BINW Cuts the Ribbon on Alaska’s First Veterans Business Outreach Center
SBA Administrator Isabella Casillas Guzman, flanked by Traci Willett and Steve Watts-Oelrich of Business Impact Northwest, cut the symbolic ribbon to open the Alaska Veterans Business Outreach Center.
The red ribbon cut to open Alaska’s first Veterans Business Outreach Center (VBOC) stands for the same valor, courage, and hardiness symbolized by the red stripes in the American flag. According to Steve Watts-Oelrich, program director at Business Impact Northwest (BINW), Alaskans possess those qualities, military veterans especially so, and entrepreneurs perhaps most of all.
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The ceremony itself was entirely symbolic, too. The event was held at the BP Energy Center because the VBOC is too small to host it. Furthermore, the VBOC won’t be fully operational until later this fall, although BINW has already been performing its services.
The center is an extension of BINW’s Anchorage offerings, which include microlending and the Alaska Women’s Business Center. All are located in a downtown co-work space on Eighth Avenue. BINW is able to add the VBOC thanks to a grant from the US Small Business Administration (SBA).
The center builds on BINW’s other services as “a trusted local partner that understands veterans and military families, the unique challenges that they come to the table with,” says SBA Administrator Isabella Casillas Guzman. “We are so proud to, for the first time ever, launch a Veterans Business Outreach Center here in Alaska, where it is going to be so well utilized and so well deserved based on the need and the demand and the representation that’s here.”
Alaska is notable for having the highest proportion of veterans of any state, with 8,800 per 100,000.
Casillas Guzman led the ribbon cutting, which was timed to coincide with her tour of Alaska during the August recess of Congress. In Ketchikan, Nome, and Anchorage, she says she tried to experience what entrepreneurship means in different Alaska communities.
“I’ve met with manufacturers here, with makers here. I know there’s great opportunity to continue to build for entrepreneurs and businesses in the state,” she says.
She found some statewide commonalities: “It is all about resources, making sure you have strong supply chains to supply you throughout the year. Workforce challenges is a topic around the country, but they’re prevalent here as well,” says Casillas Guzman. “Small businesses are as strong as the communities they live in and often face the same challenges: they want affordable healthcare, they want safe neighborhoods, they want a trained workforce.”
From left to right: Alaska VBOC director Traci Willett, VBOC program director Steve Watts-Oelrich, Anchorage Mayor Dave Bronson, Alaska Lieutenant Governor Nancy Dahlstrom, and SBA Administrator Isabella Casillas Guzman at BP Energy Center on August 24, 2023.
Training, advising, and referrals to SBA services are part of the mission of VBOC, says the director of the Alaska center, Traci Willett. “We’re bringing together resources that uplift our entrepreneurs and strengthen our small businesses that give back to the people. This is a win for all of us here in Alaska,” says Willett. She recalls that, as a military spouse, she was unaware of the assistance available when she was trying to launch her own business.
The Alaska VBOC is one of twenty-eight centers that Watts-Oelrich oversees for BINW. “Alaska now has a fully dedicated, Alaska-mission-focused VBOC team,” he says. “What excites me most about standing up this new center is that, as we help more and more small businesses start and grow in the state of Alaska, we’re going to witness the Alaska economy becoming stronger and more resilient.”
Watts-Oelrich says military veterans who access VBOC services to start or grow a business have a much better rate of success. The key, he says, is translating the skills and traits acquired through military duty into their small business mission.
Architecture & Engineering Special Section + Small Business
In the February 2024 issue of Alaska Business, we engineered a special section that inspects the many ways architecture and engineering enrich our lives, from creating beautiful and functional spaces to crafting functional and safe transportation corridors. In addition to the built world in which we live, this issue celebrates small businesses and the many functions they provide, whether they're developing tools in the healthcare industry or opening new dining locations.