A dozen Southeast Alaska small businesses are finalists in this year’s Road to Prosperity competition. They were chosen from 23 businesses that applied this year. All finalists will be trained in business management and two will walk away with a $25,000 prize.
Angela Denning of CoastAlaska reports:
Aaron Angerman grew up in Wrangell and has seen the tourism industry grow there. On busy summer days, the town of 2,000 people sees hundreds of visitors disembarking from small and medium-sized cruise ships. So Angerman and his wife, Mikki, came up with a business idea: electric scooters, like the standing ones that kids ride, but with batteries.
“All electric,” Aaron Angerman said. “No show or anything like that. Nice smooth ride.”
You may have seen them in larger cities rented out through phone apps from companies like Lime or Bird. Still, it would be a new business for Wrangell, and Angerman says it would be cheap and easy transportation for tourists.
“You can just pick one of these up and go, you don’t have to worry about setting it up, you just park it, take a picture and hit ‘end trip,'” Angerman said. “That’s all you have to do. You don’t need to return it anywhere. You can go from point A to point B and not worry about getting back to point A if you don’t want to.”
The scooters can be recharged as needed, which the couple can also manage online. They plan to start with 12 to 16 and grow from there.
Angerman and his wife are finalists in the annual business competition run by Spruce Root, a regional nonprofit that promotes economic growth. Spruce Root was started in 2012 by Haa Aani, a subsidiary of Sealaska Corporation.
For the second year in a row, the Road to Prosperity competition is related to tourism, especially businesses that continue to benefit local residents.
Isabella Haywood is the contest administrator.
“We wanted to make sure that local businesses are truly equipped to build businesses in a way that not only serves the visitors who come to the region, but also channels the economic benefits from those visitors deep into their communities,” said she.
In October, the 12 finalists will go through a workshop, learning how to fine-tune their business plans.
Rebecca Kamaika is looking forward to it. She is a baker in Haines and would like to open a small restaurant focusing on tapas, wine and dessert. Tapas are appetizers in Spanish cuisine and part of Kamaika’s Cuban heritage.
“While people eat at [cruise] ship, I’m thinking a tapas thing is . . . you really aren’t committing to a full meal. Maybe they’re walking around, you know, ‘Maybe I want a glass of wine or beer,’ get a small plate or a slice of cake. You know, something a little “bougie,” I guess, would be the word, and a little atypical for the area.”
She is not sure if she should eat a dinner or go out on foot. Either way, she’s looking forward to more kitchen space. Currently, she lives in an apartment.
For Kameika, baking is an art form. She sticks drawings of her ideas on the wall.
“I’ll sketch out my cake designs here and lay them out,” Kamaika said, “look at them until the wedding, see if I want to make some adjustments.”
She says she’s glad she’s doing the Road to Prosperity competition because she wants to consider all her options, including possibly contracting with cruise lines.
Jim Silverthorn is another finalist. He wants to start a catch-and-release fly fishing contest for steelhead trout on Prince of Wales Island that will attract tourists every year.
“Between all the local arts and crafts people and things like that, we’re looking at bringing all of that together as one field,” Silverthorn said. “It would be a pretty big deal.”
Silverthorn runs a fishing charter business from Thorne Bay and says the fishermen bring money to the town every summer. He says a steelhead event would start the tourist season earlier — in April — when the sought-after trout are developing. And it would bring more income to the remote towns on the economically depressed island. He says the city collects sales tax from their purchases.
“Those guys are buying gas or buying groceries or buying liquor or buying, you know, they’re renting vehicles or staying in a stay-at-home apartment,” he said.
The guides would have to go along with the fishermen, so Silverthorn says the competition could create jobs for residents across the island.
The two Road to Prosperity winners will be announced in February. The annual contest began in 2013 and has awarded a total of $610,000 to 19 winners.