Best of alaska Business Special Section
By Kathryn Mackenzie

isk assessment companies will tell any business owner that having a crisis plan in place is crucial. In Alaska that means being prepared for a lot of potentially disastrous scenarios—earthquakes, snow and ice, fires and smoke, even bears or moose. And now businesses have added pandemics their risk mitigation plans.

This year as part of the Best of Alaska Business awards surveying process, we asked you which businesses have been particularly impressive with their response to a whole new set of challenges presented by COVID-19.

While state and local leaders were scrambling to figure out how to best protect the public, companies small and large were carefully, quickly, and thoughtfully determining how to protect their employees and customers—not just from the virus, but from job losses and financial distress. As classrooms closed and students were sent home to learn, families had to adjust their work schedules to accommodate yet another significant change to their lives and companies had to figure out how to help them.

Wayde Carroll | Cook Inlet Tribal Council
When we were sorting through your answers to this question, one response was repeated over and over: employees were most impressed with their employer’s ability to quickly pivot them from in-office to remote work. And workers whose jobs require them to stay on location say they have been most impressed by the safety protocols put in place by their employers: plexiglass partitions, masks, hand sanitizer, and social distancing have all helped client-facing workers feel more secure during a very insecure time. We thought instead of interpreting these answers ourselves, we’d eliminate the middleman and print the answers just as they were given to us.

From restaurants and retailers to banks and hospitals, our readers answer the question: What company impressed you with its COVID-19 response? And why?

49th State Brewing Company
49th State Brewing Company was commended for the fact that it “never gave up and helped give the community hope for the past year!”

As another reader pointed out, “David and Jason fed 1,500 meals a day for quarantined people.”

And: “49th State Brewing installed UV-c lights to sanitize the building and UV-c lights in the HVAC system to sanitize the air. Employees fill out daily screening and temp check, walk through a shoe sanitizing bath, wear gloves and masks, and maintain rigorous safety procedures.”

Alaska Executive Search
“Alaska Executive Search embraced the technology allowing remote work and ensured their candidates were safe on the job. AES employees were encouraged to work remotely as much as possible and a very thorough and structured timeline was put in place for return to the office… This led to a more secure experience for staff, candidates, and potential candidates.”
Alaska Regional Hospital
“They provided the safest, highest quality care to COVID-19 patients, while also serving the community [by] keeping us informed and up to date [and] also providing us with a COVID resource hotline for the many questions individuals have. I love their free 24/7 nurse line for the health questions and concerns I need answers to. I think it’s also impressive how they managed their employees and the drop in volume within the facility yet maintained their staff. They also protected their employees by providing them pandemic and COVID pay, providing them with necessary income while their hours may have been impacted. Truly an outstanding healthcare organization and I’m incredibly grateful they are in our community.”
The Alaska Safety Alliance
“Got online training up and running FAST while implementing additional training options to meet industry needs. Helped keep Slope operations moving forward.”
The Alaska Small Business Development Center
“Rallied to support any business in need of support, [implemented] protocols for reopening, and [provided] business education to access economic relief.”
Altman Rogers & Co.
“Altman & Rogers were terrific! They followed the COVID restrictions no matter how inconvenient… they used great teamwork to help clients virtually.”

And: “completed tax work seamlessly while working remotely, mailing tax clients their finished tax returns and didn’t even charge [for] the additional expense.”

In the early days of the pandemic, Cook Inlet Tribal Council’s Fab Lab produced PPE for staff and Tribal partners.

Brian Fraley | Cook Inlet Tribal Council

two people converse in the Fab Lab
In the early days of the pandemic, Cook Inlet Tribal Council’s Fab Lab produced PPE for staff and Tribal partners.

Brian Fraley | Cook Inlet Tribal Council

Altura Bistro
“They quickly pivoted to offering easy take-out AND they supported the community through their donations to Beans Café and more.”
ASRC Energy Services
“ASRC Energy Services because they put all of their Slope-rotating employees in a hotel to meet quarantine requirements before anyone else was doing it.”

And also: “ASRC Energy Services, incredibly proactive and took care of their employees by acting early and paying for costs associated with quarantining in Anchorage.”

Bean’s Café
“Bean’s Café moved to be able to accommodate more clients due to COVID job loss. The amount of workers and clients that have had COVID is low due to lots of sanitation, six feet distancing, and approximately 500 people wearing masks. When someone does get COVID they are put in quarantine at a hotel.”
Bear Tooth & Moose’s Tooth Pub & Pizzeria
“They had the most efficient method for picking up to-go food while adhering to social distancing practices. They adapted right away to new rules and regulations and were able maintain business and continue to serve their customers food.”

“Moose’s Tooth put its team members’ safety first which as a patron I really appreciated. They also fine-tuned their safety protocols to make patrons feel as safe as possible. Their procedures for takeout were the best of the restaurants we supported and continue to be as they transition to more and more in-house dining while supporting those of us, as patrons, who are still not quite ready to dine-in. Massive kudos to the entire Moose’s Tooth team!”

Brilliant Media Strategies
“They shut down and had employees take their desks, computers, and other equipment home. They then offered a monthly stipend to employees to pay for supplies and other facets of working from home.”
Cape Fox Corporation
“This whole year they have stepped up to protect the whole community. Whether it was shutting businesses or delivering care packages to everyone in the community with necessary goods, Cape Fox Corporation did a lot to help everyone get through a difficult year.”
Cook Inlet Region, Inc.
“I have never felt so taken care of by a company I work for in my life. They truly care about their employees and have made every effort to show that.”
Club Paris
“Immediately revamped for COVID, devised ways to keep most staff working even during shut downs. They also adhered to any and all mandates and permanently constructed barriers within the restaurant without changing the ‘flavor.’”
“They responded immediately on the Slope to minimize the potential of COVID spread. They changed operations—from food service to shift changes—to bring down risk. In Anchorage, they have employees working from home.”
Cook Inlet Tribal Council
“Cook Inlet Tribal Council! They have adapted with work-at-home plans while continuing to keep critical infrastructure working SAFELY on the front lines—homelessness, intervention, recovery, peer support—you name it, CITC has EXCELLED during this challenging time!”

And: “Not only did CITC help the Alaska Native and American Indian homeless population, they entered into and started helping all homeless Alaskans who needed help with supportive services to focus on becoming job ready. CITC also helped make sure the families that they serve had the PCs, desk/workstation, and internet needed in order for children to go to school from home. Now that’s going above and beyond, if you ask me.”

Credit Union 1
“They kept their branches open, implemented pickup service, video appointments, and all non-service focused staff worked from home.”

And: “Credit Union 1 [was] able to do curbside pick-up for debit cards, credit cards, [to] sign loan documents curbside and electronically; this is important stuff for us members when we are used to in-person transactions.”

First National Bank Alaska
“First National Bank Alaska acted immediately to ensure the safety of employees and customers while continuing to stay open and serve Alaskans throughout the pandemic. The bank also supported a broad range of Alaska businesses by working day and night, for weeks, to provide vital funding by means of SBA Paycheck Protection Loans.”
“GCI handled the customer aspect, community outreach for families with students who needed online learning, [and] the work from home for office workers all seamlessly and really cared about the employees with families that were trying to juggle a whole new aspect of work/life balance.”

And: “They were out front and took steps in January. They were actually ahead of the Muni and State on enacting steps to protect employees and customers. More important: they created free and reduced rate internet plans for Alaskans who found themselves working and learning from home.”

The Hungry Robot
“Hungry Robot—they were the first restaurant to step up and offer free pizzas for kids. They kept digging and providing hope.”

And echoing that sentiment: “The Hungry Robot because they were able to operate at a normal capacity for their customers and the owner was able to [give] back to the community with free pizza lunches for children of families that were financially affected by the dip of the local economy.”

Matanuska Telephone Association
“MTA signed and supported the ‘Keep America Connected’ Pledge, which urges providers to waive late fees and not terminate service to any customers facing economic hardship due to COVID-19. Partnered with the City of Wasilla, Palmer, Houston, and the Mat-Su Borough to install drive-in wi-fi hotspots so those without internet at home are able to connect, as well as an eLearning Enablement program that provided nearly 3,000 free upgrades to students and educators as they transitioned to distance learning. Participated in local activities such as the ‘The Great American Takeout,’ which supported local restaurants, and powered a local live-streamed fundraising concert. Successfully ran MTA Gaming’s first all virtual esports tournaments that raised funds for both Wasilla Area Seniors, Inc. and the Mat-Su Seniors Center, helping the latter continue delivering food to seniors through its Meals on Wheels program.”
Throughout the pandemic, Cook Inlet Tribal Council continued to provide essential recruitment and job placement services.

Wayde Carroll | Cook Inlet Tribal Council

two people wearing masks sit a computer together
Throughout the pandemic, Cook Inlet Tribal Council continued to provide essential recruitment and job placement services.

Wayde Carroll | Cook Inlet Tribal Council

Northrim Bank
“Northrim Bank led the state in SBA PPP loans with over 30% even though they are only about 10 or 12 percent of the state’s market share.”
PDC Engineers
“Set up employees to WFH [work from home] within a week, kept offices safely open as an ‘essential service,’ incorporated daily COVID check-ins for tracking, informed employees of CDC, state, and local mandates and updates, and continue to be flexible with employee schedules.”
“They have done such a great job with partnering with senior and homeless facilities. Their video, public, and private meetings for keeping people informed and safe has been amazing.”
Salmon Berry Tours
“Salmon Berry Tours made innovative and creative COVID-19 pivots and kept their guide team employed. Also partnered with Alaska Mill & Feed for delivery services as well as the Food Bank to deliver senior boxes to those in the community.”
Southcentral Foundation
“Their roll out of the vaccine was well organized and crucial to moving past the pandemic.”

And: “Southcentral Foundation was forward thinking in providing COVID testing, vaccinations, and care, to all community members.”

The Alaska Club
“The Alaska Club donated thousands of dollars to The Children’s Lunchbox and volunteered hundreds of hours to fill boxes, store boxes, deliver boxes for The Children’s Lunchbox. [They] reallocated advertising money to help promote donations… and were a central drop-off for Alaska Mask Makers. The Alaska Club also provided free online group fitness classes for several months, including kids’ classes and are involved in the Conquer COVID Alaska Coalition… and hosted N95 mask fittings for hospital and emergency personnel.”
And finally, we at Alaska Business nominate all of the companies and community members who keep moving forward during a historically difficult, complex, and confusing time.

These answers show that, as the pandemic swept through the nation, it was safety and security that remained paramount for everyone. By shifting to remote work when possible, rethinking policies related to sick leave and dependent care, and even increasing pay or providing bonuses, companies around the state proved that they’re not just about profit and the bottom-line.

Maybe the changes made over the last year or so have laid the groundwork for a whole new way of thinking about how we work. Together.