As statewide budgets are being threatened with debilitating cuts, Alaskans are questioning what the economic future will look like. For most, the future seems bleak. But hidden just beyond the proverbial storm clouds is a little economic engine that could, and it just may be the next big thing to shake up the Anchorage economy.
Nestled in the catacombs of Mountain View’s brightly colored Service Center on Klevin Street is a group of six young professionals on a mission—to use entrepreneurship to transform lives and neighborhoods. Founded in 2003, the Anchorage Community Land Trust (ACLT) got its start from a Rasmuson Foundation seed grant and has since flourished into Anchorage’s only neighborhood-scale community development organization. It is also one of the only commercial land trusts in the country.
By acquiring key pieces of property in Mountain View, ACLT is improving the quality of life for residents and supporting development that brings needed businesses and services to the neighborhood. Among their current holdings are the Mountain View Service Center, John’s RV, the Price Street Building, the Mountain View Drive-In and the West Berlin Restaurant.
Perhaps the centerpiece of their property development is the Mountain View Service Center which was purchased by the organization in 2004. An old furniture warehouse, the building has since been converted into offices and training spaces for seven non-profits, including Camp Fire Alaska, the Foraker Group, the Alaska State Council on the Arts and the AlaskaWorks Construction Academy.
With their property development strategy running as a well-oiled machine, ACLT has begun to set its sight on a new venture—training, funding and supporting entrepreneurship through their Set-Up Shop program.
Culturally inclusive, the program is geared to the “local seamstress, restaurateur, shop owner, and other neighborhood institutions who haven’t found traction in traditional financing or existing services”. Selected participants form a cohort of 10 to 15 aspiring business owners and undergo 12 weeks of training to learn the ins-and-outs of operations, marketing, financials and more. Taught by The Business Boutique owner Jasmin Smith and the Alaska Literacy Project, the program graduated 37 participants in its first year.
Upon graduation, the ACLT provides participants access to lending resources and the opportunity to access financing through their microloan program. A testament to the program’s success, their inaugural recipient, Eva Perry, is now in her seventh year as the owner and operator of Eva’s Cupcakery located in Glenn Square.
Although the Set-Up Shop has already surpassed expectations, their second year of operation is poised to eclipse their previous success.
On March 13, the ACLT was presented with a $75,000 grant from KeyBank to continue growing the Set-Up Shop program.
“At KeyBank, our mission is to help our communities thrive— and nowhere is that more important than for small business entrepreneurs who have a dream and seek support to make that vision a reality,” says Alaska KeyBank President Lori McCaffrey. “At a personal level we are wholeheartedly behind the mission! It’s a proven model and it provides a targeted approach to disrupt concentrated poverty and that impacts everyone in our community in such a positive way.”
KeyBank’s grant funding is part of a $16-billion commitment to the National Community Reinvestment Coalition. The agreement divvies the funding up between $2.5-billion for small business lending, $5-billion for mortgage lending and an undisclosed amount for assorted philanthropic endeavors.
“We don’t see these philanthropic efforts as grants, we see them as investments because they truly are investments into our communities,” says KeyCorp Senior Vice President, Corporate Responsibility Bruce Whiting. “We see these investments as a partnership and as long-term. I hope we are back here in another year or two and having another discussion because it is really important to us that small businesses in communities like Anchorage have access to credit because without it, they can’t thrive.”
According to Whiting, this is the second largest investment of its kind in the Alaskan community that KeyBank has made. The previous one was for Covenant House.
“I feel like we are in a sort of non-profit dreamland,” says ACLT’s CEO Kirk Rose. “Bruce [Whiting] actually came to use with the idea and I can tell you that in non-profit world, things like that don’t happen!”
Receiving a visit from a high-powered investor may be a once in a lifetime event for a small non-profit but ACLT also fought to help make it happen.
“I remember being told that there was a large grant that we could apply for, but we would have to jump on it quickly,” recalls ACLT’s Director of Communications and Development Emily Cohn. “When I found out how much money it was, I immediately said, ‘oh yeah, I can work all weekend on that!’ I just felt bad because it meant that Bruce [Whiting] was working all weekend with me but he really made it happen.”
Whiting jokes that it was the fastest he has ever seen an application be compiled and be awarded but he insists that he couldn’t be happier.
Despite officially receiving the funding just last week, ACLT is already hard at work prepping to train and graduate 60 new entrepreneurs from their 2019 Set-Up Shop.
“When you have small businesses, it means that you have to have individuals who are willing to take risks and start something—and I think that that’s essential to having a functional capitalistic society. But it’s also part of our character here as Alaskans and that is embodied completely with the people who are taking part in the Set-Up Shop. They have a vision, they have a goal and they’re willing to risk everything to try to make that happen,” says Anchorage’s Mayor Ethan Berkowitz. “I think particularly here in Anchorage as we confront what’s going on at the state level, we have an opportunity to show everybody that if we’re willing to take risks and are willing to work together we can build the kind of community where everybody can raise themselves up and prosper.”