Alaska has seen its share of booms and busts. Yet we know that building sustainable natural-resource economies that last, with long-term jobs and local institutions such as schools and businesses, is within our grasp. Fisheries, timber and tourism will be part of the region’s more sustainable future, but so will new ventures in small-scale manufacturing, wild edibles and agriculture, among others.
In Southeast Alaska, a region struggling with outmigration, unemployment and the consequences of its unsustainable timber heydays, The Nature Conservancy is helping to nurture sustainable growth – a win-win for nature and people.
The 17-million-acre Tongass National Forest spans the entirety of Alaska’s Alexander Archipelago. It’s known for its steep and rugged landscape, lush coastal rainforests and 17,000 miles of salmon streams. At the same time, a history of economic booms and busts have plagued the Tongass and many communities continue to seek more sustainable ways of building local economies.
Even as we continue to protect and restore forests and salmon streams in the Tongass, we’ve invested our energy into supporting innovative entrepreneurs who are committed to building self-reliant local businesses that do right for people and the planet while earning a profit.
Finding the Path to Prosperity
Over the last five years, The Nature Conservancy and our partner, the Native-led Spruce Root Community Development, has supported more than four dozen business ventures with a combination of entrepreneurship training, loans, and startup funds for top performers. Our Path to Prosperity business plan contest is inspiring people across the region to ask, “what if?” Small loans paired with financial counseling from the Spruce Root revolving loan fund, with financial support from the Conservancy, is inspiring new locally owned businesses.
More than 50 aspiring entrepreneurs have now attended our Path to Prosperity business boot camp, helping new businesses craft solid business plans, build professional networks and meet local business experts. In a short time, we’ve made a difference for dozens of entrepreneurs committed to building environmentally sustainable economies from the ground up.
Expanding Small-Town Businesses
Small-town entrepreneur Greg McMillan, center, who is expanding his oyster farm on Prince of Wales Island with help from a small business loan made possible by the Conservancy’s investment in a Spruce Root revolving loan fund.
“It takes a pretty big investment of time and money to get any sizable operation going," says Prince of Wales Island entrepreneur Greg McMillan. "You have all these expenses that are up front for a couple years before you have a product. That’s the number one reason people fail.”
Locally Grown and Made
The state of Alaska imports about 95 percent of its food, according to some estimates, even though opportunities to produce and harvest food locally abound. Ventures like Juneau’s Barnacle Foods are experimenting with rethinking local food systems by producing food from abundant resources such as kelp – with help from our Path to Prosperity business plan contest.
Local Businesses that Work for Community
Our Path to Prosperity business plan contest is boosting triple-bottom-line business ventures in communities such as Klawock.
Fairweather Ski Works owner, Graham Kraft, makes custom wood skis using naturally fallen or donated logs harvested from the Tongass forest. He is among the winners of the Path to Prosperity business plan contest.
"P2P showed us the path towards weaving sustainability into our daily business practices,” says Marc Wheeler, owner of Coppa in Juneau.