Alaskans Capitalize on Closeness to Russia Entrepreneurs Crisscross Icy Narrows to Promote Cultural, Environmental, and Business Ties

By Yereth Rosen, | The Christian Science Monitor, May 11, 1992 | Go to article overview

Alaskans Capitalize on Closeness to Russia Entrepreneurs Crisscross Icy Narrows to Promote Cultural, Environmental, and Business Ties


Yereth Rosen,, The Christian Science Monitor


ISOLATED for decades in central Siberia, Dr. Garrijl Abramovich Ilizarov toiled in obscurity in a log-cabin clinic.

During that time, he developed a rehabilitation technique for those diagnosed as having orthopedic problems.

Dr. Ilizarov's technique, money from individual investors, and a $226,675 grant from Alaska's Science and Technology Foundation, led to the founding of Autogenesis Inc., a two-year-old company that makes and rents automated devices using the process Ilizarov pioneered.

Autogenesis's founders are among a number of Alaska entrepreneurs who are seeking to capitalize on their state's proximity to Russia.

Better than other Americans, these Alaskans claim, they understand their fellow northerners who are even more distant from the Moscow-oriented Russian "center" than Alaskans are from the Lower 48.

At last count, 87 Alaskan-Siberian joint ventures had been established, said Doug Barry, deputy director of the University of Alaska's Center for International Business. They involve everything from Russian crafts sold to tourists in Anchorage shops to sophisticated environmental cleanup services enhanced by Siberian bioremediation technology.

For Autogenisis Inc., getting start-up money in the Lower 48 was difficult. "It was certainly almost a joke. 'You're from Alaska, right? And you're coming up with this medical high-tech device?' " says John Pursley, an electronics specialist and cofounder of the company.

In numbers and dollars, Alaskan entrepreneurs doing business in the Russian Far East are dwarfed by Japanese investors, Mr. Barry says. But Alaskans have a special relationship with their Bering Sea neighbors that has been nurtured by history and culture, he says:Many Alaskans see in the Russian Far East a frontier similar to prestatehood Alaska.

"There's a sense that there's an opportunity not unlike the Wild West or 90 years ago," he says. "There's also a sense that people are participating in a piece of history. It's not just a pursuit of raw, naked capitalism."

From top government officials to rock bands from tiny Alaska fishing towns, thousands of Alaskans have crossed the Bering Strait to promote cultural, environmental, and business ties, Barry says. Anchorage has been the top US West Coast destination for visitors from the former Soviet Union for years, state officials say.

Many Alaska leaders envision their state as a future service center for the developing Russian Far East. Among the Alaskan companies expanding to Russia is the Arctic Slope Regional Corporation, a Barrow-based, Inupiat Eskimo-owned group with subsidiaries specializing in Arctic oil production, Arctic construction, and rural telecommunications. …

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