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Investing In Alaska Communities

Helping entrepreneurs promotes economic development


The Alaska Native population stood at 138,312 people in Alaska, according to 2010 US Census data. Alaska’s total population was 710,231, making the Alaska Native demographic equal to 19.4 percent of the state’s total population. Among all US cities with a population of one-hundred thousand or more in 2010, the greatest proportion of American Indians and Alaska Natives was in Anchorage, according to the US Census Bureau. In rural Alaska that proportion increases, and in most regions of the state, Alaska Native Corporations (ANCs) have programs to support the community and its growth.


North Slope Marketplace

The highly successful Arctic Slope Regional Corporation (ASRC), headquartered in Barrow, has tripled its shareholder base since its formation from 3,700 original enrollees to nearly 11,000 today.

One way for ASRC to boost the economy in the region, especially for its shareholders, is the North Slope Marketplace. Alaska Growth Capital Project Manager Elizabeth Rexford says a small boost of start-up capital helps to create meaningful jobs and remove development obstacles tied to lack of access to commercial capital.

“ASRC’s mission is to actively manage our businesses, our lands and resources, our investments, and our relationships to enhance Iñupiaq cultural and economic freedom—with continuity, responsibility, and integrity,” Rexford says. “The North Slope Marketplace program is an extension of these values, in that our shareholders who are working to create jobs and start their own small businesses have access to a business grant program and loan programs as needed.”

Founded in 2009, ASRC shareholders compete in the North Slope Marketplace to promote local economic development. Shareholders compete as entrepreneurs for seed money to start a business or further develop an existing one. Shareholders are awarded grants worth up to $25,000 each. ASRC sponsors the competition, and Alaska Growth Capital, an ASRC wholly owned subsidiary, manages North Slope Marketplace.


Recent Winners

Tommi Lynn Ahmaogak won an award worth $25,000 in 2013 to start a restaurant in her community, the village of Wainwright on Alaska’s north coast. Ahmaogak is converting her general store, Tom and Jerry’s, into a late-night eatery open from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.

“I was only going to start off small by just making pizzas, but with the [North Slope] Marketplace I’m able to start up the whole thing,” Ahmaogak says.

Ahmaogak used the grant to cover business insurance, equipment, and shipping costs. Equipment covered a griddle, fryers, coolers, vents, a refrigerator, pizza oven, microwave, and more. She will serve traditional American diner food, including pizzas, burgers, sandwiches, and nachos, giving locals a quick bite option from traditional foods.

“I feel good about it. The community is behind me 100 percent,” Ahmaogak says. “They’re the ones that encouraged me to go for the [North Slope] Marketplace and open up my own place. So I applied, and I was approved, and the community is happy. They say they can’t wait for it to open.”

Alaska Growth Capital’s latest winner is Jacquelyn Nayakik of Barrow. She was announced as the North Slope Marketplace recipient in April. Nayakik owns and operates Manuluuraq Designs in Barrow, specializing in apparel prints and Iñupiaq arts and crafts. The $25,000 grant will be used to purchase new equipment and inventory to increase production. Nayakik says she hopes to decrease prices on apparel prints in order to save residents money and to add two new employees as the business grows in the future.


Ongoing Support

Alaska Growth Capital continues to work with grant winners by providing ongoing support as needed, says Rexford. They plan workshops and conduct follow-up with winners to help prevent and address potential problems and needs.

“In 2013, the North Slope Marketplace committee chose nine winners out of a total of approximately forty-seven applicants. About seven full-time jobs and eight part-time jobs are estimated to be created with the deployment of $150,000 of 2013 Marketplace grant funds,” Rexford says. “Since 2009, North Slope Marketplace has awarded funds to various other lines of business, ranging from the film industry to restaurants, general convenience stores, arts and crafts, satellite installation, transportation, and tourism.”


More Business Assistance

Several regional corporations have entrepreneurial support programs of their own. For example, Chugach Alaska provides its entrepreneurially-minded folks with the Shareholder Business Assistance Program, or SBAP.

“Through the program, shareholders and descendants can earn individual grants up to $5,000 for their entrepreneurial endeavors, such as the start-up or expansion of a small business” says Vice President of Shareholder Development Millie Johnson.

Since its inception in 2003, SBAP has awarded a total of $273,000 to grant recipients with small businesses from the food service, plumbing, safety, tourism, and communications industries, Johnson says.

Russ Slaten is the Associate Editor for Alaska Business Monthly.

This first appeared in the July 2014 print edition of Alaska Business Monthly magazine.
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