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Andrew Halcro: Efforts to strengthen community gaining steam

Andrew Halcro

It is no secret that over the last decade our community has become a truly international city. In fact, three of the top five most diverse census tracks in the United States are located in Anchorage, including Mountain View, which is the nation's most diverse neighborhood. The rapid growth of diverse ethnicities -- Asian, Pacific Islanders, Hmong and Hispanic, to name a few -- has created both the need and the opportunity to integrate these emerging populations into the economy. Inclusion, education, jobs, and housing are all interwoven in the fabric of Anchorage's economic future.

Over the last 12 months a number of organizations have embarked upon ambitious partnerships to strengthen education, economic and social ties between the business community, and the many emerging cultures that are changing the demographic landscape of Anchorage. One of the key initiatives underway is "90% by 2020," a collaborative effort by business, political and education leaders to improve Anchorage public school outcomes. The effort seeks to boost both attendance and graduation rate to 90 percent by the year 2020, and already we've seen the Anchorage School Districts graduation rates up 16 percent over the last few years, and absences are down 21 percent for the first quarter of this year.

The second major partnership is "Live. Work. Play.", a grass-roots campaign put forward by the Anchorage Economic Development Corp. The goal is to create sustainable community improvement and engagement for the people living in Anchorage, with a hefty goal: to make Anchorage the No. 1 city in America to live, work and play by 2025. Today over 120 businesses have signed agreements to assist in seven different areas of community improvement.

To compliment these with two initiatives, the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce has adopted both education and diversity as our specific areas of focus. As a result, we've established the One Anchorage, One Economy committee. This effort is to promote that celebrating Anchorage as a dynamic and inclusive community, where access to opportunity is equal, will benefit our community's health and economic vitality. The One Anchorage, One Economy's mission is to make Anchorage a city that embraces all cultures and communities, including the LGBT community, as a source of economic power.

The concerns voiced by many of these groups range from affordable housing, education barriers and equality, to the lack of knowledge about where to seek help for starting a business. To some degree, these can be addressed with better communication and collaboration among existing organizations, but a few challenges remain squarely in the corner of public policy makers. For instance, the Cook Inlet Housing Authority is doing a fantastic job of improving affordable housing options. Over the last 10 years the organization has invested over $81 million in the Mountain View neighborhood, making a significant impact. However they could be even more successful and allow their dollars to go further, with more cooperation with zoning and permitting authorities.

As these efforts to strengthen our community progress, it is becoming more and more apparent that if solutions are to be identified for the issues inhibiting economic growth, they will have to originate from collective efforts between business and nonprofits. The reality is that we can no longer wait for policymakers to get serious about solving the intractable problems that continue to burden the local economy.

In a 2012 report published by Stanford's Social Innovation Review, the authors outline how similar collaborative approaches by nongovernment agencies have solved some of the most perplexing problems facing American cities today. "The appeal of collective impact may be due to a broad disillusionment in the ability of government to solve society's problems, causing people to look at alternative models of change," the report stated.

As I look at the next generation of companies emerging in Anchorage, they're small, dynamic, multicultural and have a vested interest in promoting a greater understanding of the emerging populations that are transforming our local economy. With the continued good work from groups like United Way and AEDC, we are truly becoming one Anchorage, one economy.

To get involved in our advocacy efforts go to anchoragechamber.org


Andrew Halcro
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