MAKing it: A growing Homer shipyard lifts the community

Northern Enterprises Boat Yard’s recent expansion fuels economic opportunity on the Kenai Peninsula and beyond.

Presented by First National Bank Alaska

So much of the community and economy in Homer is intertwined with what happens on the water. There are the salmon seiners, the halibut charters, and the dive tenders that serve pipelines and utilities. But before the 1980s, it was difficult for larger boats — whether commercial or recreational — to dock or get serviced in Homer; the city didn’t have a boatyard for hauling such vessels in and out.

Husband-and-wife team Ken and Snooks Moore started Northern Enterprises Boat Yard in 1981 to tap into the huge potential they saw to support the local marine industry.

“We just found it very difficult to get anything done, and people were fishing False Pass, some 500 miles out in the Aleutian Chain, and then going back to Seattle,” said Ken Moore. “Those were mostly stateside people, and after working in the Homer labor market, I started to realize how much talent there was in this little town.”

So they launched their dock and their business, and in the early 1980s, their one 60-ton travel lift was able to get most boats in and out of the water. Over the years, however, boats have gotten bigger and the shipyard has gotten busier, and it became a challenge to accommodate so many larger vessels.

All of a sudden, “we have boats that are 27 and 28 feet wide, compared to 20 feet, and we were finding ourselves not able to capture the whole market and be who we want to be and get everybody out of the water in the best (shape) we can,” said Ken Moore.

Northern Enterprises Boat Yard needed to grow. In 2021, after years of planning, the family business started and completed a massive expansion with help from First National Bank Alaska to navigate the project.

As part of the improvements, a new boat lift was installed capable of hoisting ships weighing up to 220 tons, almost three times the capacity of the old one. The dock was more than doubled in size.

Now the shipyard can serve more fishermen and women, along with boat owners from across Southeast Alaska, Prince William Sound, Norton Sound, King Cove, and communities around the Alaska Peninsula.

Many of those communities have boat lifts of their own, but Northern Enterprises offers more than just a way in and out of the water. The boatyard — which sits on nearly 30 acres and has 20 buildings on site— is a one-stop shop for repairs, seasonal outfitting, storage, boat building and more. The Moores rent its space to about 30 different companies.

“I don’t believe there’s a business in this town that’s not affected by this boatyard,” said Aaron Fleenor, the Moores’ grandson and yard manager at Northern Enterprises. “We’re a huge economic engine in this community, and for the Kenai Peninsula, and we want to continue to do that and grow and bring more business into Homer.”

Generations on the water

The Moores have spent decades in the fisheries business, since well before the boatyard existed.

Snooks Moore comes from a long line of commercial Cook Inlet fishers and is herself a sixth-generation gillnetter. Not long after Ken Moore moved to Alaska from Kansas in 1966 — after a previous stint a few years earlier working as a logger in Southeast — the two were married and bought their first boat.

Together they learned the industry firsthand, which helped them understand the need for a place like Northern Enterprises Boat Yard. That passion led their grandson, and now, great-grandson — Fleenor’s 19-year-old, who works as a yard hand — to be part of the business.

“In the 14 years I’ve been here, I’ve seen a lot of vessels built here, and I’ve contributed to a lot of projects — put motors in hundreds of boats, taken motors out of boats,” Fleenor said. “It’s been pretty awesome because I grew up commercial fishing in Bristol Bay and looking back, it’s kind of what helped to make me, me. It gave me that work ethic and drive.”

That family drive and work ethic was key to enabling the company’s expansion last year. Just because a bigger lift and larger dock were obvious needs didn’t mean undertaking the project was easy — not by a long shot, especially in terms of navigating various rules and statutes from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, the Kenai Peninsula Borough and other agencies.

That’s where First National Bank Alaska played a major role in bringing the project to fruition. The Moores are longtime customers of the bank, which has participated in equipment loans, construction loans and more for Northern Enterprises over the years.

“They’ve always been in expansion mode,” said First National Vice President and Homer Branch Manager Erik Niebuhr. “We knew the dock expansion had been on their list for a long time. It’s been a conversation piece for 10 years, leading up to whenever they were ready to pull the trigger.”

When that day finally came, the bank worked to partner with the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority (AIDEA) to secure a significant loan for the expansion, with the majority of financing through AIDEA. The bank’s role went well beyond securing the loan; it took explaining the large, complicated project to all the parties involved, and understanding what other changes the growth would necessitate for the business.

“First National really did put a lot of work into making it happen,” said Fleenor. His grandmother agrees.

“Everybody made it happen in the end, and it was a lot of work,” said Snooks Moore. “So many people in the community put this together, for a project that supports the community.”

A reflection of Alaska

With the workforce and new infrastructure to haul larger vessels in and out of the water, Northern Enterprises Boat Yard provides crucial services in a location that helps keep more business in Alaska. Ken Moore stresses that a big part of his business is supporting other enterprises in Homer.

“We take the boats out of the water and then furnish the equipment to do the work,” he said, “but the community does the work.”

Welders rent bays on the property, as do fiberglass and other types of repair businesses. Tenants include a propeller shop, a glass installation shop and a vessel management company. Niebuhr, with the bank, points to that economic activity as a sign the shipyard is a nexus in the town.

“Not everything revolves around Northern Enterprises, but a lot of it does,” he said. “All the services they have provided over the decades — the fishing industry in Homer would be a fraction of what it is without that.”

The family’s dedication enabled the business to grow and flourish into what it is today.

“When you come across customers like this, you just know how the state of Alaska became the way that it is,” Niebuhr said. “And you can see the community through them, and how they reflect on the community.”

First National Bank Alaska has been Alaska’s community bank since 1922. We’re proud to help Alaskans shape a brighter tomorrow by investing in your success as you take the leaps of faith, large and small, that enrich communities across the state.

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This article was produced by the sponsored content department of Anchorage Daily News in collaboration with First National Bank Alaska. The ADN newsroom was not involved in its production.