Manufacturing in Alaska is adding on a new category: art

Idea is to bridge distances between rural and urban centers using virtual Internet solution

Posted: Monday, May 18, 2009

Alaskan manufacturing is taking on a new definition as small cottage industry artisans get support from several programs set to bolster the economy.

"That's right, anything made by an artist is now considered manufacturing," said Chris Buchholdt, executive director of the Alaska Manufacturing Extension Partnership Inc.

Buchholdt and AMEP, a nonprofit organization are using a new strategy to include art as an Alaskan-manufactured product.

Buchholdt and his staff have created an online business portal called AMBIT Inc., which stands for Alaska Manufacturing Business Industry and Technology.

"This portal offers a list of the clients, products, services and has viable strategic business solutions to meet the sales and networking demands of rural or isolated residents that are our state's greatest resources," said Buchholdt.

AMEP recently received a grant for $457,145 from the U.S. Department of Commerce to help bolster the state's economy by training and assisting manufacturers located in rural Alaska.

The idea is to bridge the distances between rural and urban centers using a virtual Internet solution.

With a client base of 1,093, AMBIT's agenda is to provide a connection between rural artisans and home-based manufacturers to allow networking, which in turn, helps them achieve higher profit margins and more control over their products, according to Buchholdt.

"We saw pieces of art that were being sold at one outlet for $600. After being purchased, the same pieces were seen in a different Anchorage downtown gallery for $6,000," said Buchholdt. "By creating this Web portal, we hoped to cut this (middleman) out of the equation of doing business by allowing the producer to set their own price with a buyer."

Hoping to spur some economic activity in rural Alaska has been a dream of many Alaska Native interests since the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act was passed in 1971. Entities such as the Alaska Native Foundation and the Institute of Alaska Native Art in Fairbanks shepherded projects in the early 1980s to bolster cottage industry development for rural residents.

Buchholdt and his crew are moving to further close the gap between rural Alaska and the international market place.

"This is not a wholesale rip-off. This is art being manufactured with quality at a competitive but valued price," said Buchholdt. "So the artists can produce what people want or produce signature pieces of true artwork."

This is the third attempt by the state to offer a manufacturing extension partnership, according to Buchholdt. This time the AMEP office was started during the Murkowski administration in October 2004 under a cooperative arrangement with statewide partners and collaborates with various federal departments.

AMEP must meet standards set by the U.S. Department of Commerce, National Institute of Standards and Technology Manufacturing Extension Partnership metrics to receive funding.

According to Irrigoo, the funds from the U.S. Department of Commerce grant will go into a general fund that will help residents with business development education, research and development.

Many rural artists and manufacturers are being helped by AMEP to develop surveys, write business and marketing plans to achieve personal and financial success for their products, according to Irrigoo.

"This helps us take an idea from a concept to a reality," said Eric Downey, a client relations manager with AMEP.

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