Future airport facility will offer seafood cold storage, processing options

Millions in federal transportation funds approved to construction first phase of project

A cargo storage and warehouse facility scheduled to open by the summer of 2022 at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport is expected to offer the seafood industry new options for cargo transfer cold storage and value-added processing.

The 190,000 square-foot cold storage and climate-controlled air cargo transfer facility will be equipped to store an abundance of seafood harvested in Alaska and processing that will add value to the product before it is shipped out to domestic and international markets, say officials with the Alaska Energy Authority. Alaska is consistently the nation’s largest seafood producer.

In 2017 and 2018 alone, annual harvests of some 2.5 million tons of seafood were worth $4.7 billion after processing.

Once the airport facility opens, seafood producers will have the option of cold storage in the state, rather than transporting seafood to cold storage in Washington state. Copper River Seafoods recently opened its own seafood cold storage facility in Anchorage.

AEA, a state entity whose mission is to reduce the cost of energy in the state, is working with Alaska Cargo and Cold Storage (ACCS) on the multi-million-dollar project. The goal is to provide a facility that is exceptionally energy efficient by maximizing available renewable and energy efficient technologies.

“There is significant interest in the ACCS facility, especially in the seafood industry,” according to McKinley Capital Management LLC, which has investment interests in the facility. ACCS is one of a number of projects that McKinley Capital’s private investment team is working on.

A number of inquiries have been received from companies, that are interested in cold storage as well as freight transfer and storage, a spokesperson for McKinley Capital said. Specific opportunities for seafood processors may include the ability to process, store and ship products by air from Anchorage and take advantage of the Free Trade Zone and Anchorage’s position as a cargo hub. This may allow processors to increase production and air delivery of high-value fresh, frozen and refreshed products from Alaska, the spokesperson said.

Research conducted by the McDowell Group identifies the seafood industry as leveraging the greatest additional value from cold storage capacity at the Anchorage airport.  At this time only a small fraction of Alaska-produced seafood is sold fresh. Lack of cold storage infrastructure in close proximity to air freight transportation services is a key reason why markets for fresh Alaska seafood remain largely untapped. The state produces some $300 million in fresh and live seafood annually, accounting for 7 percent of the total first wholesale value of fish produced in Alaska, which totaled $4.47 billion in 2018. Only about 5 percent of the Bristol Bay sockeye fishery is sold fresh and only 10 percent to 15 percent of the fresh seafood produced in Alaska is sold in export markets, a total of $32 million in 2018. The increased value of seafood through use of the cold storage availability is expected to result in more income for fishermen, seafood processors and coastal communities.

“This new transfer facility will improve shipping capabilities, strengthen Alaska’s supply chain security, and provide much-needed jobs for Alaskans,” said Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska.

Murkowski and the rest of the state’s congressional delegation advocated in May for the funds in a letter to Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao.

ACCS will be the first cargo transfer and cold storage facility developed at the airport that will be available for leasing by major air cargo carriers, who are not individually large enough to support development of such a facility, AEA officials said. FedEx and UPS both have their own cargo facilities for their exclusive use at the airport, but AEA notes that aircraft for both FedEx and UPS combined account for just 22 percent of all air cargo flown into Anchorage.

AEA learned this week that they had been awarded a $21 million federal transportation grant to help finance construction of the facility.

“We are extremely pleased,” said Curtis Thayer, executive director of AEA. “It is also a grant that can aid in hiring hundreds of Alaskans.”

AEA estimates that the $87.9 million first phase of the project will generate 830 jobs with $56.9 million in labor income and $147.6 million in total Alaska expenditures. Phase two is projected to generate an additional 1,245 jobs, $75.6 million in labor income, and $220.5 million in total Alaska expenditures. ACCS operations are expected to generate 115 jobs and $9.1 million in total labor income following the completion of the first phase. Phase two operations are expected to generate an additional 190 jobs and $15.5 million in total labor income.