Graduate from state-funded training program
January 27, 2004
Nuniwarmiut Reindeer and Seafood Products officials expect the workers' additional job qualifications to contribute to increased profitability and substantiate plant expansion. The Mekoryuk facility is located in western Alaska about 30 miles offshore on Nunivak Island.
Photograph by Christopher Allridge
Labor Commissioner Greg O'Claray said, "We are delighted the training has worked out so well. Our mission is straight-forward: we're here to help Alaskans get good jobs that provide a prosperous future for families and economic stability for communities."
The training was funded by a $60,000 authorization, one of nine current grants in the New Investment Strategy (NIS) developed by the Division of Business Partnerships. The program was funded through the State Employment and Training Program (STEP).
Jobe Westin, Nuniwarmiut Products processing manager, confirmed seasonal jobs for all eleven graduating workers. He told NIS Program Manager Tara Jollie, "It's like you untied my hands" and said he was "really excited" about new opportunities for workers and plant expansion.
Drum said he expects the Mekoryuk reindeer enterprise to increase annual sales by as much as $80,000 in the workers' first processing season.
One of the tangible benefits of the training is gaining approval to apply a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) sticker to the company's game meat products. The seal is prized by manufacturers, considered a necessity before a company can launch major national or international marketing campaigns.
Division of Business Partnerships Director Katherine Farnham said, "This is exactly the kind of project we are seeking to promote Alaska jobs for Alaskans." The NIS grant covered travel and training expenses for the Mekoryuk team.
Farnham said the training was detailed and qualified the Mekoryuk workers for jobs in commercial meat processing kitchens. Course work included safety rules, sanitation and specialized USDA procedures for processing and packing meat products.
Mekoryuk is on the north coast of Nunivak Island approximately 155 miles west of Bethel. The island has been inhabited by the Nuniwarmiut Eskimo or Cup'ik people for more than 2,000 years. Unemployment in Mekoryuk exceeds 46 percent with 23 percent of the population living below the poverty level. Per-capita annual income is slightly less than $12,000.
An Eskimo-Russian trader reportedly introduced reindeer to the island as a commercial venture in 1920. A herd of 30 to 40 musk oxen was transferred to the island from Greenland in 1934. Game and fish production is supplemented by island artisans who hand-knit high quality scarves and apparel from qiviut, musk oxen wool that rivals the softness and durability of cashmere.
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