- Associated Press - Monday, May 11, 2015

Here is a sampling of editorial opinions from Alaska newspapers:

May 8, 2015

Ketchikan Daily News: A virtuous cycle

Statistics suggest that running a small business isn’t easy.

Jennifer Clark, a regional advocate with the U.S. Small Business Administration, said Thursday in Ketchikan that seven of 10 small businesses will remain in business after two years. After five years, only 50 percent are operating, and, after a decade, the doors of just one-third of all small businesses are still open.

Still, despite what appears to be long odds against long-term success, small businesses continue to be the backbone of the American economy.

According to Clark and SBA Region X Administrator Calvin Goings, small businesses account for half of the U.S. private sector workforce and 43 percent of the private payrolls.

“Small businesses create about two-thirds of all new net jobs in the U.S., ” Goings told a group gathered at the Ketchikan Small Business Development Center.

As Clark added later, “with numbers like these, you can see why the health of the small business is truly critical to the health of our overall economy.”

Clark, Goings and SBA Alaska District Director Sam Dickey were visiting Ketchikan as part of National Small Business Week. More specifically, they came to honor Renee Schofield, the owner of Ketchikan-based TSS Inc. owner who has received the Alaska Small Business Person of the Year Award for 2015.

Schofield is a worthy recipient, having seen Tongass Substance Screening grow from a one-person operation in 12 feet by 12 feet space in 1999 to a company that now has 13 employees and offices in Ketchikan, Juneau and Craig - in addition to Iowa, Missouri and Illinois.

TSS has beaten the odds. Statistics indicate that a mere 24 percent of companies are still open 15 years after starting.

Schofield cited the support of the Ketchikan community as a factor.

“I’ve had great success because of that, because of the willingness of everybody to step up,” she said Thursday, citing prompt response and assistance from other local businesses. “We in Ketchikan are very fortunate to have those kinds of relationships.”

She also pointed to assistance from the SBA and the Small Business Development Center over the years, even during the start up of another business prior to TSS.

Our “takeaways” from this are that small business is crucial to the U.S. economy, and, as evidenced by TSS, success is possible.

It’s not easy, as any small business person can attest, but there is quality help available. A prudent business person is wise to use the assistance available here in Ketchikan.

Finally, community support is key to the success of most small business. In turn, the success of our small businesses helps build our community.

It’s a virtuous cycle that can benefit everyone.


May 10, 2015

Juneau Empire: Parents, talk to your kids about cannabis

It’s time to have the talk.

Not the talk about sex or alcohol, or even drugs in general. It’s time to talk marijuana.

With attitudes about cannabis changing, with the newly legalized recreational use of the drug in Alaska, it’s time for parents and guardians to have an honest discussion with their kids.

Because regardless of what changes in society, marijuana use by anyone under 21 is still quite illegal and the consequences are unpleasant and often irreversible.

But the talk must come from a parent. It can’t come from a counselor, from a coach or a “Big” or a police officer. It’s the parents that have the most influence and when it comes to big discussions, there is simply no substitute. It’s up to the family to cut through the sea of information - and misinformation - about the affects of marijuana on youth; it’s up to them to filter through the cacophony.

When it comes to the talk, parents should be prepared in order to be effective - be honest, do your homework, be calm and sincere, and be prepared to listen. If it’s going to work, the discussion needs to be open and thought out, and it absolutely needs to go deeper than, “As long as you’re under my roof .”

Before any discussion, parents need to consider how they want their child or teen to view cannabis. Think about what they should know. Then, think about what it was like to be their age - the freedom of getting to borrow the car, that blemish that felt as large as a volcano, or the feeling when that special someone took notice. The life of a teen is like having one foot in childhood and one in adulthood; it’s not necessarily an easy place to be.

We’ve offered up some suggestions on how to approach the topic - but these are just guidelines, a road map of sorts to help pilot adults through what is likely uncertain territory.

But first, we’d like to acknowledge one important fact: Every family is different, unique in the way they communicate and interact with one another. These guidelines might not fit exactly into one family, but perhaps a version of them will.

The publication “Marijuana and the Responsible Parent” shares facts and statistics about cannabis use and the drug’s effect on the body from “light” to “heavy” use. The publication was created by the Environmental Resource Council, a nonprofit that aims to provide information geared toward helping schools and families.

The publication is thorough. It’s not long or drawn out, it’s not marred by jargon or excessive statistics. It’s like the talk should be, we think - open, honest and real. Among other recommendations on how to talk to kids and teens about cannabis, here are some of the highlights:

- Avoid scare tactics: These might work well on younger children, but as soon as that teen realizes the whole truth, there goes a parent’s credibility.

- Listen: A good conversation goes both ways.

- Be cautious about confronting their use: Think hard about approaching a youth about use. How and if it happens will depend largely on the unique relationship between parent and child.

- Be sensitive if they have used: Trying cannabis, even once, is not unusual.

- Do not try to talk if they are high: Any kind of intoxication does not bode well for conversations of this nature. Be patient; after the high has worn off, then absolutely have a chat.

- Don’t argue: This makes listening hard for both parties and will put the youth on edge.

- Don’t take responsibility for the status quo: Parents are not responsible for drug laws or the way society deals with or thinks about cannabis.

- Don’t “rate” drugs: Don’t get bogged down discussing which drugs are worse or better than others. Stick to the facts: It’s illegal.

- Consider discussing your personal use: Of course, this is a very personal choice, but children and teens will love their parents no less if the answer is “yes.” Instead, it will likely up the level of respect.

For half a century, folks on both sides of the marijuana argument have thrown misinformation, exaggerations, stereotypes and social policy interpretations back and forth. Amid all the noise, it’s easy to feel like everyone is yelling and no one is listening.

But your kids will listen. And they want to hear from you.


May 8, 2015

Fairbanks Daily News-Miner: A needed compromise for railroad

Gov. Bill Walker signed a trio of bills into law last week with little fanfare. Two of the bills honored a prominent Alaskan and firefighters, but the third was critically important to the operation of the Alaska Railroad. Sponsored by Rep. Steve Thompson, R-Fairbanks, House Bill 140 will allow for the issuing of bonds to fund safety improvements necessary for the railroad to continue passenger service.

The safety improvements funded by HB 140 are part of a system called Positive Train Control that U.S. rail lines are required to implement in the near future - some by the end of this year, while others, including the Alaska Railroad, have until 2018 to have the system in place.

Positive Train Control, adopted as a requirement for lines by Congress in 2008, contains several important services for safe operation of rail lines. PTC systems are designed to be able to automatically slow or stop trains to avoid train-to-train collisions, derailments due to unsafe speed and train movement through switches left in the wrong position.

The issue, for the Alaska Railroad and other railroads in the process of implementing PTC systems, is that while Congress passed the law requiring the safety improvements, they made no move to help lines with the cost of adopting them. For the past several years, the Alaska Railroad has been piecing together funds with the help of the state and Alaska’s congressional delegation.

But the railroad’s struggle to find the money to make PTC upgrades has been hampered of late. Low revenue for the railroad has led to cutbacks in operations and staffing, leaving precious little money for the line to spend on non-essential services.

More recently, the state’s revenue picture also went south with the collapsing price of oil, leaving Gov. Walker and the Legislature in a position where devoting state capital funds to the PTC system was difficult to justify.

Fortunately, the railroad was able to work out a compromise with the state. HB 140 allows the railroad to issue tax-exempt bonds against its own assets for up to $37 million to pay for PTC improvements. It’s a solution that didn’t add to the state’s budget woes but will also let the railroad lay in the funds it needs.

Most of the safety improvements implemented by PTC show greater benefit to rail operators in busier locales than Alaska. Compared to the Lower 48, train-to-train accidents and derailments due to speed are rare. But it’s hard to make a good argument that a system won’t prevent an accident in the future just because it wouldn’t have prevented many in the past.

And for the railroad, the question of how many accidents the system might prevent is largely academic, as Congress mandated it be in place for the line to continue with passenger traffic.

The safety improvements of PTC will help the Alaska Railroad continue to serve the state.

It’s good to see cooperation between the railroad corporation, Gov. Walker and the Legislature to make that happen, even in tough budget times.

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