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Vol. 17, No. 36 Week of September 02, 2012
Providing coverage of Alaska and northern Canada's oil and gas industry

AK-WA Connection 2012: Freight-forwarder designs new digs

American Fast Freights builds 30,000-square-foot Anchorage facility with customers, energy efficiency and environment in mind.

By Rose Ragsdale

Alaska-Washington Connection

American Fast Freight broke ground in mid-June on a new freight facility adjacent to its current Alaska headquarters off West International Airport Road in Anchorage.

Designed by Gary Peterson of GPARCH Architects of Anchorage, the new structure is expected to propel the freight forwarder to the forefront of temperature-sensitive shipping in the Alaska-Washington trade.

After 30 years of providing ocean freight forwarding and consolidating services in Alaska, American Fast Freight is ready to make the most of this opportunity. From its main facility in Fife, Wash., the company facilitates the shipping of millions of pounds of cargo, primarily retail goods, to Alaska every week. It provides similar services in Hawaii, Guam and Puerto Rico.

In addition, through its affiliate companies, American Fast Freight’s services include project logistics, trucking, warehousing and distribution, cold storage, air freight, and household goods moving and storage.

“We ship everything from flat steel to food,” said American Fast Freight Vice President of Operations Joel Boyd during a recent interview. “But our primary focus is food.”

Boyd said the company’s Alaska operations have grown steadily, especially during the past 10 years. In 2000, American Fast Freight doubled the size of its Anchorage facility by expanding the 20,000 square-foot warehouse it currently occupies.

The new Anchorage warehouse, currently under construction, will provide more than 50 percent more space at nearly 30,000 square feet than the existing.

American Fast Freight employs 350 workers, 135 in Alaska with 65 employees based in Anchorage. It also operates full-service terminals in Fairbanks and Kenai and household goods moving and storage and warehouse distribution businesses in Anchorage in addition to the cross-dock facility where the new warehouse is being built.

“Cool” design

Watterson Construction of Anchorage will oversee the construction, for which $6 million is tentatively budgeted.

The new space, which is scheduled for completion by early November, will feature a high-pile storage chill/freeze area with product-receiving doors located directly in the coolers. With the freezer and cooler built inside the warehouse, American Fast Freight will be the only freight forwarder that offers this feature in both Washington and Alaska. The company built a new 100,000-square-foot warehouse in Washington State in 2010.

“This feature makes AFF the only freight forwarder in the Alaska market which receives temperature-sensitive product directly into its correct temperature environment on both sides of the water,” said Boyd.

Known as “cool-chain compliant,” the feature represents the very highest quality industry standards, something for which American Fast Freight continually strives, according to company spokeswoman Christina Hallock.

In fact, the American Institute of Baking (AIB) International, which audits the company’s freight-forwarding warehouses in Fife and Anchorage annually has consistently awarded “Superior” ratings (the highest possible) to both facilities for the past six years, Hallock said.

Originally created in 1919 to apply sciences to baking, AIB is now considered the food industry’s premier auditing organization.

Increased efficiency

The new Anchorage warehouse also will feature a “90-foot clear span,” meaning it will have a completely open floor built without the support poles typical of most industrial construction. American Fast Freight opted to eliminate the poles because they can often create obstacles for busy forklift traffic.

“We will have increased efficiency by 75 percent by having a clear-span roof,” Boyd said, observing that the company can only use about 17,000 square feet of its (existing) warehouse because of support poles.

The warehouse design also features 17 additional doors, bringing to 49 the total number of portals in the building besides two drive-down ramps with doors and a covered back dock.

“With more doors, more space and no poles, we will have significant efficiency improvement,” Boyd said. “We are genuinely excited about expanding our capabilities to better support the needs of our customers.”

American Fast Freight expects to begin operations from the new facility in November. The company will continue to utilize the existing facility for extra storage and as a project freight-staging area.

It also will house certain other facets of the business, including bypass mail, Boyd said.

Environment-friendly features

In keeping with a company-wide move to energy-saving and environment-friendly operations, American Fast Freight also incorporated skylights into the roof design of the new Anchorage warehouse and is installing high-efficiency, high-bay fluorescent lights and purchasing 7 new all-electric forklifts instead of ones fueled by propane.

Boyd said the company also upgraded the R-value in the overall structure and is installing a black roof membrane designed to absorb more heat from the sun. In addition, the company is switching to high-efficiency unit heaters, rather that continuing to use the much less efficient radiant heat.

Lastly, American Fast Freight made extensive upgrades to its truck fleet, purchasing five new 2012 model freightliners, and three new line trucks designed to pull double trailers.

Employee-owned company

American Fast Freight is a relatively rare bird in the corporate world, one of about 11,300 employee-owned enterprises out of more than 6 million companies nationwide. Though it cannot respond to individual employee requests for support, the company makes a point of stepping up to make a difference as a corporate citizen by giving back to the Alaska communities that it serves.

By sponsoring community benefits, organizing charitable drives and other events, and providing in-kind services, the freight forwarder supports numerous organizations, including the Food Bank of Alaska and especially the Kenai Peninsula Food Bank; the Shriners’ Vidalia Onions program, Daffodil Day for the American Cancer Society, the Associated General Contractors of Alaska, Associated Builders and Contractors, Inc., Allied Builders, Girls Little League in Fairbanks, and many others in Alaska.

In Washington, American Fast Freight sponsors several Christmas gift collection programs for children as well as food drives for FISH Food Banks of Pierce County, Humane Society of Pierce and King Counties and others. In May, the company won the “Silver Spoon Award” from the Emergency Food Network “Silver Spoon Award” for its “substantial collection effort” that resulted from a friendly competition food drive between the freight forwarder and TOTE in 2011. Collections by both companies totaled 16,187 pounds and $2,608, the equivalent of 13,988 meals, or enough to feed a family of four for a little over three years. American Fast Freight collected 10,477 pounds of food.

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