Why “Alaska” means milk and basketball to many Filipinos

When Filipinos hear “Alaska,” often the first two things that come to mind are milk and basketball.

(Composited from photos by @Doug88888 and Ion Botezatu via Flickr Creative Commons)

That’s according to the Philippines’ recently appointed honorary consul to Alaska, Jenny Gomez Strickler.

It turns out, the Philippines-based Alaska Milk Corporation sells milk in the country and sponsors the Alaska Aces — not Anchorage’s minor league hockey team, but a professional basketball team in the Philippines. Neither the milk nor the basketball team have a meaningful connection to the 49th state.

That means if Alaska wants to make inroads in trade with the Philippines, the state has a lot of work to do. In 2012, less than 1 percent of Alaska’s exports ended up in the Philippines, according to census data.

Jenny Gomez Strickler, Philippines honorary consul to Alaska

But Strickler says connections are being forged that could help build a market for Alaska seafood, and even liquefied natural gas.

The Juneau resident and retired Alaska Department of Commerce and Economic Development worker spoke to the Juneau World Affairs Council on Wednesday. In her new honorary role for the government of the Philippines, she’s part bureaucrat, and part international trade facilitator.

She’s trying to make the case that “Alaska” should mean “seafood” in the Philippines.

“The Philippines is a fish-eating country,” she said. “Yet its fish is imported from other countries. And its imported salmon is farmed salmon.”

Strickler, Juneau Rep. Cathy Munoz and the governor’s office are trying to put together a seafood festival in Manila next year to show the country what Alaska has to offer.

Strickler shared an anecdote about a missed connection that networking at the festival might fix. A former Juneau resident brought some Alaska seafood to Manila for his friends to try. One of samplers happened to be a hotel owner.

“The business owner enjoyed it so much, he said, ‘If I get this from you, can you guarantee me X amount throughout the year, or a portion of the year?’ He looked him straight in the eye and said, ‘I can’t, cause I’m not a fisherman.’”

She said they’re working on a pitch to get support from the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute.

Strickler also said she was on a recent conference call between Philippines Ambassador Jose Cuisia Jr. and state officials. The ambassador said he’s putting together a team to visit Alaska and investigate opportunities to import liquefied natural gas.

Finally, Strickler said Aklan State University in the Philippines is interested in sending instructors to the University of Alaska Southeast through an exchange program. They want to learn about saltwater fisheries.

Strickler said she expects that arrangement to come together after the Juneau Assembly adopts a sister city proclamation linking Juneau and Kalibo, the capital city of the Philippine province Aklan.

A Juneau Assembly committee backed the proclamation on Monday.

Jenny Gomez Strickler’s talk with the Juneau World Affairs Council is tentatively scheduled to air on 360 North on October 11th.

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