Span Alaska
Golden Heart Hub
Span Alaska’s new Fairbanks Service Center
By Vanessa Orr

or more than forty-five years, Span Alaska, an LCL/LTL (less than container/truck load) to full load container and flatbed logistics company, has been serving the Alaska market. In addition to its corporate office in Auburn, Washington, the company has service centers in Anchorage, Fairbanks, Wasilla, Soldotna, and Kodiak.

In 2019, the company made a roughly $30 million investment to expand its Anchorage Service Center, and in spring of 2022, Span Alaska initiated work on a new, state-of-the-art facility in Fairbanks that will replace its current service center.

“Over the past few years, we have made an incredible investment in the state of Alaska, putting money into our infrastructure, facilities, and our people,” says Joan Johnson, Fairbanks sales manager. “Everyone knows the importance of shipping and logistics to this state, and as the hub of logistics in the Interior, we wanted to create a state-of-the art facility to help our customers run profitable and successful businesses, whether they work in retail, fabrication, manufacturing, oil and gas, or other industries.”

Building a Legacy
Span Alaska was founded in 1978 by Ray Landry, who steadily built the operation into one of the largest freight companies serving the state. After he retired in 1990, the business remained in the family until 2014, when it was acquired by majority shareholder Evergreen Pacific Partners of Seattle. The next year, the company purchased Pacific Alaska Freightways, which it integrated into the business, and in August 2015, the company was acquired by Matson Logistics, one of the leading logistics and supply chain providers in the nation.

Now a Matson Logistics subsidiary, Span Alaska transports more LCL, volume LCL, and full loads to and from Alaska via vessel, barge, highway, and air transportation than any other forwarder. The company receives and loads shipments twice weekly from its headquarters in Auburn, near the Port of Tacoma, to send to its service centers throughout the state.

“We handle everything from A to Z—nuts, bolts, widgets, oil and gas equipment, construction materials, animal food, groceries, mining and mechanical parts, flooring materials, as well as freeze and chill,” says Johnson. “Anything you can imagine, we ship.”

Today, Span Alaska and its subsidiaries ship more than 400 million pounds of freight annually to the 49th state and employ more than 200 people. In addition to the vast volume of shipments from the Lower 48 to Southcentral, the company also offers intra-state service from Anchorage to Fairbanks and the Kenai Peninsula, and it provides LTL service via barge from Tacoma to Southeast.

“With the increased amount of business we’ve been seeing, we are definitely bulging at the seams, so we needed to invest in larger facilities,” Johnson says.

The New Fairbanks Service Center
The original Fairbanks Service Center was built in 2001, and it was considered state-of-the-art in its day. The new facility will grow from 5 acres to 12 and will be fully fenced and secured, and office space will increase from 1,500 square feet to 4,500. The new facility will also provide parking for nearly 100 trailers.

“Our warehouse is currently over 6,000 square feet, and we’re going to increase that to more than 16,000 square feet of space,” says Johnson. “This will give us the ability to service not only our dry commodities and KFF [keep from freezing] services in the wintertime but to also offer freeze and chill service.”

According to Johnson, the goal of the new facility, which is expected to cost upwards of $13 million, is to make Span Alaska’s operations more seamless and transparent. “It will also increase efficiencies as we handle, receive, load, and deliver shipments to the Interior and the [Fairbanks] North Star Borough, and provide more accessibility to our clients,” she says. “New technology will also make it easier to track and identify the exact location of products and commodities, increasing the service level that we can provide to our customers.”

Span Alaska is expecting to move into its new location, located between Richardson Highway and Old Richardson Highway, by the end of June. The building was designed by Bettisworth North and built by Watterson Construction.

“We have been very fortunate in that construction has been seamless; we’ve been working with a great contractor who has done an incredible job,” says Johnson.

Span Alaska plans to hire new staff, including a full-time mechanic to do general maintenance on the company’s tractors in the new mechanic shop in the facility, and additional staff to maintain the service center as the company continues to grow.

According to Tim Erickson, CEO of pet supply store Cold Spot Feeds, the expansion couldn’t come at a better time. For more than twenty years, his company has worked with Span Alaska and has seen it grow well beyond its current facility.

inside of office building with grey floors and blue and white walls
The new Fairbanks Service Center triples office space from 1,500 square feet to 4,500, partly to accommodate additional staff.
Span Alaska
inside of warehouse building
The previous service center in Fairbanks was state of the art when it was built in 2001. The new warehouse is more than double the size.
Span Alaska
“It’s actually amazing when you go to see their current building; it’s crazy what they get accomplished there, because they outgrew it probably fifteen years ago,” Erickson says. “But the great thing about Span is that they are very, very good stewards of time and space, and they were able to take care of what we needed very efficiently, regardless of the building that they were in.”

As a client, Erickson was granted a tour of the new service center. “Compared to what they now have, you can’t even say it’s in the same universe,” he says with a laugh. “It’s beautiful, it’s eco-friendly, and everything has been thought out. It’s absolutely stellar and, in my opinion, sets standards for a facility like Fairbanks has never seen.”

Putting People First
While Span Alaska’s new service centers make it easier and more efficient for freight to move in and out of the state, the company isn’t changing everything about the way they do business.

“What has made us such a success is the relationships that we’ve built with our customers,” says Johnson. “Our crew, many of whom have years of service at Span, have created bonds and relationships, some of which go back more than thirty years.”

Long-time relationships assure clients that Span Alaska is working together for a common goal. “Customers know that they can rely on you and count on you to provide the services that they need,” Johnson says. “They trust that you understand the importance of their freight being delivered on time and in good condition.”

Cold Spot Feeds has worked with Span Alaska for the past two decades, and Erickson says it has stayed with the company because of this work ethic. As one of the largest stand-alone pet supply stores in the United States, Cold Spot works with 265 different manufacturers and distributors that ship their goods to Auburn, where Span Alaska takes care of getting the freight to Fairbanks via Matson vessel, train, and truck.

“I’ve been in retail for thirty years, and I have to say that Joan Johnson is one of the best logistics reps I’ve ever worked with,” says Erickson. “If there are any issues, delays, or damaged products, Span is always on the forefront of communicating with us. We hear it from them first; we don’t have to call to find out where our merchandise or shipments are. They are out in front of everybody else.”

According to Johnson, this commitment to customers includes answering them when they call, instead of forwarding callers to an automated system.

“There’s no ‘push 1 for this or push 2 for that,’ or trying to get the computer to translate why you’re calling. When customers call, they have a person they can actually talk with who can fix their problems,” says Johnson. “One of my customers even calls me his ‘issues resolutions manager.’”

Johnson says logistics providers are thrown curveballs all the time: “Sometimes things that we could never have imagined.” However, “Our customers can reach out to us and communicate their needs, and we’ll get any issues resolved promptly. We’ve been told numerous times that customers are amazed by how fast we take care of things.”

Span Alaska’s investment in the new Fairbanks service center is one more way to prepare for the unexpected.

Johnson says, “We see a very positive future for the state, and we knew that the Interior and Alaska needed this resource to grow.”