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June 30, 2003

A Playground in Alaska: Golf at midnight, more family time and bears in the backyard.

By Gregory Bresiger

Had too much of the big city? Looking to get away from the high taxes and stresses of the megalopolises where most traders conduct business and live? Want more time for your recreational activities and to be with your family?

Those were the kinds of questions that Tim Hoover, a veteran domestic equities trader, was mulling some five years ago. Hoover had been in the business for some 11 years. He began working for Safeco Securities in the Portland, Oregon area. He grew up in the Pacific Northwest, 80 miles east of Portland, in a town named the Dalles.

But in the late 1990s he suddenly had the opportunity to get away from it all with his wife and two children. He took a job with McKinley Capital in Anchorage, Alaska, a city of some 250,000, near what some residents call "the end of the world."

The 34-year old Hoover said he has never regretted making the move.

"This had worked out very well for my family and me. This is a great place. I live right in the city, yet there are bears, moose and deer in my backyard. My kids have seen wonderful things. There are limitless activities for them," Hoover said.

Great Outdoors

Not only are there myriad activities in the great outdoors, Hoover noted, but Alaskans have more time to do it. In the summertime, at its peak, there are 20 hours of daylight.

"It never really gets dark then. If you want to golf, you can have teetimes at midnight. Basically, you have two days of daylight for every night," according to Hoover, who moved to Anchorage with his wife, Mikki, and their kids because he wanted a better lifestyle.

"I never regretted that," said Hoover, who doesn't seem to be a candidate for hypertension despite working in a very stressful business. He spoke to Traders Magazine in a very relaxed manner in the middle of a busy trading day.

Hoover agreed that trading can be a very difficult business, especially over the last three years. But he said that the difference between working in Alaska and a big city in the Northwest, or on the East Coast, is that in Anchorage there are so many more opportunities to beat stress. For example, Hoover enjoys mountain climbing on nearby Mount McKinley. He also loves fishing.

"This state is one big playground for my family," he said. Hoover also noted that the costs, in general, are relatively modest. For example, there is no state income tax or sales tax.

Hoover, the same as many other Alaskans, is a proponent of drilling in the Arctic National Refuge area. He said most Alaskans believe that the area where drilling would take place is so small that it is unlikely to cause any environmental damage. "Many of the people who believe there would be damage have never been there or to this state," he said.

Hoover says housing and food costs are not cheap, but the state, in an effort to keep people there, sends a check to each resident once a year that comes from the state permanent fund, which is financed by the big oil companies. They are the state's biggest taxpayers.

Hoover, and each member of his family recently received a check for $1,563, putting an extra $6,252 in the pockets of the Hoover household. Unsurprisingly, Hoover said that his family can afford to have Mikki be a stay at home mom.

"That's another good thing for our kids," he said

The Downside

The disadvantages of life in Alaska? Winters can be brutal. There was a February a few years ago when it never was higher than 30 below. Food expenses, in part because of the high transportation costs, can be high.

"My wife paid $10 once for a cantaloupe," Hoover said. "Every food that you want has to be in season," he said.

And, of course, geography can also be a disadvantage.

"It's some four hours by plane just to Seattle. It is 2,500 miles by car and can take some nine hours. It's tough to visit relatives and it's tough for relatives to visit us," Hoover said.

Getting away from it all has its costs.