The Business Empowerment Summit, created and hosted by the Cordova Chamber of Commerce, was an immersive event held April 13-15 that featured talks led by experts in their respective fields. It covered everything from healthcare for small businesses, the top advice for marketing strategies for businesses, QuickBooks tutorials, innovative ways to recruit and retain talent in Alaska, and cruise ship profiles for the year ahead of Cordova’s busy season.

Lori Davey, born and raised in Alaska, is the general partner and managing director of Alyeska Venture Management. Davey shared her insider thoughts on retainment and development, and how to best utilize employees.

Some challenges of retainment here in Alaska, Davy shared, are the shrinking labor force (pointing out that Gen Z is “way smaller” than Gen X and millennials), a lack of affordable and available housing in Alaska, and the boomer generation retiring out of their careers.

“We have to be intentional now, and really developing the next generation of leaders,” said Davey.

Davey recommended constantly recruiting even if you’re not necessarily hiring for a current position, and utilizing tools such as social media for the processes. A key is also knowing your attrition rate, Davey said.

“One of the things that we find is successful in helping motivate and keep people engaged is strength-based training,” said Davey. Highlighting each person’s strengths on a team empowers your employees, said Davey.


Davey also talked about cultivating meaningful relationships and good marketing for attracting great employees.

“Knowing your reputation and wanting to work for you. Another area is on the marketing. Have a career page on your website, do the social media, showing that your company is a great place to work for,” said Davey, who also said that creating eye-catching advertisements for prospective employees can be helpful.

Preparing for cruise ship season

Andrew J. Mew, with Cruise Line Agencies of Alaska and the vice president of Alaska Maritime Agencies, presented via Zoom some background on the cruise industry in Alaska, the upcoming cruise ship profiles, and what to expect while the ships are in port.

“Basically, we are a private industry outfit that represents the cruise ships and helps set up port calls for them,” said Mew, who said they work on the technical and regulatory side with the cruise lines, and generally employ someone on the ground in Cordova to act as an intermediary between the ship and the community while they are in port.

Two expedition cruise vessels slated to make port calls in Cordova for the 2023 calendar year are the MS Roald Amundsen and the Hanseatic Nature. The first arrival, Roald Amundsen, is scheduled to be in Cordova on May 25. The cruise ship season is scheduled to run from May through August.

Expedition class vessels are much smaller than luxury cruise liners, such as Princess Cruises, and accommodate under a few hundred guests. The vessels depart for off-the-beaten-path destinations with a focus on things such as education and exploration.

“The real intense focus for this class of vessel is largely around visiting remote sites … the people that are on board these ships are very dedicated towards nature, culture and history,” said Mew.

Renfeldt shared how expedition cruise ships fit into Cordova’s Regenerative Tourism and Destination Strategy the chamber has cultivated.

“The idea behind Regenerative Tourism is that there is a triple bottom line. Meaning that there is a possibility that visitors coming into your community can not only have an economic impact, have some kind of positive experience in the community with the money they are going to spend, but it’s possible they might also provide something that enhances the culture, ecosystems, and the quality of life for the people that live here,” said Renfeldt.

The plethora of maritime related assets in Cordova, including research vessels, science-based discoveries, artists, fisherman, and natural resource connected folks, afford an opportunity to utilize those strengths in the Destination and Regenerative Tourism model, said Renfeldt. 

“We are not trying to redefine who we are. We are not trying to create necessarily anything new, but we are going to work off the assets we already have in this community and the industry we already have in this community … we are going to leverage those things to try and create some benefits for visitors,” said Renfeldt.

Mew gave some tips on what businesses can do to prepare for the incoming cruise ships. Some of his suggestions included: being open and appearing open; offering international shipping; using creative signage out-front welcoming the cruise ships; offering free Wi-Fi to bolster ship crew engagement; being available through email; and engaging with expedition staff in the pre-season.

In closing, Mew shared that the vessels will not be off-loading garbage, nor is sewage expected to be an issue while in Cordova, citing strict agricultural requirements for where foreign ships can offload garbage and with what kind of vendors.

“The expedition class vessels are designed to be independent for a great length of time,” said Mew. “They will process all of their own sewage, through their environmentally approved system.”

Renfeldt shared her thoughts with the Cordova Times post-summit, its impact on the attendees, and what motivates her to keep the summit going:

“We took lessons we learned from our inaugural session of the Business Empowerment Summit in the fall, and have been working since then to bring an even more impactful event to the local business community. The feedback from attendees of last week’s Summit has been very positive and I hope we see continued growth in participation from local businesses, organizational leaders, and aspiring entrepreneurs. These classes and presentations are structured to increase the basic understanding of high-level business concepts and simultaneously provide realistic take-homes that participants can enact immediately. It’s really a great structure with a minimal time commitment that we’re finding is providing a lot of value to attendees. Plus, it offers an opportunity for direct connection with subject-matter experts from right here in Cordova and elsewhere in the state.”

“It was exciting to see local business and organizational leaders that I have known for years light up during a class or presentation. That moment when a concept or tip hit home and you could almost see the lightbulb go off and the gears start turning – that’s all the motivation we need to keep going with this,” said Renfeldt.

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Amanda Williams
Amanda Williams, originally from California, is a reporter, photographer and videographer for the Cordova Times. She has a long history of writing professionally for magazines and newspapers in her home state, and she also writes her own music. Williams is a decorated Navy veteran. When she isn’t covering the news, she enjoys skiing, singing, spending time with friends and family and traveling. She first came to Cordova as a VetsWork intern working for the Forest Service as a public outreach specialist on the Cordova Ranger District.