2020 Business Leader of the Year

BLOYJoe Usibelli Jr. is the 2020 Business Leader of the Year!

A lifelong Alaskan, Joe Usibelli Jr. is the president of Usibelli Coal Mine, where he has worked for over 40 years. He graduated from the University of Alaska Fairbanks in 1981 with a degree in civil engineering and a minor in business. Joe worked at UCM while pursuing his education, and after graduation advanced through various positions with the company, including superintendent and vice president of operations. He became president in 1987 at the age of 28. Joe Jr. is only the third leader of UCM following his father, Joe Sr., and his grandfather, Emil.

UCM has flourished under Joe’s leadership, producing many benefits for the Alaska economy. More than 500 jobs in Interior Alaska are connected with the mining, distribution, and consumption of Usibelli coal. UCM also spends over $70 million annually with more than 400 different suppliers, service-providers, and organizations.

Joe has built a solid record for environmental stewardship at the mine. Nearly one million trees have been planted as part of UCM’s effort to restore mine lands to natural habitat, a program the company started years before reclamation was required by law. UCM received the “Environmental Stewardship Award of Excellence” from the Northwest Mining Association in recognition of its environmental record.

The safety of employees has been a top priority for Joe. At his direction, the company joined the “CORESafety” program. This initiative of the National Mining Association seeks aggressive reductions in the rate of injuries. In 2019, UCM surpassed all previous safety records when it achieved more than 1,000 consecutive days of operations without a single employee injury resulting in lost work time. This is a remarkable achievement for a company that operates heavy machinery, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, in all weather conditions.

Joe cultivates a family-friendly workplace, allowing time for employees to care for sick family members and participate in activities during work hours, such as parent-teacher conferences and youth sports. UCM has a high employee retention rate. One third of UCM’s full-time employees belong to the second, third, and even fourth generations of their families who have worked at the company.

The Usibelli family has a long history of altruistic support for the community. Joe has continued this family legacy with his quiet and thoughtful philanthropy. In 1991, Joe helped found the Usibelli Foundation, which supports organizations involved in education, health and social services, the arts, athletics, and youth programs. To date, the foundation has given more than $2.5 million to hundreds of organizations, including Alaska Resource Education, the Fairbanks Community Food Bank, the Fairbanks Summer Arts Festival, and the United Way of Tanana Valley.

Joe dedicates personal time to several community organizations. He is an avid supporter of Junior Achievement and has taught JA classes in local schools. Joe has served on the boards of the Alaska SeaLife Center, the American Cancer Society Alaska Chapter, and the Tri-Valley Volunteer Fire Department, to name just a few.

Support for education has been a hallmark of Joe’s leadership, with a particular focus on the University of Alaska Fairbanks. More than $6.5 million has been donated to the university from UCM, the Usibelli Foundation, and the Usibelli family to support student scholarships, faculty incentives, capital projects, event sponsorships, and the Alaska Nanooks athletics program, among other programs. In 2017, the University of Alaska honored the Usibelli family with its “Philanthropist of the Century Award.”

Joe’s commitment to education also extends to local K-12 schools. For many years, UCM provided five annual scholarships for graduates from the Tri-Valley School in Healy. In 2019, Joe greatly expanded the program by directing that every graduating senior from Tri-Valley would be awarded a scholarship of at least $500, and that all children of UCM employees would receive a $1,000 scholarship. Every year, Joe speaks at the Tri-Valley School graduation ceremony. On the last day of school, he’s often operating the grill, barbecuing hamburgers.

In addition to leading UCM, Joe has been active in other business initiatives, including Aurora Energy, LLC, Usibelli Investments, LLC, and Usibelli Development, Inc. – as well as several family-owned business interests, including Aurora Denali Lodge, Black Diamond Resort, and Usibelli Vineyards. Joe was named the William A. Egan Outstanding Alaskan of the Year by the Alaska Chamber in 2012 and was inducted into the Alaska Business Hall of Fame in 2013. Joe and his wife Marilyn are lifelong residents of Healy, along with their daughter, Lexi, who attends Tri-Valley School.

Joe joins a legacy of father and son Business Leader of the Year recipients, including Paul (1977) and Dan Gavora (2012), Cliff and Rob Everts (both 2018) and Joe Usibelli Sr. (1978).