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National chains finding success in Alaska

By Shannon Ballard 6:11 AM March 31, 2014

A rush of new business around Anchorage points to a recent trend — national chains heading north to find success in the Last Frontier.

Perhaps you’ve noticed all the construction, or are counting down the days until your favorite chain comes to Alaska.

“It adds competition to the city,” said Anchorage resident Stephen Gillies. “We’re big enough now we can handle it, I think.”

“Over time, the smaller mom-and-pop shops are the ones who suffer,” said longtime Alaskan Travis Reft. “They can’t compete with the big money.”

Cabela’s will be the next big chain to open in Alaska. Its grand opening is scheduled for April 10. Manager Kevin Weeks said Cabela’s has been researching the state for years.

“It’s great being next to a great retailer like Target and across the street from the expansion of the outlet mall coming next year,” Weeks said. ”There’s just all sorts of growth down here and its going to be exciting.”

Bill Popp, president and CEO of the Anchorage Economic Development Corporation, said Alaskans have more disposable income here than most other states.

“We like to shop and our total square footage sale — anecdotal, from what we are told — are incredibly successful for any number of national chains that have set systemwide sales records for individual chains,” Popp said. “Word gets around on that and people get excited about that when they start to think about being part of this very dynamic retail market.”

Word of success stories in Alaska entices outside retailers and restaurants.

“We just want to be part of that,” Weeks said.

Cabela’s hired nearly 300 people to staff its first store in Alaska.

If more chains continue to make Anchorage home, AEDC anticipates it’ll have a hard time finding enough bodies to fill the jobs.

“We’ve got a really tight labor market,” Popp said. “Last year’s unemployment rate was five percent.”

It’s the reason he expects chain development to slow down.

“These developments come in cycles and then it slows down for a while, kind of goes flat, doesn’t go backwards but that’s the history that’s shown in Alaska,” Popp said.

We may be hitting the end of a cycle, but the big-name chains are finding out about Alaska and the opportunities that exist here for their long-term success.

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