CRS opens Anchorage cold storage facility

Blake: The bottom line is to create jobs in Alaska and keep them in Alaska

Copper River Seafoods executives preparing to fill up their new cold storage building in Anchorage with wild Alaska seafood, from left, Joe O’Halloran, vice president of sales and operations; Scott Blake, chief executive officer; and Billy Green, general manager. Photo by Margaret Bauman/for The Cordova Times

From its early days in Cordova as a new seafood processing company bent marketing their oil-rich salmon to the world, the goal of Copper River Seafoods has been to create as much local economic opportunity as possible.

“The bottom line,” says chief executive officer Scott Blake, “is to create jobs in Alaska and keep them in Alaska.”

Now Copper River Seafoods, which employs about 150 people at its processing facility in Anchorage, is betting on its new cold storage facility, with capacity to accommodate two to three million pounds of seafood, to add up to 40 new jobs once it is up and running.

All of the company’s inventory currently in cold storage in Seattle is to be transferred to Anchorage later this summer and all seafood processed from this year’s harvest that requires cold storage will go directly to the new facility in Anchorage as well.

The decision to purchase and renovate a former ice cream company’s cold storage plant comes after some 15 years of utilizing cold storage facilities in the Seattle area.

“We’re trying to create as many local opportunities as possible,” said Blake, who grew up in a fishing family in Cordova. “There is plenty of opportunity here.”

With the combination of new equipment at its processing facility and quick access to its own frozen product, Blake anticipates also increasing employment at the processing facility in the downtown area of Anchorage. Copper River Seafoods also employees another 300 to 400 seasonal employees in primary processing facilities during summer months, and has buying stations in Homer, elsewhere in Cook Inlet and Kotzebue.

Since Copper River Seafoods is the only one of the big eight seafood processors operating in Alaska that is owned and operated as an Alaska and U.S. company, it only makes sense to continue our growth by bringing this critical business function of cold storage inhouse to meet our storage needs, said Jim Kostka, the company’s marketing director.

“This meets a major CRS objective, that it is tied to the business/supply chain cycle of bringing wild and sustainable Alaska seafood to the market,” he said.

Bringing cold storage access to Alaska will also provide a considerable cost saving.

Copper River Seafoods’ processing facility in Anchorage is already a Transportation Security Administration certified facility, with no visitors allowed and all employees having temperature checks upon arrival and departure from work every day.

While following mandates laid down by the state of Alaska to deal with the global novel coronavirus pandemic, the company’s own protocols are already stricter than the state’s, Blake said. Those working at Copper River Seafoods’ outlying facilities are all required to quarantine for 14 days and they get tested for COVID-19 before going to work.

The company also cites as a safety advantage during the current pandemic the fact that they have a preference for and access to local hire. All hiring is done locally or from the Lower 48.

“We are here yearround and these jobs have a lot of security,” Blake said. “We are looking to expand those opportunities, to do more with the resource that we have.”

The COVID-19 pandemic itself has had a severe impact on the seafood business, which has lost major markets in the restaurant and food service industry as thousands of restaurants, education facilities and other entities have shut down temporarily or permanently to limit the spread of the virus.

“We are slowly trying to move product back into retail,” Blake said.

To that end, even as restaurants and other entities begin to reopen, Copper River Seafoods is reshaping the company to allow Alaskans to buy directly a variety of seafoods through its Alaska Wild Seafood Market, at alaskawildseafoodmarket.com.

The company also offers free delivery anywhere in the Lower 48 for orders of over $200.

“We sell the best food in the world,” said Blake. “We want people in Alaska and the rest of the U.S. to have access to it.”