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Contact: Robert Venables,, 907.586.4360    

A Power Company, a Small Town and a Career Public Servant: Southeast Conference Presents the 2017 Southeast Alaska Business, Community and Individual of the Year Awards

Haines, ALASKA – Each year, Southeast Conference presents awards to regional companies, municipalities and people for outstanding achievements in creating positive economic impact. Southeast Conference announced the winners of its 2017 awards at its annual meeting in Haines.

Southeast Alaska Business of the Year 2017 Winner: AEL&P

Alaska Electric Light and Power, located in Juneau, is the oldest business in Alaska (holding the longest continuously-operating business license). Throughout its 124-year existence, AEL&P’s commitment to innovation and forward thinking has been nearly unmatched our private or public sectors. As such, Juneau enjoys the lowest electrical rates in the state among large regulated utilities, and ranks among the world’s greenest communities due to hydropower fueled electricity. Originally developed during the Gold Rush to serve Juneau’s mines, more than a century later AEL&P still utilizes Southeast Alaska’s most abundant natural resource to deliver clean, renewable and, most importantly, affordable power to the entire community. Reducing energy costs throughout the region remains a primary goal of Southeast Conference, and the economic benefit of Juneau’s lower cost electricity has been enormous for households and businesses.

“AEL&P is delighted to be recognized by the Southeast Conference as the Business as the Year, ‘in recognition of exemplary service to Southeast Alaska,’” said AEL&P Vice President & Director of Energy Services Alec Mesdag, accepting the award. “AEL&P celebrates its 125th anniversary in 2018; throughout our long history we’ve been committed to the well-being of Juneau and Southeast Alaska. Our company is dedicated to providing safe, affordable, reliable and renewable power to Juneau, as well as supporting the economic vitality of our region in whatever ways we can.”

“Not only does AEL&P offer some of the lowest electrical rates of any regulated utility in the nation,” said Robert Venables, Executive Director of Southeast Conference. “It’s an organization full of locals who truly care about Juneau, the Southeast region and Alaska as a whole.”

(Appearing in AEL&P photo from left to right: Alec Mesdag, AEL&P Vice President & Director of Energy Services; former AEL&P President and General Manager Timothy McLeod; Connie Hulbert, current AEL&P President and General Manager)

Southeast Alaska Community of the Year 2017 Winner: Wrangell

When the Alaska Pulp Company sawmill closed in 1994, it devastated Wrangell’s local economy. At the time, timber industry jobs comprised 20 percent of the local workforce, and nearly a third of all direct wages. Community leaders refocused their energy on developing and supporting their maritime resources, specifically the local seafood and marine services industries. This included converting the old downtown mill site into a marine services center and boat yard, building a new boat harbor (Wrangell’s third) and upgrading the local seafood processing infrastructure, as well as further investments in boatbuilding and repair facilities. Wrangell also turned its attention to the tourist industry and cultural maritime economy, refurbishing its cruise ship dock, constructing a convention and visitors center, restoring the Chief Shakes Tribal House and completing a major downtown revitalization project.

Through nearly 25 years of concentrated efforts and an unwavering focus on long-term goals—not to mention systematically obtaining and strategically using funding—the community of Wrangell turned the tide of potential economic devastation. Today, the maritime sector now accounts for half of its private economy and Wrangell rates as one of Southeast Alaska’s fastest growing communities.

“Wrangell Economic Development Director Carol Rushmore deserves much of the credit for this award, along with so many other residents and local leaders who worked to find opportunities and create a locally-driven consensus-based process,” said Wrangell Assembly Member Julie Decker, who accepted the award on the community’s behalf.

“Wrangell is proud to be recognized by its peers in the region as Community of the Year. What an honor,” added Lisa Von Bargen, Wrangell’s City and Borough Manager.

“It’s inspiring to see how Wrangell came together after economic calamity and worked to transform itself into a model of diversification, not only providing for itself, but also shining as a model for other communities to follow,” said Robert Venables, explaining the reasoning behind Wrangell’s award.

(Appearing in Wrangell photo from left to right: Julie Decker, City and Borough of Wrangell Assembly Member; Chelsea Goucher Southeast Conference President; Meilani Schijvens, Director, Rain Coast Data)

Southeast Alaska Person of the Year 2017 Winner: Kathie Wasserman

During the last three decades, few have contributed more to Southeast Alaska than Kathie Wasserman—if any. Kathie has been Mayor of the City of Pelican, Mayor of the City of Kasaan, Vice Mayor of the City & Borough of Sitka, President of Southeast Island School District and President of the Alaska Conference of Mayors. She has worked for the Alaska Municipal League for 13 year, serving as it Executive Director for more than a decade. She plans a well-deserved retirement in late May 2018.

“We awarded Kathie Southeast Conference’s Person of the Year Award for her outstanding dedication to, and championing of, public service and local government,” said Robert Venables. “Kathie is a unique individual who defies definition. She’s played a significant role in community development and public policy, beginning in some of our smallest cities and now representing community issues across the entire state. We all owe her huge a debt of gratitude.”

“For years, business people and local elected officials, through Southeast Conference, have been working hard on issues affecting all of Southeast Alaska,” said Kathie, accepting the award with her typical humility. “It’s amazing how many successes they have under their belt. It’s been a privilege to work with all these people for the last 30 years and it means more to me than you can know to have them honor me. They are one dedicated bunch.”

"Southeast Conference is dependent on the relationships we enjoy with each and every one of our partners and members,” said Southeast Conference’s president Chelsea Goucher, explaining the importance of both the award and this year’s winners. “Involved municipalities like Wrangell and engaged businesses like AEL&P make our job of economic development possible by providing resources and support. Equally important are stand-out individuals like Kathie Wasserman; without the personal dedication and creativity of individuals like Kathie we would simply cease to exist. The fact that the Conference chose to recognize Wrangell, AEL&P aAnchornd Kathie this year is just perfect!"


About the Southeast Conference: With more than 180 member organizations, including nearly every community in the region, Southeast Conference serves as the collective voice for advancing the region’s economy. The mission of Southeast Conference is to undertake and support activities that promote strong economies, healthy communities and a quality environment in Southeast Alaska. Southeast Conference began more than 50 years ago with a group of people supporting the establishment of a regional transportation system in Southeast Alaska.  After that success Southeast Conference stayed together through more than a half-century to focus on transportation issues as well as many other concerns unique to the region.