandemic. “Covid, in some ways, due to work-from-home and massive savings accumulation, may have triggered a millennial home-purchase wave that was always coming eventually,” he said. “Simultaneously, Covid aggravated supply-chain and capacity issues in meeting that surge in demand that otherwise would have been less pronounced.” Back on the market side, Realtor Doran echoed Sumner’s and Ross’s observations about the effects of Covid on the local real estate market. “Compared to any of my previous years in real estate, 2021 felt like complete insanity,” she said. We have seen more multiple-offer situations than we are typically used to, and this is the first time I have ever seen buyers willing to exceed

The Valley Builds The Largest Sh of New Homes In The State In-2 The Valley Builds The Largest Share

appraised value for their final purchase price.”

But the crazy pace and Covid-altered market landscape had a strong upside that presented a “unique opportunity”, Doran said, especially for new agents, who were able to build their business more quickly than they would have been able to previously. “For some, this past year has been life-changing,” Doran said. “I paid out more $50,000plus commissions than I did in my previous seven years as a managing broker combined.” She cited market experience as a key component in navigating the challenges of 2021 and the high-stakes negotiations that included steadily appreciating values and multiple competing offers for individual properties. “Signature Real Estate focused on providing its 48 licensees with relevant, applicable education surrounding these topics,” Doran said. “It proved valuable when our annual per-agent productivity jumped by four units in 2021.” Among the other changes in the market, Doran noted a shift in buyer demographics in 2021. “I have been surprised by the

of New Homes In The State In-2020

Kenai Pen. Borough 6%

Rest of State 12%

Mat-Su Borough 40% Anchorage 25%

Fairbanks NSB 13% number of millennial-aged, first-time home-buyers purchasing homes above $400,000,” she said. Rental opportunities have also been squeezed, as landlords have taken advantage of the appreciation and demand to sell their rental properties to people who are not looking to be landlords themselves. Multi-family units, already

Juneau 4%

scarce, are even harder to come by now than low-priced single-family homes. “Everything seems to fly off the market,” Doran said. “The rental market is holding strong, and market rents continue to increase, making owning multi-family very attractive for many buyers – if they can procure one.”

You sta



Residential market in historic boom cycle BY MARK KELSEY

There have been several notable spikes in the Mat-Su Borough’s residential real estate market over the decades. But what we’re seeing now is unique, according to one longtime Valley real estate professional. “There has been nothing like this boom since I have been in real estate,” said Marty Van Diest, who has lived in the Valley for 55 years and been in real estate for 31 years, including his present stint as broker at Valley Market Real Estate in Palmer. He noted a boom of sorts in the early 1980s, which preceded the famous crash of 1985-86. But that was a different scene than today. Mortgage interest rates were much higher then, coming down to 13-14 percent from a historic high of 19 percent in 1981, Van Diest said. Another “mini-boom” came in the early 2000s, before recession stopped it in its tracks in 2007-08. But that was different, too. “I suppose the build up to 2007 could be called a boom,” Van Diest said. “But it was nothing like the current boom.” Van Diest has studied and tracked local real estate trends for decades. He said average home prices rose 11.5 percent, year over year, in 2005, at the peak of the mid2000s boom. A year later, it was 6.5 percent. Even as demand slowed, there were smaller increases in prices until 2009, when prices dropped by 2.5 percent. Part of that skid was the result of the housing “bubble” bursting under the weight of “easy loans”, he said. “That was a recipe for disaster,” Van Diest said of the mortgages approved without

Recent construction of a Sumner Company Home. Courtesy of Sumner Company Homes

income verification, which some referred to as “liar loans”. By 2012, the market had recovered enough that real estate prices began a slow but steady yearly increase again. That changed in 2020, he said, when prices jumped 10 percent.


“Nothing like that had been seen since 2005,” Van Diest said. “Then in 2021, prices jumped 15 percent, which broke all records.”

While lack of supply can put upward pressure on housing prices, Van Diest said that is not the case with the current boom. “This is a demand-driven issue,” he said. “The supply was higher in 2021 than it ever has been. But it was swamped by demand.” He cited four factors contributing to the increased demand: • Demographics: Millennials, long absent from the housing market, flooded in; • Interest rates: Historically low rates below 3 percent super-charged demand among regular buyers; • Investors in the market: Potential returns on real estate were seen as safer than in other investments; • Free money: Stimulus payments in response to pandemic lockdowns made even more cash available to buyers. Van Diest said he thinks de-

mand will begin to slow as interest rates creep higher. “I believe they will be 4 percent by May. They may already be there,” he said. “I think they will need to go into the 6 percent range to slow demand down.” That time may come as soon as next year, Van Diest said. But he noted there are no guarantees. “Who knows?” he asked. “I have been wrong on interest rates so many times it’s becoming a habit.” But he said he doesn’t expect another mid-1980s-style crash, when house values dropped by more than 50 percent in three years, either. “We may see a pullback of 2 to 5 percent in house prices at some point in 2024-26, but I don’t call that a crash,” Van Diest said. “Compared to that, the slight pullback we saw in 2008-2011 was just a hiccup. “Of course, if we have a 1929-style economic crash, all bets are off.”



Investment opportunities spark commercial real estate growth BY MARK KELSEY


t is no secret that the Mat-Su has been the fastest growing area of the state for years. As population has increased, so has the demand for consumer goods and services. That heightened demand has driven rapid expansion of the commercial real estate market here. Despite the obstacles that Covid has presented recently, commercial real estate sales and development have shown great resilience. For years, retail and office space, along with commercial land and multifamily residences, although never available in abundance, were relatively easy to come by because they generally stayed on the market for a while. But rapid population growth changed that. Longtime Valley resident Marty Van Diest, broker at Valley Market Real Estate in Palmer, is a 33-year real estate veteran. He said the market for commercial real estate may not be as hot as the residential market, but that one definitely feeds off the other. “Any demand for commercial real estate is just a response to the growing population in the area,” he said. “And if you are going to build, the Mat-Su has lower building costs than Anchorage, primarily because of less expensive land and lower regulatory costs.” He said he expects commercial growth to continue, at least in the near term, especially in the restaurant and retail sectors. “This isn’t seen as a good place for manufacturing,” Van Diest said. “That is still primarily in Anchorage because of transportation issues like the airport and dock.” Nonetheless, he said, histor-

ically low interest rates, plus trillions in federal stimulus money injected into the economy, have combined to make real estate an attractive investment opportunity. “For a time, interest rates were in the mid-2 percent range. That’s like free money, especially when compared to inflation,” Van Diest said. “Investors see a safer return on their money in real estate than in many other investments.” Jeremiah Benson, a commercial real estate professional with Signature Real Estate Alaska in Wasilla, agreed. “The last two years have been very aggressive,” he said. “There has been an influx of money into our economy, and investors, developers, and entrepreneurs have been using commercial real estate to produce steady cash flow and tax benefits.” Cameron Johnson, a principal at H5 construction in Wasilla, says that kind of money naturally follows a growing community in an attractive market. “As a commercial developer and investor, I’m looking to invest in communities where the most new homes and apartments are being built. Here in Alaska, that continues to be the Valley,” he said. “I believe the Mat-Su Valley has seen average growth of over 3 percent per year over the last 25 years, which you won’t find anywhere else in the state.” The borough’s affordability and spaciousness, relative to Anchorage, is also a draw. “The Valley continues to be one of the most affordable areas to reside in the state,” Johnson said. “Being only 45 minutes outside of Anchorage, where residents are continuing to be squeezed by lack of inventory, is driving people

H5 construction has 50 employees on staff. Frontiersman file photo

and businesses to relocate here.” Johnson’s half-brother and fellow H5 principal, Jerad Hacker, agreed. “For every one building being built in Anchorage, there’s 10 being built out here,” he said. “There’s just so much growth here, and that creates need. We want to bring as many of those services out here so we don’t have to go to Anchorage.” Benson, the commercial real estate agent, echoed that sentiment. “I think the Mat-Su is uniquely positioned to see continued steady growth for years to come,” he said. “The cost to do business in Anchorage, and lack of land there, will force a natural progression to the Valley.” Like anyone who has been in the area for a while, Benson has seen the community change over the years. The 2000 graduate of Colony High School, noted the increase in jobs and favorable business environment that has made the Mat-Su less reliant on Anchorage. The pandemic may also have presented an upside, he said. “I think Covid stirred up a lot of the entrepreneurial DNA that most people possess,” he said. “People were either forced to create their own

business due to job loss, or they took advantage of the reset to pursue their own path.” Benson said commercial development generally follows traffic, making locations along the Parks Highway and Palmer-Wasilla Highway corridors in greatest demand. Looking ahead, he predicted the Trunk Road area and within Palmer city limits as having the greatest development potential over the next 10 years. “I am seeing commercial real estate demand across the board,” he said. “We currently have new retail buildings, hotels, banks, assisted living facilities, warehouses, and gas stations being built – all very good signs of growth.” Specific to the Trunk Road area he mentioned, H5 Construction is already planning to break ground this spring on an 80-unit housing facility near the roundabout at the Bogard intersection. And if the company’s work load is any indication, the immediate future is bright on the commercial real estate front in the Mat-Su. “I’m already having to push new work to 2023. We can’t possibly take anymore on,” said Jerad Hacker, one of 50 full-timers on staff at H5. “We’re spread too thin as it is. We have more work than we can find qualified skilled labor for.”



Growth and local governance

Hot housing market brings challenges, opportunities BY MARK KELSEY


hile local Realtors and homebuilders scramble to keep up with a rapidly changing housing market, local government officials are doing their best to keep pace with the growth it brings. The real estate industry is a significant driver of the MatSu Borough’s economy. In addition to direct spending and salaries supplied by the construction industry, the industry has also juiced ancillary sectors, like banking and finance. Local homebuilder Jesse Sumner, who also sits on the Borough Assembly, pointed out that more than 40 percent of new home construction statewide is being done here in the Mat-Su. He noted the benefit to the borough of added property tax revenue, and also the potential for allowing economies of scale in services provided to residents by the borough. But growth also comes with challenges for those entrusted with governing. “Borough services will never perfectly keep pace with new construction and population growth,” Sumner said. “While our new subdivision construction manual requirements have done a wonderful job of ensuring new subdivision roads are built to a high standard, population growth has severely stressed many of our higher traffic roads.” Many local road issues are actually the state’s responsibility. Chronic problem roads, such as Knik Goose Bay and the Bogard-Engstrom intersection, are not under borough control, and both need “substantial work”, according to Sumner, as do school ac-

Local homebuilder Jesse Sumner, who also sits on the Borough Assembly, pointed out that more than 40 percent of new home construction statewide is being done here in the Mat-Su. Courtesy of Sumner Company Homes

cess points along Bogard and Fishhook.

“I BELIEVE THAT AS THE MAT-SU GROWS, WE WILL ULTIMATELY HAVE TO TAKE RESPONSIBILITY FOR MORE OF OUR OWN SERVICES AND RELY LESS ON THE STATE.” JESSE SUMNER. Rapid growth also presents increased demand for law enforcement. Outside of city limits, that means state trooper staffing, which is also out of the borough’s control. “I believe that as the Mat-Su grows, we will ultimately have to take responsibility for more of our own services and rely

less on the state,” he said. Rapid growth also makes infrastructure expansion necessary. But Sumner said the temptation to build out infrastructure in advance of the growth it is meant to address can be irresponsible. “We run the risk of not spending money well, if we are wrong about the direction or magnitude of growth. Maintenance costs and debt on unused infrastructure could become such a burden that it prevents the growth it was built to address,” he said. “It may be frustrating at times (to defer infrastructure expansion), but money that is spent on population growthstressed infrastructure, after the growth, is at least never wasted.” Mat-Su Borough Mayor Edna DeVries, a former real estate professional herself, agreed that the hot housing market comes with governing chal-

lenges. As property values climb, so do assessments. DeVries said residents who are not going to profit from selling in a hot market are concerned about increased property tax burdens as those assessments increase. But she said that given how the mill levy is set, it’s not necessarily the case that tax bills will increase. “We’re going to encourage people to come out and watch how the sausage is made,” DeVries said. “It’s a chance for us to provide customer service.” She also observed how recent growth and the boom in housing provide opportunity for the community and its residents. “It’s a good time to invest – if you can find property,” she said. “We’re very happy people choose to live in the Mat-Su. It’s the best place in Alaska.”



Home-grown development firm fuels Mat-Su growth Family ties keep H5 Construction moving forward BY MARK KELSEY


fter six years in business, it’s still all about home and family for H5 Construction. The full-service real estate development and construction company, which operates out of Bogard Road digs in Wasilla, is at the forefront of commercial real estate development in the Mat-Su.

“IF THE PRIVATE SECTOR ISN’T BRINGING US WORK, WE JUST CREATE OUR OWN.” JERAD HACKER The company is thoroughly home-grown. The Hacker family – parents James and Lisa, and their three adult sons, Cameron Johnson, Jerad, and Daniel – make up the five Hs that comprise the company’s name.

The Hacker family – parents James and Lisa, and their three adult sons, Cameron Johnson, Jerad, and Daniel – make up the five Hs that comprise the company’s name. Courtesy photo

The half-brothers all attended Wasilla High School in the 1990s, so community roots go deep. “We like doing what we do

Architect rendering of the new credit union at Sun Mountain. Courtesy graphic

here because it’s where we’re from,” Cameron said. We want to see the community do well.” Each of the family members has a unique skill set to con-

tribute to that effort. “We all bring different things to the table. That’s why we’ve been successful,” Cameron said. “My strategy over the last 10 years has been to form strategic partnerships with people who have expertise I don’t.” Meanwhile, his stepfather and half-brother Jerad are more involved in the construction side of the business. Daniel, the youngest of the siblings, has a finance background and is more of the CFO type, Cameron said. “It’s worked really, really well.” Evidence of that abounds around the Mat-Su, where H5 has multiple finished projects that they built and/or have an ownership stake in. Senior housing projects – like Vista Rose in Wasilla, and Whispering Winds in Palmer – join assorted retail and office plazas, as well as stand-alone businesses like Ferguson, Sonic



and Planet Fitness, to give H5 an impressive footprint in the Valley that brings sizable financial benefit to the local economy. That’s a far cry from H5’s humble roots. “The first couple of years, I was literally mowing lawns or doing whatever I had to do,” Jerad said. The company has grown quickly, much like the community it serves. Population growth and the commercial real estate expansion that followed, has helped H5 expand to around 50 full-time employees today. And that’s still not enough. “We have more work than we can find qualified skilled labor for. We could hire 10 or 15 more, if I could find them,” Jerad said. “There is no shortage of business.” Being a diverse company with the ability to step in at any phase of planning, construction or maintenance has been a boon to the company during the Covid slowdown. “During our down time, we do build-outs, find tenants, and develop some of our own properties,” Jerad said. “If the private sector isn’t bringing us work, we just create our own.” In its six productive years, the company has invested more than $100 million in the community. Much of that investment involves ongoing work at Sun Mountain in Wasilla, where future expansion includes a credit union, a Hilton hotel, senior and luxury housing, and nationally known restaurant and retail outlets. Work on the Hilton was originally slated to begin in 2020. But Covid and the resulting supply chain issues have forced multiple delays. It may not get built until 2023 now, Jerad said. Another project that has the brothers excited is a “ma-

Architect rendering of the new restaurant at Best Western.

jor multimillion-dollar renovation” project at the Best Western Lake Lucille. Improvements will include a new restaurant and bar. Work is expected to start this spring on the food service portion, with completion expected sometime in the summer. Renovation efforts will shift to the hotel after the summer, once tourist season subsides. Another big project on H5’s horizon involves 20 acres adjacent to the roundabout at Trunk and Bogard. Construction on the first phase of a housing development will start there in the spring. Forty units should be available for rent beginning in spring 2023, with another 40 units to follow by that fall. An additional 4.5 acres nearby is getting commercial development, possibly for a gas station. H5’s record of achievement has not gone unnoticed. Jeremiah Benson, commercial real estate agent at Signature Real Estate in Wasilla, credits the one-stop development shop with facilitating much of

the recent growth here in the Mat-Su. “H5 has all the pieces in place to continue to build out the Mat-Su into a community that residents want to stay in,” he said. “H5 is helping to bring jobs and lifestyle to an area that, in my opinion, is one of the most beautiful places in the world. I applaud their efforts and look forward to future growth.”

portunities when they present themselves, and the fact that we aren’t risk-averse,” he said. “Once everyone knows an opportunity exists, you’ve missed the opportunity. So my strategy has always been to be first. And that requires a high risk threshold.”

Cameron summed up H5’s recipe for success. “I believe a lot of our success is driven by our ability to be nimble, react quickly to op-

Matanuska Cannabis Co 3550 S Old Glenn Hwy Palmer, AK

(907) 745-4211

MCC Flight

5675 Blue Lupine Dr Wasilla, AK

(907) 357-4222 License 3a-14200 and 3a-23122 Marijuana has intoxicating effects and may be habit forming and addictive. Marijuana impairs concentration, coordination, and judgment. Do not operate a vehicle or machinery under its influence. There are health risks associated with consumption of marijuana. For use only by adults twenty-one and older. Keep out of the reach of children. Marijuana should not be used by women who are pregnant or breast feeding.



KGB upgrade tops DOT 2022 priorities BY MARK KELSEY


ith summer just around the corner, state and borough road crews are getting ready to start road projects around the Mat-Su Borough. Some are continuations of previously started upgrades. Others are new construction. All will address work needed to accommodate increased traffic resulting from population increases in recent years. Foremost among state projects is the next phase of upgrades to Knik-Goose Bay Road in Wasilla. The Knik-Fairview area has seen explosive growth in recent years that has outpaced the capacity of roads that feed the area. A higher than average incidence of fatal and serious-injury crashes resulted in KGB being designated a Highway

Safety Corridor in 2009. After years of no traffic deaths, the roadway has been the site of 15 fatalities since 2015, according to a 2021 press release from the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities.

being split into two phases. Phase 1, which begins this year, will complete the section of KGB from Centaur Avenue to Fairview Loop. Phase 2 will run from there to Settlers Bay Drive and is anticipated to start in 2024.

Repairs done last year set the stage for the larger reconstruction planned for this summer, in a project DOTPF spokesperson Jill Reese said is a high priority.

DOT says this phasing plan will provide the greatest benefit to the most users, improve the highest volume segment first, and expedite project delivery.

“It’s a high priority for the governor, so it’s a high priority for us, as well,” she said. “This is Gov. Dunleavy’s No. 1 project to get done.”

“KGB is one of Alaska’s four safety corridors where enhanced enforcement seeks to lower fatalities and serious injuries,” DOT Commissioner Ryan Anderson said. “But we’re looking to solve problems and save lives with lasting solutions. By moving to a four-lane, separated highway for KGB, we are showing the state’s commitment to highway safety along this import-

The reconstruction project will change Knik-Goose Bay Road from a two-lane opposing traffic roadway, to a fourlane divided highway with controlled access. Construction of this project is

Phase 1 of the Glenn Highway widening project from milepost 34 to 42. Frontiersman file photo

ant route.” Like many DOT road projects, this one required a massive cooperative effort. Between design work, right-of-way acquisition, and the coordinating of utility relocation, major road projects are years in the making. The KGB project brought together officials from the borough, City of Wasilla, area business owners, residents and commuters. Meanwhile, MEA, MTA, Enstar, and GCI all worked together on the utility side. Reese noted the installation of continuous lighting down the entire reconstructed corridor as being a product of that collaboration on the massive KGB undertaking. “We’re looking forward to getting this started and getting it done,” Reese said. “Lots of


DOT staff use that road, too. We’re as anxious as anyone to get it done.” Another eagerly awaited state road project slated to begin this summer would have connected Seward Meridian Parkway to Seldon Road in Wasilla. But it has been delayed a year. Once completed, it will alleviate traffic congestion to and from the three schools on the Seldon end and also provide another connector between main arteries used by commuters. Additionally, Parks Highway bridge replacements are planned at Montana, Sheep, and Goose Creek crossings. Work is already underway on the Sheep Creek crossing. A DOT crew began pile driving for the temporary span on March 2. “This is the first active project for the season in the Valley,” Reese said. A final new local project will be Phase 2 of upgrades on the Glenn Highway from the Parks interchange to South Inner Springer Loop. Find out more about the KGB project For daily DOT road construction updates




Borough road crews brace for busy summer BY MARK KELSEY


hile state Department of Transportation road projects will have a higher profile around the Mat-Su this summer, borough road crews will also be busy with an impressive to-do list of smaller, more localized projects. In addition to two fish passage efforts – one at Hidden Hills Road, the other along O’Brien Creek at O’Grady Drive, Royal Lane, and Rubacaba Street – the borough has 23 road projects slated for summer construction from Pt. MacKenzie to Willow and Palmer and many points in between. Cole Branham, civil construction manager for the Mat-Su Borough, said the summer projects list is shovel-ready, although the bidding process is not yet complete on some of them. He said the expectation is that all projects will be finished this season. But he cautioned that cost overruns, typically associated with utility relocation, could delay a project. Labor and material shortages have also been a challenge recently. But Branham said he does not expect the work load to change for the summer. “Overall, crews continue to provide quality roads that benefit the community,” he said. “And they have been able to do so without significantly delaying schedules.” The Felton Street extension in Palmer is, perhaps, one of the borough’s more eagerly anticipated public works efforts. A joint project of the borough, City of Palmer, and state DOT, the finished road will add a traffic light along the Palmer-Wasilla Highway and provide additional access to Palmer High School. It will also establish another connection between Bogard Road

and the Palmer-Wasilla Highway. All the projects on the list will bring benefit. “A typical road project helps the community by bringing substandard roads to present standards,” Branham said. “The improvements reduce maintenance costs and provide access for the community. In addition, fish passage projects relieve barriers to fish migration typically caused by impaired or undersized culverts.” Construction on road projects approved by voters in a recent bond package will begin in 2023 and 2024, once design work is finished. Here is a list, by location, of where road work will be done around the Valley this summer: Wasilla area

The Felton Street extension in Palmer is, perhaps, one of the borough’s more eagerly anticipated public works efforts. A joint project of the borough, City of Palmer, and state DOT, the finished road will add a traffic light along the Palmer-Wasilla Highway and provide additional access to Palmer High School. It will also establish another connection between Bogard Road and the PalmerWasilla Highway. Jacob Mann/Frontiersman


• Lucille Street culvert at Meadow Creek

• Knik Knack Mud Shack Road

• Wolverine/Porcupine/Beaver avenues

• O’Brien Creek fish passages (O’Grady Drive/Royal Lane/Rubacaba Street)

• Paradise Lane/Duke Dale Circle • Midway streets (Dimond Way/Hay Street/Dewan Court/Vicki Way/Greenstreet Circle/Barley Avenue • Big Rock Drive KGB area • English Bay Drive/Resolution Bay Circle/Katmai Court

Meadow Lakes area • Golden/Rainbow Park/ Indigo drives, Gray Court • Captain Hook Drive/Golden Lane/Ruby Circle/Topaz Lane/Opal Court/Silver Circle • Silver Drive/Sasbo Bluff Loop Palmer area

• Valley View Drive/Spinnaker Drive/Admiralty Circle/Neptune Circle

• Belair Estates (Monte Carlo Lane/Caprice Drive/ Vega Circle/Corvette Drive)

• Viking/Arlie/Lost Valley roads

• Felton Street extension

• Cormorant Way/Phalarope Drive • Point MacKenzie area

• Hart Lake Loop/Engstrom Road • Aurora Hills Drive/Hickory Street

• Trunk Road connector (Stringfield Road to Trunk Road) • Lombardo Drive • Jupiter/Diana avenues Willow area • Caswell Lakes Loop/ Bendapole Road/Passthebait Avenue • Emswiler/Sunday drives • Hidden Hills Road fish passage



Obstacles and opportunity State, borough look to build an economic future BY MARK KELSEY


espite some rocky, pandemic-fueled times in the last two years, the state and borough economies are well-positioned to bounce back. Health concerns, labor shortages, and supply chain issues disrupted many sectors of the local economy in 2020. But throughout 2021, trends were reversing. Housing sales hit a record level, commercial real estate activity increased, and the visitor industry bounced back with a flood of independent travelers to offset the drop in cruise ship traffic. Later in the year, the injection of federal stimulus money into the economy helped soften the blow of work stoppages and productivity decline. Now, with $5 billion more in federal money coming to Alaska through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, recovery should accelerate, according to Neal Fried, a veteran economist with the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development. Although it’s still unclear exactly how and where the federal infrastructure money will be spent, he said any region with a “significant construction workforce” will benefit as airport and road construction activity increases dramatically. “That’s a positive for the MatSu,” he said. “It’s not going to be a boom, because the money will be spent over years. But it will certainly be a nice boost.” Fried singled out the health care and travel sectors as being ripe for continued growth in the borough. With 498 jobs added, health care has been the borough’s leading

job-growth sector over the 21-month period covering 2020 and the first nine months of 2021, according to state data. “I was surprised by the growth in health care,” he said. “I would not have forecast that in the Valley. It’s not what’s happening statewide.” He attributed the increase to population growth, an aging populace, and new services coming on line that Mat-Su residents used to have to drive to Anchorage for. Bars and restaurants, key to a successful visitor industry, were the second-leading generator of jobs in the borough, adding 307 positions in the same period. An unexpected increase in independent travelers in 2021 – tourists who arrive on their own, not as part of a larger tour group, like cruise ship passengers – fueled the growth and helped erase the losses of 2020. “I think 2021 turned out better for the travel industry than most thought it would without cruise ships,” Fried said. That trend is likely to continue this summer, as the return of cruise lines to Alaska will increase visitor volume. Current turmoil in Europe could also add to summer visitors, he said. “Americans tend to stay closer to home if there are troubles elsewhere,” Fried said. “As long as the national economy remains healthy, more people may stay in the U.S. than go to Europe. We may also see more European visitors now, too.” Predicting what’s ahead economically can be a dicey business fraught with unforeseen surprises. Statewide, Alaska

Bill Popp

Neil Fried

could be challenged to keep jobs filled across all sectors if population continues to decline. After years of steady growth through 2016, the state saw four straight years of population loss, before a slight uptick again in 2021.

and borough’s economic future, the oil industry may not be among them. On the cusp of a burst of new activity in 2020, driven by favorable prices and solid demand, industry’s positive outlook was dashed when Covid hit.

Growth in employment has been a bit of a struggle over the last 10 years, too. While incremental gains have been added in some years, four of the five years from 2016-2020 saw net loss of jobs across the state.

“Demand collapsed and prices sunk,” Fried said. “The price went from around $65 per barrel – where they’re probably making money – to $17, where they’re definitely not.”

Fried said population changes in Alaska are often driven by the state’s economic health relative to the rest of the country. “Fewer people move here if things are fine closer to home,” he said. “That kind of trend could continue if the national economy outperforms Alaska.” No such worries in the Mat-Su, though. During that same period, the borough’s population continued to increase each year, to its current 108,805. Fried cited affordability of housing, and proximity to Anchorage as factors affecting population growth. Although there are reasons to be optimistic about the state’s

Nonetheless, there are signs that a turnaround is happening in 2022. “We think (oil industry) activity will increase in Alaska. But it’s only moderately so far,” he said. “It typically takes longer for industry to recover in Alaska after a downturn. It doesn’t usually decline as fast here as it does nationally. But it doesn’t turn around as quickly, either.” Statewide, oil industry jobs have been on a steady decline in recent years. This is not good news for the 6 percent of the Mat-Su workforce that earns a paycheck on the North Slope. From a high of 15,300 jobs in 2014, industry has shed close to 60 percent of that. Today, the number is closer to 6,600, according to state De-



partment of Labor statistics.

Mat-Su’s Population Keeps Growing


95,697 91,620 93,496

97,930 99,715

108,805 104,971 105,980 107,081 102,317 103,988

2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019 2020 2021

And The Detail Now 2020-2021*

“The oil industry will continue to be a very important part of our economy here for decades,” he said. “But we have to recognize at some point it won’t be a dominant driver in our economy, as it has been in the past.”

Employment in the Mat-Su Valley




Health Care







The state, and lawmakers in Juneau working on a long-term fiscal solution, should not be lulled by the current windfall of oil dollars into state coffers.







-21 Information 34 Social Assistance

*First nine months

Where Mat-Su Residents Work

Anchorage 28%

Mat-Su Borough 57%

Fairbanks 3%

Excludes uniformed military, federal and self-employed workers,2020

Alaska Oil Industry Employment Continues to Struggle 15,300

16,000 14,000 12,000 6,600

10,000 8,000 6,000 4,000 2,000 0







“Temporary increases in the price of oil are not something to build our future on,” Popp said. He said the ongoing inability of state government to address Alaska’s fiscal issues has created uncertainty and instability in the business community. It is also likely contributing to recent population declines that have resulted in the loss of 27,000 working-age adults from Alaska’s population over the last decade.

Kenai Pen. Rest of State Borough 5% 1%

North Slope 6%

That trend is another reminder that it’s time to consider an economic course correction in Alaska, according to Bill Popp, president and CEO of the Anchorage Economic Development Corp. With oil industry studies indicating that peak demand for oil on the world market could be reached in the early- to mid-2030s, the days of oil and federal money paying for the majority of our government and community needs in Alaska are coming to an end, Popp said.



“We can’t keep kicking the can down the road,” Popp said. “Hard political decisions need to be made.” Ongoing battles about cutting the budget are no longer sufficient, he said. The state must devise a long-term fiscal policy that demonstrates a commitment to education, public safety and transportation infrastructure, for example, in order to give families and businesses a reason to be confident about living and investing in Alaska. “Significant change is on the horizon in the coming decades,” Popp said. “We need to figure out what

we want to pursue in a global economy that’s changing before our eyes.” Part of the solution for transitioning to an economy and state government that is no longer as reliant on oil prices and industry activity in Alaska, he said, is a broad-based statewide sales tax. Popp said the Anchorage Economic Development Corp. board of directors has been supporting this idea since 2021, combined with limited targeted spending cuts and adoption of a constitutional amendment incorporating a “percent of market value” strategy to protect the Permanent Fund for current and future generations. “The sales tax should be capped and made to be as least-regressive as possible,” he said. “And it should give priority to local sales taxes already in place.” Despite the near-term challenges presented by labor shortages and population declines, there is reason for optimism. In its recent 2022 economic forecast, the AEDC noted the boost that $5 billion in federal infrastructure spending here will provide as Alaska emerges from the economic doldrums of the pandemic. “This massive investment promises to ripple through the Anchorage economy and will result in infrastructure that fosters and sustains statewide economic growth and development into the future,” the report noted. Popp, a longtime Alaskan with nearly 50 years of economic development-related experience in the public and private sectors, said current opportunities make him feel good about the state’s future. I am optimistic, even with the recent trials and tribulations. There is a lot of opportunity on the horizon,” he said. “The challenge will be, are we willing to do what we need to do to make those opportunities a reality?”



GCI working to connect Alaska BY JACOB MANN


CI is working to connect Alaska on multiple fronts. According to GCI Chief Communications Officer Heather Handyside, the company is dedicating its efforts to “close the digital divide” and make Alaska the most connected state in the nation. “It’s our goal to deliver the best possible connectivity to Alaskans. That requires using every tool in our toolkit,” Handyside said. GCI expanded its 5G wireless service and extended the fiber optic infrastructure further than ever, according to Handyside. She said that fiber optic cable enables GCI to not only bring 5G wireless and 2 gig internet speeds to communities now with the prospect of 10 gig internet speeds within the next five years. “Those are some of the fastest speeds in the nation and something we were able to do because of GCI’s fiber network,” Handyside said. GCI launched 2 gig internet speeds in 2021. Handyside said that fiber is the gold standard of connectivity, and GCI intends to expand its fiber-optic infrastructure wherever possible.GCI uses a combination of microwave and satellite technologies in areas that can’t be reached with fiber. “It’s a challenging and expensive endeavor. Over the past 40 years, GCI has invested more than $4 billion across the state. In many years, especially over the past decade, our capital budget has been larger than the State of Alaska’s,” Handyside said. Handyside said that GCI is making big investments in the Mat-Su Valley with crews working throughout 2022 to expand the 5G wireless net-

A GCI employee works on a tower in the Mat-Su Valley. Courtesy of GCI


Initiative (RCI) in 2020.

“Wireless service is so important to our customers and that’s why, by the time the project is complete, GCI will have invested almost $20 million to bring upgrades across the Valley,” Handyside said. “The buildout will ramp up in the coming months as crews upgrade equipment on wireless towers to support the expansion of 5G service. Each 5G-capable site is outfitted with specialized equipment to utilize GCI’s low-band and mid-band radio spectrum, driving major improvements in speed and coverage, particularly in-building coverage.”

“The RCI is led by GCI senior leadership and sets GCI’s long-term strategy to meet Alaska’s future connectivity needs in rural Alaska and ensures the company’s significant investment in rural Alaska has the biggest possible impact,” Handyside said.

According to Handyside, over 80 percent of Alaskans have access to 2 gig speeds, but the state’s combination of vast distances, extreme weather, and heavily protected lands has been a unique challenge when working to deliver faster connectivity to the remaining 20 percent of those living in rural communities. She said that’s what prompted GCI to launch the Rural Connectivity

GCI is also is working on the Aleutians Fiber Project, which will run approximately 800 miles from Kodiak along the south side of the Alaska Peninsula and the Aleutians to Unalaska. Handyside said the project will deliver urban-level speed, service, and reliability for the first time to the communities of Unalaska, King Cove, Sand Point, Akutan, Chignik Bay, and Larsen Bay.” Handyside said the pandemic has presented a lot of challenges on the education front, but GCI has worked closely with schools across the state to maintain reliable connectivity to enable students and teachers to be successful both

in-person and remotely. GCI provided free equipment and service to Alaskan students so they could learn remotely. “Despite the challenges we’ve all experienced the last couple of years due to the COVID-19 pandemic, GCI has been fortunate to come away with several big wins for our customers across the state. Handyside said that community partnerships are very important to GCI. “GCI is one of Alaska’s leaders in corporate philanthropy, donating approximately $2 million each year in cash, products, and connectivity to organizations across the state. In 2022, GCI is working with nearly 200 nonprofit partners to strengthen the social fabric of communities across the state. GCI has also doubled its donations to organizations that support diversity and inclusion after announcing it as a new area of giving in 2020,” Handyside said. For more information, visit



Revenue buzz Weed tax adds $5.5 million to borough coffers BY MARK KELSEY


f tax receipts are any indication, it appears that retail marijuana is here to stay. Since its inception in 2016, the marijuana tax has generated revenue that has increased in each of the five years since. According to Mat-Su Borough Finance Director Cheyenne Heindel, $5,508,263 has been added to borough coffers through February of this year, courtesy of retail marijuana sales. The largest chunk of that, $1.8 million, was collected in the most recent fiscal year, which ended June 30, 2021.

“LOCAL GOVERNMENTS HAVE RECEIVED SIGNIFICANT TAX REVENUES FROM THIS INDUSTRY.” JESSE SUMNER, DEPUTY BOROUGH MAYOR Each year’s tax haul has also exceeded the amount budgeted that year. So industry growth has outpaced fiscal expectations. And while the industry continues to expand

Budtender Jonathan Lovelace weighing out the flower. Courtesy of Green Jar

in the borough, that is not likely to always be the case, Heindel said. “We are still seeing new retailers enter the market,” she said. “However, market saturation is inevitable.” It could be near, too. With four months remaining in the current fiscal year, the borough has collected $937,153, or

Powersports Parts, Gear and Accessories

Providing Quality Products & Excellent Service 5800 E Columbus Way, Wasilla, AK 99654 907-373-2650 •

about half of last year’s total. The marijuana tax is classified as areawide, which means revenue can be used to fund any areawide borough function, such as education and emergency services. Unlike in other states with legal marijuana, the revenue cannot be dedicated to a single purpose. The revenue has been welcome at a time when state money to communities has been uncertain. But despite exceeded budget projections, total revenue from the marijuana tax has not exceeded the rosiest forecasts prior to legalization. “There were a variety of revenue projections in advance of the legalization of marijuana,” said Jesse Sumner, who has served on the Borough Assembly since 2018 and was recently appointed deputy

borough mayor. “We’ve fallen somewhere in the middle of the expectation range of the public discussion.” Still, Sumner indicated that the lure of revenue helped overcome much of the initial opposition to retail marijuana around the borough. “Local governments have received significant tax revenues from this industry,” he said. “Legalization is unlikely to be rolled back in any area.” Sumner said any future regulation is likely to be driven by industry demand. “I believe that existing license holders will begin to agitate for increased regulation, barriers to entry, and capped participation, as market participants do if allowed in most regulated markets,” he said. Sumner used the example of



A sample of the varieties available at Green Jar in the Valley. Frontiersman file photo

“basic setback requirements” from schools he had proposed early on that received a lot of pushback from industry. “Next time, I expect industry will support it,” he said. Public attitudes have evolved, too. Sumner said there does not appear to be any significant public opposition to retail marijuana operations, beyond concerns about where new operations are located. That shift in attitude can also be seen in Palmer, where voters recently chose to approve marijuana sales in city limits, after initially rejecting it the

first time the question appeared on city ballots. Sabrena Combs is a second-term Palmer City Council member and longtime Palmer resident. She said the change in voter sentiment was likely spurred by seeing the impact of retail marijuana sales outside city limits. “Voters didn’t want it when marijuana was first legalized, but I think they have grown to see that there aren’t massive negative effects on communities, and that it’s generating a lot of revenue,” Combs said. “So when it went back to the

voters, they were comfortable with it. It’s been very positive for Palmer.” A ban on commercial marijuana is still in effect in Wasilla. The borough’s only other incorporated city – Houston – was the first to accept retail pot sales in city limits when voters there rejected a proposed ban in 2015. Mayor Virgie Thompson told Alaska Public Media at the time that the Houston City Council viewed retail marijuana as an opportunity to fund city services in an environment of dwindling revenue streams.

Mat-Su Borough Marijuana Tax Revenue Amounts shown are per fiscal year, which ends June 30. 2017











$937,153 (through February)



Local Businesses Still Feeling Effects Two Years Into COVID-19 BY KYLE WILKINSON


ocal businesses are still feeling the effects nearly two years into COVID-19. Restrictions on public space and open hours, staffing shortages and shipping delays have created issues for a variety of businesses in the Valley. All Seasons Clothing Company, like many businesses, were required to implement certain COVID-19 precautions. Employees were required to wear masks and provide a temperature before clocking in, masks were required by customers and barriers were installed between cash registers. “For the first month when COVID first struck, we did have a decline in customers,” Store Manager Deavon Sylvester said. All Seasons Clothing Company also experienced lay-offs in the initial days of COVID-19 and shortened their hours accordingly. “But after the first initial month,” Sylvester said, “it started to get busier again. And we did have more customers in the store during that year than we had before, like more purchases.”

Sylvester believes the increase in business was attributed to people spending more time recreating outdoors. Sylvester shared that some of these precautions have now been taken down in the store. The business is also seeing more job applicants. Sylvester has a bright outlook on the future. However, she mentioned that shipping delays for products are becoming more difficult for the business.

Jo Ehmann enjoys her usual meal at Sunrise Grill in Palmer. Jacob Mann/Frontiersman

“It just seems to be getting worse as time progresses,” Sylvester said.

its doors to in-house dining, Musliu said customers were ready to reoccupy the space.

Egzona Musliu, whose family owns Sunrise Grill in Palmer, acknowledged that COVID-19 restrictions initially had a large effect on their restaurant.

“They were so excited, Musliu said. “They were like, ‘We missed you guys. We hated cooking at home…. we missed your food.’”

“Honestly, it was a bit rough,” Musliu said. Musliu was quick to mention that even with in-house dining closed for a time, the restaurant was able to stay alive because of their dedicated customers. “A lot of our customers really helped us out by ordering a lot of takeout orders,” Musliu said. Musliu noted that staffing shortages played a role in how many hours they were able to stay open. She has had difficulty finding and retaining staff. Once Sunrise Grill reopened

Musliu had hope in her voice for the future as customers

could be heard talking and eating in the background. “It looks great,” Musliu said. “Honestly, we love it. And we love all our customers who come in. And now we have really made a family here.” Melissa Locke opened Missys Spot in July of 2020, during the COVID-19 Pandemic. A

Jasmine Farci and Egzona Musliu have a meal ready for a customer at Sunrise Grill in Palmer. Jacob Mann/Frontiersman


lifelong dream of Locke’s, the restaurant was a product of being laid off from the Slope due to the pandemic. Locke stated that she doesn’t really know what a “normal” year in this business might look like. “I don’t know how it’s been compared to years before this,” Locke said. “But I do know, the two years that I’ve been in business so far, it’s been difficult to keep employees.” Competing with wages offered from other large businesses in town makes it difficult for small “mom-and-pop” shops to stay open. Locke finds it hard to retain her staff as they leave to find higher paying jobs.


“Which I don’t blame them,” Locke said. “I don’t blame anybody.”

said. “Because I can’t fathom to make a $20 coffee drink, you know?”

Locke also spoke about how inflation has affected her business and made it difficult to keep costs down for customers.

Shipping delays related to COVID-19 prevent many of the ingredients and materials that Locke needs from getting to Alaska and keeping her restaurant open.

“And the food price increase has really hurt because the prices keep going up,” Locke said. “And then people don’t want to pay the higher prices.” Locke has to visit multiple stores to find products for the restaurant, and at the best price for the customer. “And we just try to keep on bringing everything at the lowest price possible to help everybody else out too,” Locke

restaurant… a sit down restaurant so I can have a spot for people to come and chat,” Locke said. “And just hear everybody’s stories, because that’s the important part to me, is the family part of it.”

“Even if we do want to buy at the price that it has inflated to completely,” Locke said, “most of the time, it’s not available.” Locke wants to stay in Wasilla because she likes being in a small town. She just wishes things would settle down. Despite these complications, she shared about her business’s future in Wasilla. “My end goal is to get a real

Staffing shortages and Its effects on local businesses BY KYLE WILKINSON


ocal businesses have faced a variety of issues over the last two years due to COVID-19. One of the major issues they have faced is staffing shortages and difficulties retaining their staff. Melissa Locke owns Missy’s Spot in Wasilla. Locke opened her restaurant in 2020 during the pandemic. “I’ve been lucky to be able to stay open and I opened during a pandemic and keeping it going,” Locke said while working in the restaurant. To keep costs low Locke has had to step into the restaurant more because of a lack of staff. “I’m working a lot more myself here now. So that’s one adjustment because other people want to leave,” Locke said. Locke explained that it’s difficult offering competitive wages compared to big businesses in the Valley.

“I cannot pay $15, $16, $18 an hour to go work at McDonald’s or other fast food places that everybody’s offering that competitive wage nowadays,” Locke said. The current minimum wage for Alaska is $10.34, according to the Department of Labor and Workforce Development Labor Standards and Safety. Locke pointed out that most businesses are offering more than the minimum wage to attract and retain employees. “In this day and age, we’re so broke that, you know, if you can work somewhere else, for more money, I understand from that side of it,” Locke said. “It just sucks for me being the owner, not having, you know, people wanting to work.”

Melissa Locke owns Missys Spot in Wasilla. Locke opened her restaurant in 2020 during the pandemic. To keep costs low Locke has had to step into the restaurant more because of a lack of staff. Jacob Mann/Frontiersman

cally giving $15 an hour, so it seems like the minimum wage is $15,” Locke said.

Smaller restaurants and shops cannot keep up with the competitive wage.

Locke does see a future where things can get “back to normal.” She just doesn’t know when that will be. She has built up her restaurant staff that, for now, includes herself. This is keeping the doors open.

“The minimum wage is not $15 an hour, but everybody’s basi-

Locke does enjoy being a small up-and-coming business in

Wasilla. She shared her hopes to move into a larger space in the future and engage more with her community. “I love that fact of the place being more of just like the slogan, The Last Frontier,” Locke said. “And the fact that the people here are really, really awesome to sit down and talk to.”



Tourism Q&A with the marketing and communications manager at the Mat-Su Convention and Visitors Bureau


s the Mat-Su Borough has grown, so, too, has its tourism industry. Visitors provide a significant revenue stream to the borough. And after a sharp downturn during the Covid pandemic, the industry is poised to rebound strongly, as demand for travel picks up again. Longtime Valley resident Casey Ressler, a 1992 graduate of Wasilla High School and current marketing and communications manager at the Mat-Su Convention and Visitors Bureau, discusses the state of tourism in the Valley and trends affecting it. Frontiersman: Talk about the arc of tourism in the borough over the last 25 years. How have things changed? Ressler: Tourism has grown tremendously over the last 25 years, and is certainly an important part of the Mat-Su Borough’s overall economy. That is money that is spent here that comes from outside of our community. And as tourism grows, so does the positive impact it has for our residents – better trails, increased infrastructure and economic opportunities, for example. Frontiersman: How much more growth is possible in the travel industry here in the Mat-Su? Ressler: Capacity is certainly an issue, and you have to be mindful of the impact to our communities. Responsible growth is important. After the summer of 2020, with virtually no visitors due to Covid, many businesses recovered much quicker in 2021 than anticipated. With the expected return of the cruise industry to Southcentral Alaska in 2022, that sector will contribute to

our recovery and growth. International will take a little longer to fully recover, but there is a lot of potential. Frontiersman: How have we benefited from the rise of independent travelers? Ressler: We most certainly have benefited from the rise of independent travelers, more so now than ever before, in the wake of Covid. With two years of no cruisers and minimal group travelers, independent travelers led the recovery of the industry. Independent travelers also explore destinations and local businesses that aren’t part of the typical group travel itinerary, so it helps spread the footprint of our visitors throughout the entire Mat-Su Borough. Frontiersman: Where are some of the places around the Valley that visitors are interested in going? Ressler: Of course, Talkeetna, Denali State Park, Hatcher Pass and Wasilla and Palmer are the obvious answers. But what’s exciting is the growth in other areas of the borough. The Knik River Valley has grown into a destination, with ice climbing, helicopter tours, lodging, ATV tours, and more. I’d say the same thing about the Glacier View area – it has really grown into a premier destination through partnerships with local businesses and tour operators that realized by working together, they can deliver a world-class experience that keeps visitors there longer. Frontiersman: What tourism infrastructure is likely to be needed or improved to accommodate future growth? Ressler: The proposed Gate-

way Visitor Center will be a huge step. Research reveals that since Covid, visitors are seeking “official” information when they travel, and the Gateway Visitor Center would link them to experiences they had not previously considered. It would be a place where visitors can learn about our culture and history, and about all there is to see and do in the Valley. From there, they would explore different areas and stay longer and spend more. More public restrooms are needed, too. This is infrastructure development that needs to happen. Talkeetna is in need of more parking and a transportation plan as well.

Casey Ressler, marketing and communications manager at the MatSu Convention and Visitors Bureau Tourism Made a Nice Comeback in 2021 Mat-Su Borough bed tax revenues CY, $millions







Down 59% in 2020 $0.6

The thing about tourism infrastructure is that it’s a shared community value. Better trails elevate the visitor experience, for example, but they also increase the quality of life for residents. As infrastructure develops, it not only benefits our visitors, but continues to make the Valley a better place to live. Frontiersman: What travel trends give you hope for the future of the industry here? Ressler: The increase in winter tourism is good to see, and businesses are expanding to meet that demand. It’s also great to see a focus on sustainable tourism and visitors wanting an authentic experience. The increase in cultural and heritage tourism is another trend that I enjoy seeing because it helps tell the stories of our indigenous peoples. That is so important. The rise of independent travelers, as previously discussed, is also a positive trend.








Courtesy of the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development.

Frontiersman: How important is tourism marketing at the state level? Ressler: It is vitally important. A statewide marketing plan benefits every community. The Mat-Su Borough benefits in that it gives us a chance to leverage that state marketing plan to promote our destination specifically. It’s more important now than ever before as people are getting ready to return to travel post-Covid. The competition for attracting visitors is higher than ever before, too, and having a unified, statewide tourism marketing plan can influence the decisions of visitors on where to travel.



Getting a head start Advanced degree program gives PHS students a leg up in college BY MARK KELSEY


f scholarships are the measure, academics offer far more opportunity to students than athletics. To that end, Palmer High School has been quietly adding to local students’ scholarship earnings for two decades with its International Baccalaureate diploma program. The IB diploma is earned through an internationally recognized academic program similar to advanced placement classes, where college-bound students can earn college credit for advanced learning in a variety of subjects. Palmer High is the only school in the Mat-Su Borough School District to offer an IB diploma, which can be

worth a year or more of college credits.

which could result in college credit.

The program focuses on six academic disciplines: Language and literature; Language acquisition; Individuals and societies; Experimental sciences; Mathematics; and The arts. Individual class subjects include modern novel, French and Spanish, history, philosophy, biology and physics.

Sixth-year PHS Principal Paul Reid is a big believer in the program, which has seen 62 diplomas awarded since 2002. He said the results of merging the history classes into just the IB version have been good.

It’s a two-year program for juniors and seniors, and other than prerequisite classes for a few I.B. courses, there are no requirements to participate in an I.B. class, other than IB history, which all juniors now take as a regular curriculum course, although there is no obligation to take the IB exam,

As a longtime coach in the school district, he said he has been approached about athletic scholarships by many parents of players over the years. But non-athletic scholarships are much easier to come by.

“It’s good for kids to get exposed to a higher rigor of student expectations,” he said.

“There’s so much more opportunity in academics,” he

said. The IB program brings that opportunity to the forefront. It differs from advanced placement classes in its more wholistic approach to learning, Reid said. “IB focuses on how we learn, why we learn. Basically, it’s teaching students how to learn,” he said. “Critical thinking is a big component to the program. You see it when you go into the classroom. There is an exercise of critical thinking that’s going on.” It’s not just about the classroom, though. The program also emphasizes development of skills like time management, working cooperatively and problem-solving that are

Kaitlyn Theonnes, Kiani Kalander, Katie Zielger, Jocelyn Zweifel and Julia Safarik pose for a photo during Palmer High School’s class of 2019 graduation ceremony. All five graduated as part of Palmer High’s International Baccalaureate program. Frontiersman file photo



Palmer High School student Emily Mack shows her art journal which chronicles her creative process during Palmer High’s IB Art Show in 2019. Frontiersman file photo

needed to be successful in life. Palmer High builds on that wholistic approach to learning with its wholistic embrace of the IB program. There are 18 IB-trained teachers on the PHS faculty. Makenzie Moore has seen the program from both sides. She teaches social studies and IB history at PHS, where she previously graduated from the school’s IB program. “Being an IB diploma student is hard, but meaningful, work. As a student, it was a transformative experience that helped prepare me, and my classmates, for college-level studies,” Moore said. “It was exciting to be able to come back to Palmer High School last year and participate in a new way in a program that had such a profound impact on my academic career. I’ve especially enjoyed getting to work with students as they challenge themselves intellectually and

academically to keep striving toward improvement, creating habits that will help them become lifelong learners.” Moore, a social studies teacher, is among the 18 IB-trained faculty who are spread over every department at PHS. They all received the entire program training, too, Reid said, not just subject-specific training. That kind of focus has helped the program grow in the six years since Reid has been principal. “There was a time when an IB bio class would have six kids in it,” Reid said. “There are 34 in IB bio now.” Changing the perception of the program as difficult and all-consuming was key to that. “We purposefully have tried to change the narrative about what the program provides students,” Reid said. “Stu-

dents used to think that you couldn’t have a life and be an IB student. We want our students to be able to be in music and sports, too.” The success feeds off itself, he said. “Kids are surrounded by others who want to learn. And it’s also more enjoyable for teachers to have eager learners in front of them,” Reid said. And those scholarships just keep coming, with the IB diploma earners accounting for 80 percent of all scholarships awarded to PHS students in 2020. Additionally, Reid said, in the last three years Palmer High students have earned full-ride scholarships to Notre Dame and the Air Force Academy, and last year the school had its first graduate accepted to Harvard. “The IB program breaks down socioeconomic barriers for students who may not have

By the Numbers Palmer High School International Baccalaureate degree program First year offered to students

2001 Total program diploma recipients since 2002

62 Number of IB exams taken since 2002

more than 900 Number of IB-trained PHS faculty

24 the means to attend college, and brings opportunities to any student willing to put in the work,” he said.



New curriculum updates study hall concept Four Cs program aims to keep students on track for graduation and beyond BY MARK KELSEY


fter pandemic-induced disruptions of traditional learning, the Mat-Su Borough School District saw an opportunity to fine-tune how it serves and prepares students. School shutdowns at the beginning of the Covid pandemic were followed by a blended model of learning where some students went back to the classroom and others chose to stay home and do remote learning. That left gaps in the

consistency and thoroughness of learning not previously seen. That’s how the Four Cs curriculum was born. Focusing on credit, college, community, and career readiness, the Four Cs concept borrows from, and expands on, the time-worn concept of a study hall. The newly introduced program is all about helping students keep up with unfinished learning while helping them

transition to what comes next, depending on the grade level, said Justin Ainsworth, associate superintendent of secondary schools.

had a similar program for years, “advisory”. But the Four Cs expands on the mostly academic focus of advisory to include life skills.

“There’s nothing wrong with a really good study hall,” Ainsworth said. “Kids need that time and that safety net.”

“We’re trying to be a little more prescriptive,” he said. “We want to have social and emotional learning, too.”

The structure provided, and the focus on extra help, elevates the new program from a traditional study hall. Ainsworth noted that the district’s middle schools have

Part of the success of the program, which provides students a place to take makeup tests and get extra help in classes where it’s needed, will be measured by academically.

Garrett Streit gave his valedictory address during Colony High School’s graduation ceremony in 2021. Frontiersman file photo



“We’re always trying to keep our percentage of low grades under 5 percent,” Ainsworth said. This goal came into sharp focus after the 2020-21 school year, when a large portion of the student population opted for remote learning. The percentage of Fs districtwide spiked to more than 9 percent that year, from 5.27 percent the year before. As with any first-year program, there has been a learning curve, he said. “We’ve learned a lot. Next year it’ll be better,” Ainsworth said. “Learning gaps aren’t going to go away next year.”

“THE CHOKE POINTS FOR KIDS HAVE BEEN THE SIXTH, NINTH AND 13TH YEARS OF SCHOOL.” JUSTIN AINSWORTH, MSBSD ASSOCIATE SUPERINTENDENT FOR SECONDARY SCHOOLS At the high school level, Four Cs is only required of freshmen. Next year, it will also be required of sophomores. That’s because of the greater need that arises from transitioning from middle school to the more rigorous environment of the secondary level. The class becomes an as-needed add-on after that. “The choke points for kids have been the sixth, ninth and 13th years of school,” Ainsworth said.

with a general goal of avoiding having to repeat learning.

Spring of 21: Five Yea r Gra dua tion Ra tes

“We want students to be ready for Algebra 1 and English 1 as freshman so they don’t have to take remedial courses,” he said. At the high school level, it’s more about giving freshman a safety net while preparing them for life after graduation. The hope is that freshmen learn the ropes and get organized enough so they can take electives as upperclassmen, or even do an internship or work a part-time job.

Spring of 21: Four Yea r Gra dua tion Ra tes

This is where the “career readiness” piece of the Four Cs comes into play. The program helps students map out what they need to know for their chosen path, whether it be learning how to write a cover letter and resume, fill out a college application, talk to a military recruiter, or learn interview skills. “You’ve got to have a plan,” is the message, Ainsworth said. Mikey Evans, an educational technologist with the school district, agreed. He said the Four Cs program was intended to be a “structured advisory period” individually tailored to each student’s needs on any given day. It can be a time to recoup credits missed during the pandemic. Up-to-date students can use the time to work on college applications or research professional licensing requirements and apprenticeships for after graduation. Doing homework is also encouraged.

That’s when they move from elementary to middle school, from middle school to high school, and from high school to what comes next.

“It’s a time for students to drive the train,” Evans said. “Students should be able to leave it all behind,” and not have to be overburdened with school work at home. Properly administered, Four Cs should benefit students, teachers and parents, he said.

The middle school program is more academics-oriented,

“The schools that have implemented it in the way it was in-

tended are seeing positive results,” Evans said. He singled out Colony Middle and Houston Jr./Sr. High schools for “doing amazing things” with the program. He echoed Ainsworth’s concerns about first-year wrinkles, but also agreed that the program will improve after the “reflection and adaptation” that will follow the end of this school year. “I’m confident it will only get better. Any program in its first year is going to struggle,” Ev-

ans said. “But Four Cs has the potential to be incredibly effective on many levels for all of our kids. I look forward to seeing what year two of Four Cs brings.



Mat-Su Regional Medical Center worked through the adversity during the pandemic, now the Valley hospital is ready to grow BY TIM BRADNER


at-Su Regional Medical Center has emerged from the dark times of the COVID-19 pandemic. Signals of a return to normalcy: The hospital will again offer its annual bicycle safety rodeo this summer and a health fair in the fall, things that had to be postponed during the pandemic. A full range of its services are again being offered and the hospital, which has 125 beds, is back on track for expansion. This includes recruiting new medical providers from the Lower 48 who want to practice and live in the Mat-Su Valley. “Our hospital has to match the needs of a dynamic, growing community,” said Dave Wallace, Mat-Su Regional’s CEO. “Recruiting new physicians to the area and expanding our service offerings is a direct reflection of our community’s economic growth.” In 2021, Mat-Su Regional recruited 13 new medical providers to the community. Even in 2020, the year the pandemic began, the hospital recruited 15 providers to the community. There are additions in surgical capacity and cardiac care, in childrens’ health and primary care. These include two OB-GYNs, a general surgeon, two interventional cardiologists and an internal medicine physician added to the hospital’s staff. The internal medicine specialty – or internist – is particularly important, given the needs of a growing population of seniors in the region. What’s also important is that almost all the new providers were recruited from the Low-

er 48 and not from Anchorage or other parts of Alaska, so they represent a net addition to the state’s healthcare capacity and its economy, said Alan Craft, spokesperson for Mat-Su Regional. Other signs that things are headed back to normal: • Hospital emergency department volumes have recovered from 2020 and are on par with pre-COVID numbers from 2019 • Surgery volumes also recovered from 2020 and are on track with 2019 The better times are a relief. “The past two years were very challenging for the hospital and its staff, as with other hospitals across the state,” said Wallace. The hospital began seeing a surge of COVID-19 at the end of summer. “Our high-water mark hit October 21 when we had more than 50 patients hospitalized with COVID,” Craft said. “This tapered off in early November and continued a downward trend through the beginning of January.” Mat-Su Regional has 125 beds available overall. The hospital completed an expansion project in 2019 that added 35 medical-surgical beds. This additional capacity allowed the hospital to convert one of the new wings to a temporary Intensive Care Unit, staffed by ICU-trained nurses and technicians and tooled with ICU-specialty equipment, Craft said. “Fortunately, we were able to carve out this new space to care for COVID patients when the Delta Variant hit.” “It’s pretty well documented that Mat-Su Regional was

a model of preparation and executed a well-designed COVID-19 response plan that ultimately relieved pressure on the entire state,” said Craft. “Hospitals in Anchorage and across Alaska were sending us COVID patients because they were beyond capacity while we were able to expand our capacity to meet the surge needs.”

work, camaraderie and compassion under extreme pressure. Our medical staff and community providers were especially supportive.”

“We had challenges but everyone worked together,” added Wallace. “We had to limit certain services, such as elective surgeries, during the pandemic, but that allowed us to redeploy employees to where there was the greatest need. Our ICU units were a kind of ‘melting pot’ of our medical staff from all over the hospital,” he said. “People were taking on additional shifts and added responsibilities to allow us to care for the influx of patients.”

“At different times we had 26 to 30 temporary nurses, respiratory therapists and other specialists working, and we still have 10 who are due to leave March 18,” he said.

“Those were especially tough times because there were hospital employees who had lost loved ones to COVID-19,” Wallace said. Staff shortages were a continuing challenge because employees who tested positive for COVID-19 had to stay home even if the symptoms were mild. This added stress on those still working. A lot of credit should be given to Dr. Tom Quimby, the hospital’s pandemic response team leader, Wallace said. Quimby is an emergency medicine physician who is part of the same physician group as Dr. Anne Zink, chief medical officer of the State of Alaska. “He embodied the finest qualities of a servant-leader, he said. “Our staff responded phenomenally to the COVID-19 surge,” Craft said. “There was an amazing synthesis of team-

During this time the assistance provided by the State of Alaska to recruit and bring in temporary medical staff from the Lower 48 was of tremendous help, Wallace said.

A silver lining in this is that some of the visiting staff who found they liked Alaska, and Mat-Su Regional, have applied for permanent positions at the hospital. Meanwhile, the hospital continues to be an economic anchor for the region. There are more than 800 employees, along with an active medical staff of 123 physicians. Craft explained that the medical staff is comprised of community physicians who treat patients at the hospital (and aren’t necessarily employed by the hospital). In 2020 the hospital supported a payroll of $86.7 million (this does not include physicians and specialists with their independent practices), paid $1.622 million in property and sales taxes, and invested $3.68 million in capital projects. There was also $136,400 spent in donations and outreach in 2020, and the hospital purchased $7.57 million in local goods and services.

continued on page 30



Capstone’s statewide and national efforts BY JACOB MANN


apstone Clinic has played a substantial role in the MatSu Valley and the surrounding state’s overall efforts supporting the public with a range of services and public health projects throughout the pandemic. “We’re proud of the fact that we got our operations up quickly and saw the need quickly and were able to mobilize in a way that was meaningful for our community,” Capstone Clinic founder Dr. Wade Erickson said. Capstone was the first private medical clinic in Alaska to offer on-site COVID-19 testing through its mobile-care units in early 2020, eventually expanding to airports and commercial fishing centers across the state, according to Erickson. “We really did a good job making testing accessible,” Erickson said. “The ability for our communities to reach out and help each other was substantially tested and proven through this whole process. So, I think that there were a lot of people hurting and a lot of people came to their aid.” Capstone launched a homegrown mobile site designed by medical clinicians called COVID Secure in 2020. COVID Secure allows advanced patient testing, notification, and observation tracking with advanced reporting tools. The site was designed to suit real-world healthcare needs, offering an array of tools to track and report COVID-19

cases. Erickson said the application has been used across the country. Another pandemic-related project included testing for thousands of fishermen out of Dillingham to keep the fleet open, securing jobs and product lines. Capstone also became a trusted partner with the State of Hawaii for its domestic transpacific and inter-county pre-travel testing programs. “The biggest thing for us right now is figuring out off-ramp out of COVID, and I think everyone’s trying to work on that. It’s kind of a fluid situation, always waiting for new mandates and recommendations from the CDC and trying to apply those to both our practice and to our testing/ vaccine facilities.” According to Erickson, overall testing rates have dropped significantly in the Valley and surrounding state over the last year, slowing to the steady pace it’s at now. “Now, if you look at the curve, it’s just kind of flat. It’s not dropping drastically anymore, you can just tell it’s going to be this little bit of a smolder that’s always here like the flu. That graph pretty much looks the same statewide,” Erickson said. “I think after two years, people are just done with the thought of COVID. I think that’s why you’re seeing a lot of actions both nationally and locally in regards to reducing mandates and restrictions and whatnot. It’s a combination of both things.”

Capstone has operated numerous mobile testing units across the state since the onset of the pandemic. Erickson said their plan is to monitor the situation month to month to determine whether or not to continue a mobile site. He said if they see two straight months where there’s no clinical or financial reason to maintain a location, they will shut it down. That’s subject to change depending on factors such as a new mandate or variant outbreak.

community and whether or not you’re giving it to folks who are at high risk. I do think that getting tested if you’re symptomatic is still a pertinent idea, especially if you’re not able to isolate,” Erickson said.

“I think November is going to be hit again. It’s just a matter of what type and how bad. But, we’re much smarter and much more ready along those lines. At this point, with the rates being pretty low and the restrictions starting to come off from travel and for work, people won’t need to be tested as often, perhaps only when they’re ill or if there’s a change in their treatment protocol. In that situation, we wouldn’t need community testing centers anymore. We needed them because of travel restrictions and because of work restrictions and also because there was a fair amount of community need. We didn’t want to overburden the local healthcare resources,” Erickson said. “I say that kind of tongue and cheek because if another variant comes, then my whole spiel is gone.”

“I think number one, the most important thing that we’ve learned from this is that good nutrition and good health and being in good physical condition are probably some the biggest factors in keeping our immune systems strong and that significantly reduces our risk of getting ill from these types of things,” Erickson said. “It’s the common cold. It’s been morphing for a thousand years or more. So, we’re going to live with this. It’s just going to be some other test. I believe it will become more of a norm for us, and I don’t think it will, hopefully, not come to such a clampdown in the future. Technology has greatly improved just in the last two years and the accessibility has greatly improved. So, you’ll see people start to identify things faster with these new machines.”

Erickson said that getting tested for COVID-19 is still important for those that are symptomatic or at high risk.

For more information about Capstone Clinic services and locations, visit capstoneclinic. net.

“As far as testing goes, I still think that it’s important to have an idea of what’s in the

For more information about the COVID Secure app, visit

Erickson said that COVID-19 is going to be part of everyday life from this point onward. He said it’s been a trying time for everyone, but there’s also been a lot of important developments and lessons learned along the way.

MAT-SU REGIONAL MEDICAL CENTER, CONT. Mat-Su Regional also provided $20.8 million in uncompensated, or “charity” care in 2020 to aid those who couldn’t afford the cost of services but

who were cared for anyway. “One thing the pandemic revealed is how interconnected we all are. Mat-Su Regional

Medical Center is a community hospital. We have a tremendous responsibility to care for our community. Our purpose is to help people get well and

live healthier. I’m extraordinarily proud of how our team responded to the crisis of this pandemic,” Wallace said.



Seward Meridian medical district reflects Valley’s continued growth as a ‘one-stop-shop’ BY JACOB MANN


he Seward Meridian medical district has quickly become one of the busiest areas in the Mat-Su Valley, reflecting the community’s overall growth.

so it’s been gratifying to see it grow. The patients seem to appreciate it, and it’s fulfilling a lot of needs in our community. It’s something that’s been enjoyable for me to watch and be a part of,” Erickson said.

Capstone Clinic founder Dr. Wade Erickson said that he’s enjoyed witnessing the medical district’s substantial development as one of the first providers that occupied the area. He said that he helped envision the overall development of the area with Howdie Inc. and Pediatric Dentistry of Alaska founder Dr. Roger Beck.

There are over a dozen different providers currently offering medical care out of the Seward Median medical district. Erickson marveled at the sheer volume of customers that cycle through the various facilities that have moved to the complex since 2010. He said that particular area was playing a pivotal part in the Valley’s overall medical industry.

“The vision all along was to develop a medical campus,

“I would say it’s probably the second-largest role outside

the hospital because the community can come to one area to have multiple needs taken care of,” Erickson said. Pediatric Dentistry was also part of the first wave of facilities that moved to the Seward Meridian medical district. Beck said that he has also enjoyed watching the area grow into a centralized hub. “Countless numbers of patients call it a one-stop-shop for their medical needs,” Beck said. “I think it’s nice to have a medical campus. Beck said the Valley’s overall medical industry has grown substantially since he started his practice over two decades ago. He said the Seward Me-

ridian medical campus stands as a poignant example fo the Valley’s rapid growth in population and the medical sector’s growth working in tandem to accommodate the ever-growing need for health services. He anticipates even more development in the future, which means more services will be available without having to travel to Anchorage. “It seems like my colleagues in the medical field and the dental field are all staying busy, and all of our practices are growing. New facilities are being built to accommodate that growth. I think one of the greatest assets we have out here in the Valley is land,” Beck said.

The Seward Meridian medical district has quickly become one of the busiest areas in the Mat-Su Valley, reflecting the community’s overall growth. Jacob Mann/ Frontiersman

Chest Pain? Severe Abdominal Pain? High Fever?



Symptoms of a medical emergency need quick treatment. And in some cases, fast care can be life saving. So don’t delay or be afraid to get help if you need it. With limited entry points, screening for everyone, frequent deep cleaning and social distancing, we are taking extra precautions to keep you safe. There’s a good reason to get to a hospital fast in an emergency – your life could depend on it. If you are experiencing a medical emergency, call 911.