A vintage Kenai cannery that opened its doors 100 years ago is taking on new life as a modern seafood plant for Copper River Seafoods, with the capacity to handle 10 million pounds of fish annually.
On Friday, the company hosted about 100 people in the industry for a presentation, tour and reception for key partners in the remodeled plant, which will receive fish from Kachemak Bay, Cook Inlet, Seward, Prince William Sound and coastal communities of Western Alaska.
The plant will employ about 20 to 35 people, allowing for the processing of salmon and halibut to stretch from March through late October.
The recent remodeling and automation of the plant, combined with the training provided to an all-Alaskan workforce, several of whom were trained through the U.S. Certified Apprenticeship Program, offer an opportunity to create a long-term sustainable business model, officials from Copper River Seafoods said.
Benefits of the location on the Kenai Peninsula and the strategy behind the training and plant design are a longer season for manufacturing because of adding more species of fish.
Copper River Seafoods is also celebrating a full year of its all-Alaska workforce initiative, built around the U.S. Certified Apprenticeship model. The partnership with state and federal departments of labor has given apprentices skills and managerial training to grow a talented labor force designed for growth.
In keeping with the spirit and history of Copper River Seafoods, an Alaska-based company established in 1996 by four Cordova area fishermen, the company is preparing its Alaska employees for skill sets required to professionally manufacture food in Alaska.
"This dedication and celebration are at the very heart of Copper River Seafoods," said Scott Blake, chief executive officer/founder and president.
"We have maintained unwavering commitment to creating an Alaskan company, started by fishermen, operated by Alaskans in Alaska. It is a proud day that we can see one more step toward Alaskan companies being competitive with our rich Alaska resource," he said. For every job added at Copper River Seafoods, it is estimated that two additional jobs are added with their associated suppliers of products and services, Blake said.
The renovated Kenai facility also is rooted in Alaska's fisheries industry. Opened as a cannery in 1912, it later became Dragnet Fisheries, from 1978 through 1997.
The plant now boasts new processing and refrigeration equipment, a trained all-Alaska staff, a strong partnership with area fishermen and a strong track record of maximizing the bounty of Alaska's wild seafood with local, national and international markets, Blake said.
Copper River Seafoods currently employs 435 workers, including 135 people year-round and 300 seasonal employees, to process and market all species of wild Alaska seafood to national retail and food service accounts.
Headquartered in Anchorage, the company has supporting primary processing facilities in Cordova, Togiak, Unalaska, Kenai and a finished food processing facility in Anchorage.