Port of Alaska sees surge in cement and fuel shipments, a positive sign for construction and air cargo

New figures from the Don Young Port of Alaska show that unusually high amounts of cargo moved across the dock last year, a potential sign of growing activity in key economic sectors, port representatives said.

A surge in cement shipments indicates a potential rise in construction activity while air cargo continues to soar at the Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport, requiring jet fuel, said Jim Jager, a spokesman with the port. Consumer purchases recovered from the pandemic years, also helping power the numbers.

The port is vital for economic activity statewide. It’s the nexus for half the freight shipped into Alaska, and for food and other products consumed by 90% of the state’s population, according to the port’s website.

Nearly 155,000 tons of cement moved across the docks last year, about one-third higher than the year before, the data shows. The cement shipped across the dock is the most since at least 2007, the data shows.

About 80% of the cement used in Alaska moves through the port, Jager said. Cement is not made in Alaska because it’s not economical in the state’s small market, he said.

The port doesn’t know what specific projects the cement will be used for, he said. The port records cargo tonnage only in broad categories, such as “dry bulk,” which in Alaska is nearly all cement, he said.

He said 2024 also looks like it will be “another big cement year” for the port, Jager said.


Four ships carrying cement have typically arrived in the past, he said. But five cement ships came last year, and five are projected to arrive this year, he said.

Alaska economists in January forecast that economic growth in the state this year will be driven by big projects involving the oil and gas industry and the federal infrastructure bill, though a worker shortage will constrain growth.

[Anchorage will see employment grow slightly this year, with construction projects statewide growing, report says]

Work at the Pikka and Willow oil fields, the largest discovered in Alaska in decades, will help buoy construction, economists said in the Alaska Economic Trends report produced by the state.

The companies behind the oil projects have begun spending billions of dollars to develop them. Cement is used to seal oil wells and prevent blowouts. It’s the main ingredient in concrete.

Jonathan Hornak, senior project manager with Cornerstone General Contractors in Anchorage, said cement suppliers might be anticipating the need for concrete in major projects such as a new $200 million cargo facility at Anchorage’s international airport that includes building parking spots, or hardstands, for jumbo jets. A $300 million runway extension at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson is also a likely reason for the large shipments, he said.

Overall, 2024 will be a busy year for construction in Alaska, he said.

Excluding fuel shipped by pipeline for storage in tanks at the port, just over 4 million tons of fuels and cement moved over the docks in 2023, the figures show.

It was one of the busiest years for the port, which opened in 1961, Jager said.

The amount of petroleum products that moved across the dock last year was also unusually high, at nearly 2.3 million tons.

“2023 was the highest-ever petroleum across the dock,” he said.

The driving source of those products is jet fuel for aircraft at the Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport, Jager said.

The airport last year rose to become the world’s third-biggest cargo airport, behind Hong Kong and Memphis, Tennessee.

Cargo jets refuel in Anchorage, a pit stop that lets them carry less fuel and more of the valuable cargo they’re paid to haul.

Food and consumer goods that Alaskans buy at stores also saw increased movement through the port last year, to levels not seen since 2019.

Nearly 1.7 million tons of those products moved across the dock last year. They’re in the category called “vans/flats/containers.”

The trend reflects growth in consumption since COVID-19 was declared a pandemic in 2020, when tourism in Alaska fell sharply and some construction projects were put on hold, Jager said.

Alex DeMarban

Alex DeMarban is a longtime Alaska journalist who covers business, the oil and gas industries and general assignments. Reach him at 907-257-4317 or