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Rural Small Business Conference Gives Alaska Native Leaders Access to USDA Business Development Programs

Imagine living so far away from everyday resources the only way in or out for hundreds of miles is by air.  Most Americans take for granted how easy it is to jump in our cars and go to the store for whatever we want or need.  Not so in rural Alaska.

Gaining a simple, painless way to connect to food, materials, technology and other necessities was the draw for 200 rural leaders and residents, primarily Native, who came from across the state to Anchorage earlier this month. They talked to vendors and meet with Federal and state officials including those from the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service and Rural Development at the Rural Small Business Conference hosted by Alaska Village Initiatives (AVI).

The goal of the conference is to bring together rural businesses, leaders and residents in order to provide them with networking opportunities, training and technical information to help meet the needs of their communities.  The theme to this year’s conference is “Focus on the Future”. USDA has many programs designed to assist rural residents in developing a business or a cooperative.

Opening remarks included streaming video welcomes from Senators Mark Begich and Lisa Murkowski; a personal welcome from Chad Padgett, former USDA Rural Development and Farm Service Agency State Director and current State Director for Congressman Don Young,  and Charles Parker, AVI President/CEO – all lauding the importance and effectiveness of the conference.

The number of vendors and people attending this year’s conference exceeded all previous years, a great barometer on the interest and value this venue brings.  A unique focal point of the conference was the “Marketplace Tradeshow” that afforded participants an excellent opportunity to meet exhibitors to explore and learn about available services to their rural, often remote communities.

AVI is a non-profit, membership based company dedicated to improving the well-being of rural Alaska and strengthening their self reliance through training, assistance, advocacy and economic development.  AVI has sponsored the Rural Small Business Conference for the past twenty one years.

Molly Voeller, Public Affairs Specialist for the Natural Resources Conservation Service in Alaska and Larry Yerich, Public Information Coordinator for USDA Rural Development-Alaska provide agency program and service information to participants and vendors. Photo courtesy of Doug Lindstrand.

Molly Voeller, Public Affairs Specialist for the Natural Resources Conservation Service in Alaska and Larry Yerich, Public Information Coordinator for USDA Rural Development-Alaska provide agency program and service information to participants and vendors. Photo courtesy of Doug Lindstrand.

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