PUBLISHED: 4:43 PM on Wednesday, August 13, 2008
Angoon Business Center offers village cultural and economic possibilities
ANGOON - As long as anyone can remember, Tlingit artists have made finely detailed regalia, elaborate totemic crests, hand-carved plates, and other works in the village of Angoon. In late July, for the first time ever, a few of those pieces were sold over the online marketplace Ebay.

"We were all excited by the first sale," says Sealaska Corp. intern Crystal Rogers, who is living in Angoon this summer and helped to list works by local artists on Ebay.

The online sales are part of a recent effort in the Admiralty Island community to create jobs by spurring new businesses. The hub of activity is the Angoon Business Center. Former high school teacher Kim Getgood runs the center. She doesn't have a lot of business experience, but she's well connected in the community.

The Center is a small version of a Silicon Valley business incubator that provides entrepreneurs office space, access to capital and introduction to partners. Getgood works with business experts statewide to offer help writing business plans. She puts on e-commerce seminars and helps artists display their work in the center's free retail space, and now, online.

photos courtesy of Angoon Business Center
  Angoon Business Center interns show off traditional regalia.
The Center was founded in January to help turn local people's ideas into profitable businesses. That's ambitious in a place where only a handful of businesses run year-round and where there is no regular barge service and where companies pay about seven times the national average for heating fuel.

The Center is funded by a federal grant administered by the Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska. Angoon's village corporation Kootznoowoo Inc. pays its utility bills and gives it free space on the ground floor of its two-storey office building.

Angoon has no newspaper. In January the Center launched to help fill the information gap. It features everything from photos of local weddings and city council meetings to details on upcoming events at the Center. Getgood has trained about 20 residents including school staff and city officials on how to post information.

  Carver Jamie Daniels displays his killer whale rattle.
The Center is supporting local efforts to start a beauty salon, an engine repair shop, a guide service and other micro-enterprises.

Jamie Daniels stands in high grass at the side of the Angoon Business Center. It's a stunning view overlooking the Chatham Strait and snowcapped mountains in the distance. Daniels is the Tlingit carver whose work was just sold over Ebay. He's collaborating with several other men on a canoe-carving project adjacent to the Center. The volunteers plan to build a shop and from there carve giant logs into canoes like the ones their ancestors once used to hunt and fish.

"It's a positive thing for the community, a place where we can come to hang out and carve and young people can learn to carve," says Daniels.

  The new center will offer cultural and economic opportunities for the village of Angoon.The center was founded to help local entrepeneurs, and founders hope it will help young people stay in Angoon.
Giving youth something to do and a set of skills they can use locally may help slow a statewide trend that's depleting rural villages of their people. At least that's Daniel's hope. Alaskans are departing remote communities for more populated centers such as Anchorage, Fairbanks and Juneau. The phenomenon is not new. Since the years surrounding statehood, Alaskans have been leaving smaller communities, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau. But the shift has sped up recently, according to a May study by the Institute of Social and Economic Research at University of Alaska. About 2,700 people a year left their villages in 2006 and 2007, up from about 1,200 a year during the period 2002-2005.

Many Alaskans believe that the skyrocketing cost of energy is forcing people to leave villages. The study found that a lack of educational and economic opportunities was the predominant force prompting people to depart.

Andrei Chakine, the Central Council's manager of business and economic development, set up the Angoon Business Center based on what he had learned working with the U.S. government in the former Soviet Union. He says it set up business centers to help people who had lived under Communism learn about starting companies. "In addition to offering training and support, the centers serve as a hub of social and artistic activity and the entrepreneurial community builds around it," he explains.

In June the U.S. Department of Agriculture awarded Central Council 192 thousand dollars to start another center in Hydaberg and to support Angoon operations. Chakine says he hopes to have the Hydaberg Center up and running in October.