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Small Businesses are the Backbone of Alaska’s Economy

When many people think of Alaska’s economy, they envision big players such as oil and gas companies, mining and seafood operators, multinational tourism businesses, and government. These employers are a critical part of the engine that runs Alaska’s economy. Without them, Alaska would not be what it is today. But there is another vital part of the economy that is often overlooked and crucial to building a better future for Alaskans: small businesses.

As big businesses, banking and housing took a big hit when the recession rippled through the U.S. over the last few years, small businesses were the stabilizing force in the economy. Entrepreneurs proved to be the backbone of creativity and production. Small business stimulated and maintained economic growth. The same is true here in Alaska.

At the beginning of this year, the federal Small Business Administration Office of Advocacy put together a state-by-state profile of small businesses in America. Alaska’s profile included the most recent data on the state’s small business employment numbers, how many small businesses opened and closed, the number of bank loans, as well as a break-down of business ownership by minorities, women and veterans.

According to the profile, nearly 67,000 small businesses operated in Alaska in 2009. Of these, 15,838 were employers and they accounted for 52-percent of private sector jobs in the state. In the big picture, that means small businesses provided more than half of all non-government jobs in Alaska. That also means small businesses provided employment and support for more than 130,000 Alaskans and their families.

It’s not just the sheer number of jobs that is important to consider. Small businesses in Alaska represented almost 40% of newly created private-sector jobs from 2005 to 2008. That’s an important trend that we must support in our quest to diversify Alaska’s economy. But there are warning signs that growth may be slowing. Throughout 2010, more small businesses closed down than started up.

That’s why I am teaming up with the Alaska Small Business Development Center and the Anchorage Economic Development Corporation to sponsor two workshops in September aimed at helping Alaskans start their own businesses and helping current small business owners overcome the unique challenges faced in the 49th state.

The first workshop will focus on how Alaskans can launch their own businesses. Experts will provide guidance on how new business owners can calculate their start-up, variable and fixed costs, how to find a unique market niche, how to write a business plan, and where to get start-up money. It will be held on September 5th at the Northeast Boys and Girls Club on Muldoon Road in Anchorage from 6:15 to 7:45 p.m. The workshop is free and the public is encouraged to attend. Anyone interested in participating can call 269-0120 or 321-1944 to register or show up at the door.

But starting a new business is only half the battle. According to federal data, Alaska’s small businesses are very small as three quarters of all businesses do not have employees and most employers have fewer than 20 employees. That’s why it is also important for us to find ways to help existing small businesses to grow and expand their operations.

The second workshop will be held on September 20th and will consist of a roundtable for existing East Anchorage businesses, during which they will have the opportunity to discuss their common challenges and opportunities and brainstorm business strategies with experts from the Small Business Administration, the Anchorage Economic Development Corporation and other leading professionals. This workshop is also free and open to the public. It will be held at the Begich Middle School from 5:30 to 7:00 p.m. in room B104.

If you’ve always dreamed of starting your own business, or are a current business owner who would like to expand, I encourage you to come join me at these workshops as we continue to build a stronger future for Alaska.

Senator Bill Wielechowski has represented East Anchorage since 2007.

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