From Alaska to Taiwan

Photo by Chris Arend
Photo by Chris Arend.

“I literally worked from the ground up to get on the CIRI board,” says Hallie Bissett, CIRI shareholder and member of CIRI’s Board of Directors. She landed her first CIRI job – as a groundskeeper – at age 14. She recalls gazing into the windows of the CIRI building and thinking, I’m going to work inside those offices someday.

As CIRI’s youngest Board member, Bissett lived up to her word. Now she initiates and develops CIRI policy alongside people she refers to as “living legends.”

“I always leave that room with a new idea or something I hadn’t thought of before,” she says. “Just to hear the perceptions of the people in that room is invaluable to anybody, so I hope to see more young, up-and-coming people applying for the board and getting involved.”

Bissett considers her fellow board members mentors and teachers, but it wouldn’t be far-fetched for younger CIRI shareholders to look up to her as an example of how to succeed. Since 2012, she’s been the vice president of business development for Old Harbor Native Corporation and has also worked for the Anchorage Economic Development Corporation and BP Exploration Alaska. One of Anchorage’s Top Forty Under 40 in 2007, she also serves on The CIRI Foundation board.

When the consul from Seattle’s Taipei Economic and Cultural Office reached out to Greg Wolf, executive director of the World Trade Center Alaska, looking for a young leader who could serve on a delegation to Taiwan, Wolf immediately thought of Bissett.

As part of the delegation, Bissett spent a week visiting Taiwanese organizations, meeting government officials and making business contacts.

“It was really exciting to build relationships with the young leaders in Taiwan who are going to lead that country in ten to twenty years,” she describes.

Taiwan ranks as Alaska’s seventh top export market in Asia, so Bissett hopes to use the contacts she made to benefit projects like Old Harbor’s airport expansion. “The intent is to extend runways to allow bigger air cargo carriers to come in. Once that’s completed as part of a bigger community economic development plan, they’re going to erect a processing facility that would cater to the fresh, high-value seafood market. The endgame is more money in the pockets of the people who live in the community.”

Bissett also visited the education center in New Taipei City, where she learned about a community-funded program that allows needy children to receive free hot meals from local stores.

“The community-wide support for such a program, this grand-scale system of stores and people helping kids in need, reminded me very much of our Alaska Native communities,” she says. “There were so many similarities between the culture of the people in Taiwan and the culture of people in Alaska – not just Alaska Native people, but all the people in Alaska who are giving and help take care of the children in their neighborhoods.”