KODIAK — Last Thursday, the Consul General of the Netherlands for the western U.S. visited Kodiak. Gerbert Kunst came to Kodiak for just one day to learn about the island’s renewable energy infrastructure and to look at strengthening trade opportunities between Alaska and the Netherlands.
“International trade is very important for the Netherlands and for the U.S. as well,” said Kunst. “We have a trade pattern and it leads to 825,000 jobs in the U.S. and 600,000 in the Netherlands. I think we calculated about 1,100 jobs in Alaska, just because of the same trade pattern. So I think, this is just so important for all of us, so I feel that we should work towards making international trade happen.”
Kunst explained that he’s represents the Netherlands for the 13 westernmost States. This was his fourth time coming to Alaska and the primary reason was the launch of an Anne Frank exhibition in Anchorage. This special exhibition is specifically for students and, according to Kunst, they spent the day on Friday meeting kids and teaching them to become “peer guides” for other students.
“Basically we are sharing the story of Anne Frank’s life and the lessons of it,” said Kunst. “Because we still think they are relevant today.”
“Then we found out that it would be interesting to come all the way over to Kodiak, because you have here a very important fishing and processing industry,” he added.
During both this and previous visits, Kunst has met with various representatives from the processing industry “to see whether they can do more business in the Netherlands.”
“I’m always there to see if there are business opportunities I can facilitate,” he said.
As part of the trip, Kunst was given tours of both a Trident Seafoods processor and an International Seafoods of Alaska processor. He explained he was particularly intrigued to see how technology is changing seafood processing.
“I think it’s interesting to see that they have the new freezing techniques and the new processing techniques,” he said. “We learned that the fish is quite often exported to Europe, which for us is, of course, an interesting factor. They want to really have a good access to our market and we are there to help them in whatever way we can.”
According to Kunst, the Netherlands used to be the No. 7 country in terms of global trading partners for Alaska; now, it’s gone up to number six on the list.
“We learned that we have 180 million dollars in 2017 export value,” he said. “So I’m looking forward to finding partnerships here in Alaska. That’s the reason why we opened an honorary consulate here, in Anchorage.”
The honorary consulate was opened in February of this year and Kunst said he hopes that business owners will use the opportunity to learn more about their options for trade in the Netherlands.
“I’m not only looking into the numbers. It’s more about the quality of the corporation,” he said. “We are helping all kinds of companies. The bigger ones – you might know their names like Unilever or Shell or KLM or Heineken – but we are also there to help small or medium enterprises. They sometimes need the help of a consulate to make the first steps.”
Among the examples he mentioned was hearing from Alaskans looking for Dutch partners to help recycle nets.
“I understand they quite often are now heading to the landfill,” he said. “It’s a waste and it’s costly to the citizens of Kodiak. If we can come up with different solutions, we do good for the economy, we do good for the citizens of Kodiak and we even create a business pattern between the Netherlands and Kodiak.”
Kunst’s visit also included meetings with Kodiak Chamber of Commerce director Frank Schiro, with both Kodiak Island Borough mayor Dan Rohrer and City of Kodiak mayor Pat Branson, and a presentation from Kodiak Electric Association.
“The other reason we came is we were so interested in the concept of 100 percent renewable energy,” said Kunst.
Kunst said that the Netherlands (which has a population of 17 million) is aiming to have a “fully circular economy by 2050.” When he met with KEA’s leadership, his main interest was the process of building toward 100 percent renewable energy,
“We would like to have all of our buses electric by 2025, we would like to have all of our cars electric by 2030,” he said “So we are really trying to make that happen. We were interested to learn about the strategies here in Kodiak. The way you have a diversified energy sources like hydropower and the wind energy.”
According to Kunst, the country is currently building an offshore wind farm that (it is hoped) will provide for all the energy requirements of one million households. By the time it is completed, this wind farm will be the largest in the world. He noted that this vision ties in with the country’s economic relationship with the U.S.
“So, for example, we have many American companies which have data centers in the Netherlands,” he said. “They use a lot of energy and they want to have renewable energy as their energy source.”
Despite the brevity of his trip, Kodiak appears to have left an impression on Kunst.
“It was a quick tour, but I’m impressed with the entrepreneurial spirit here in Kodiak, I’m impressed with the renewable energy grid, because it shows that you’re all committed to this new green economy,” said Kunst. “It was a good starter to get an overview of the business opportunities her – so I think it was a quite fruitful visit.”