Anchorage – Thanks in part to a recent $66,500 grant awarded by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Alaska Small Business Development Center (SBDC) is reinvigorating its approach to rural development by ramping up its community outreach efforts and introducing a series of fully automated business center kiosks. These kiosks will offer access to remotely delivered, one-on-one business advising as well as a spectrum of training materials and templates specially designed to address the unique business development needs of rural Alaska communities.
The kiosks will be placed in Alaska communities with populations below 5,000 that have commercial access to internet.
In the preliminary stages of the program, the USDA grant provides funding for a pilot program of up to five business center kiosks. Each kiosk will be outfitted with remotely controlled hardware and software designed to minimize communication and access barriers created by distance and technology.
“Some of the most significant barriers to small business development in rural Alaska stem from limited access to help and resources,” observes Alaska SBDC Executive Director Jon Bittner. “With these kiosks, we are expanding our reach into rural Alaska using tried-and-true technologies that don’t require clients to be tech-savvy. This allows us to focus on what is really important – providing the support, tools and resources needed for small businesses to succeed.”
The kiosks will be hosted and maintained by local business partners, such as chambers of commerce, banks, or other organizations that can provide the space and infrastructure needed to house and maintain the devices. Communities currently being considered for the pilot program include Hoonah, Nome, and Utqiaġvik.
“Reaching out and developing partnerships within these communities has been deeply rewarding,” says Director of Rural Program Development Ian Grant. “By creating a strong small business sector within Alaska’s rural villages, we are building a better, stronger economy for the residents and all of Alaska.”
The Alaska SBDC’s rural development program focuses on communities that are not already served by one of Alaska SBDC’s regional offices, which are currently located in Anchorage, Fairbanks, Wasilla, Juneau, Ketchikan, Homer, Seward and Soldotna. The goal of the program is to establish consistent delivery of SBDC services to spur innovation with rural entrepreneurs.
“Each community has unique characteristics and challenges that differ from those experienced in Alaska’s major cities,” explains Grant. “That is why we are updating our tools and resources, to help guarantee success.”
The first of the business center kiosks is expected to go live in summer of 2019.
Pictured above: Alaska SBDC Director of Rural Program Development Ian Grant (left) with Jackie Dick from Hoonah, Alaska (right). Dick sits on Hoonah’s economic development committee board and owns multiple rentals in the region.