Dave Lax, owner of construction company LMI, is known as a hard working man with a vision for the Bristol Bay Borough. He wants to see more jobs and more year-round economic opportunity in his community, which usually gets pretty quiet after August.
For thousands of sport and commercial fishermen, and thousands more who support those industries, the borough stretching between Naknek and King Salmon is a great place to call home in the summer. It's easy to make a buck, live easy and casual, and enjoy the festive spirit that comes with the salmon runs in Bristol Bay. Most are gone by August, not to be seen again till the following May or June.
Not Dave Lax. He came to Naknek in 1981 on a one-way ticket looking for a change of pace from his Minnesota college life. It was supposed to be a temporary adventure.
“I hit town with a leaky tent and found a place to pitch it and was wet and full of bugs in the morning,” he said. “I went down to the post office and there was an ad for a dishwasher at the Red Dog and went down and applied for it and got it.”
As that job led to another opportunity, and then to another, Bristol Bay grew quickly on the hard working, industrious young man who never left town. Over 36 years, Lax built up a successful construction company, LMI, and has left his mark all over the Borough.
“There from one end of town to the other – from Naknek to King Salmon – there’s pretty much no projects I haven’t touched in one way or another over the years,” he said.
LMI owns about 600 pieces of heavy machinery equipment, according to Lax, making it the largest business of its kind in the area. There is also an LMI boat yard that serves as a sort of community during the salmon season. It features a gas station, Uptown Dogs, a health clinic and Wi-Fi service.
He started the Red Line taxi service. Several years ago, he sold Silver Bay Seafoods the land it sits on now. He also owns two gas stations, with a third in the works for King Salmon, and won the favor of many for helping drive down prices at the pump considerably.
Lax recently built a large, heated construction facility, with the hopes it will house a gill-net boat building operation. It is insulated by containers and is 82 feet long by 86 feet wide and 43 feet at its highest point.
Lax anticipates this facility will be 120 feet long and house up to six gill net boats when it is complete.
“If you play it safe and don’t ever do anything, you’ll never get hurt but you’ll never accomplish anything either,” Lax said. “It’s the people in the world that are willing to step out there and take a risk and couple it with a good idea and make it function.”
Lax says his drive to keep building and doing is about more than making money for himself; he wants to bring more jobs and money into the community. Naknek grows each summer to about 10,000 people who fish or work in the salmon processing industry, and King Salmon cycles through thousands of sport fishermen and wildlife tourist. But by late fall the Borough is considerably quieter, and economic opportunity through the winter is minimal. Lax has his eye on all the work that goes into setting up and taking down the summer boom.
“If you can reach out and scoop some of that whirling cash flow that goes through here every year and just get a percentage or two to stay here,” he said. “It starts swirling around town here locally. It pays for new cars and pays for people to build a porch. It creates little businesses here and there.”
He is also a strong proponent for building a bridge between Naknek and South Naknek. Lax believes this is the next feasible economic opportunity for the Borough, and that a bridge will give the fishing industry access to more water front real estate on the less populated south bank of the Naknek River.
Twice the bridge proposal has failed, but Lax believes it will eventually get built.
“It’s been thought of as building a bridge to a community of 40 people, but to me it’s not. To me it’s the other half of this Borough,” Lax said.
He stays active in other ways in the community, too. He and his wife have rescued many Naknek stray dogs. At one point they had 16. They like to get out and enjoy outdoor activities too, and recently renovated an old camper to get away from the “big city” of Naknek.
“I love anything Bristol Bay, and I’m very positive towards its future,” he said.