Q: Where is North Slope Telecom Inc. located?
A: Our main office is at 2020 East Dowling, Suite 3, Anchorage, Alaska 99507. We also have customer-provided facilities on the North Slope of Alaska.
Q: When was the company founded, who founded it, and what was its original name?
A: NSTI was founded in 1980 by William “Bill” Laxson. He started the company in his East Anchorage garage after recognizing a need for a telecommunications company that specialized in supporting remote oil exploration drilling projects. It has maintained the same name since.
Q: Who heads up NSTI and who is on its senior management team?
A: Bill Laxson is the sole proprietor, president and primary engineer. Dave Smith is vice president and manager of operations. His primary responsibilities are coordination of the company’s work efforts in the field and Anchorage, marketing and customer development. Jim Peterson is the manager of the projects and engineering group. His group is responsible for providing project budgets, schedules, cost tracking, customer reporting and systems designs.
Jim is a certified Project Management Professional (PMP). Sharon Kazem is administration and finance manager. Her group handles finances, human resources, IT support and administrative support.
Q: What is the company’s primary business sector?
A: It has traditionally been the oil and gas industry. We have recently developed a number of clients in the mining industry and have also successfully entered the world of government contracting.
Q: How many employees does NSTI have?
A: NSTI currently has 53 employees. All are based out of Anchorage.
Q: Describe your essential equipment in general terms. Purchases planned?
A: NSTI has the latest in electronics test equipment, communications tower safety equipment and an onsite electronics laboratory for systems design, configuration and testing. Our radio repair shop can handle most models of all major manufacturers. Custom designs require us to have a complete fabrication shop for metals, plastics and other common materials. We continue to expand our custom fabrication and equipment repair capabilities. We also are planning purchases of new radio, fiber optic and communications circuit testing equipment, as well as heavier-duty fabrication equipment.
Q: Is your company expanding any of its operations and/or locations?
A: Yes, we plan an expansion into other states as requested by several customers. We are regularly approached about performing work internationally.
Q: Is the company changing any of its services?
A: No, we are a complete “one stop shop” and plan to remain one. My boss said it best when he told me, “Dave, find something you do well and stick to it.” In the 10 years I’ve worked here this advice has served me well.
Q: What is your company’s main strength, i.e., its edge over the competition?
A: A primary strength is our well-rounded technical staff. For instance, most companies have one guy that does only telephones, another that does only radio and still another that does only cable or tower work. We have a training program that uses both in-house and formal training to expand our technicians’ capabilities. This allows us to shift an onsite technician “on the fly” to perform just-in-time work for our customers, thus maximizing the customer’s dollar and our flexibility. It also reduces the need for larger crews to perform the same work. Our procurement and shipping departments are amazing. They can get almost anything to almost any place in Alaska or the world with little notice. A lot of our customers use this to their advantage in time-sensitive situations.
Q: What new markets, clients and/or projects did your company attract in the last year?
A: We built two transportable communications packages for the State of Alaska and the federal government in partnership with Motorola Inc. It can be flown, trucked or transported by ship to any location in the state. The package includes a trunked radio system, satellite terminal, power generation, telescoping tower and a dispatch module. It is a part of the Alaska Land Mobile Radio (ALMR) system intended for use in emergency situations or as a temporary solution for outages and areas outside the ALMR System’s normal coverage. We were also selected construction contractor for the Oooguruk oil field on the North Slope and continue to develop agreements with several new independents.
Q: Has the company invested in any new technology in the last two years?
A: In the telecommunications industry investment in new technologies is a requirement. Voice over IP technology is one of the newer ones we have been investing in. Additionally, recent advancements in fiber optic technology have required a large amount of investment capital.
Q: What is the most challenging job the company has undertaken?
A: Construction of the Alpine oil field. It was the first project of this size and complexity that NSTI had attempted since its support of the Exxon Valdez oil spill cleanup effort. To compound this was the fact that an oil field this large had not been built in the state since the Kuparuk field was developed in the 1980s. This left us with a situation where very few people with an institutional memory of that effort were available for hire.
NSTI at the time had only 15 or 16 employees and the amount of work and manpower required to finish this project was incredible. We made up for the limited qualified technical manpower available by hiring the best we could find and using them to train lesser qualified but highly intelligent and highly motivated people.
We also used an innovative approach of prebuilding and configuring systems into packages in our Anchorage shops and shipping them to crews on the project for final assembly and testing. This ability to maximize the use of our technical staff and adjust to very fluid situations gave us the edge we needed to complete the project on time.
Q: What are the biggest obstacles to completing work the company undertakes?
A: Effectively managing resources. Technical staffing issues continue to be the biggest single challenge. Alaska’s geographic location and a basic ignorance of the advantages to relocating to Alaska make recruiting difficult. I will say that once we bring somebody here they are usually happy they came.
Q: What do you see as your company’s biggest challenge in the next five years?
A: Managing growth. We are constantly being offered projects and it can be a challenge to sort through them and pursue only that which complements our plans for the future. Another challenge is keeping with our corporate philosophy of being a family friendly company and continuing to satisfy our customers’ needs. Another is to develop a strategy for continued expansion into markets outside Alaska. We have some great ideas for doing work that will allow us to be very competitive with telecommunications construction companies in the Lower 48 and elsewhere.
Q: What do you see as future trends or opportunities for your company from, say, political events or long-term weather fluctuations?
A: In Alaska the most obvious is the gas pipeline, but I see the continued influx of smaller independents as an important development. Also, the renewed interest in minerals and other resources besides oil and gas is great for Alaska. This is fueled by the rising costs of metals, coal, and probably a little by political churn in foreign countries.
Q: What is the average length of time employees work for the company?
A: The average employee works at NSTI for 5-7 years. Several have been with us more than 10 years. Some who leave return to work for us later, and most credit the great working environment for their return. We are always looking for talent, especially in the technical area. We need engineers, project managers, procurement specialists, telecommunications installers and technicians.
Q: What is your company’s safety record?
A: NSTI has an excellent safety record. Our last lost time accident was six years and 400,000 hours ago. We credit this to having a high awareness of the need to work both smart and safe. We hold regular training and safety meetings and also note and learn from mistakes other contractors make.
Q: Does your company maintain a Web site?
A: Yes, NSTI can be found at www.nstiak.com.