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Black business owners come together at Anchorage expo and summit

  • Author: Laurel Andrews
  • Updated: December 2, 2017
  • Published February 4, 2017

Job losses. A looming budget deficit. Anchorage's flattened housing market. Alaska's lagging economy is in a recession and it's expected to stay that way for a few years.

But sometimes, tough times can open doors.

"In an entrepreneurial sense, this is the perfect opportunity to grow businesses," said Jasmin Smith, who organized Saturday's Alaska Black Business Expo & Summit, where black business owners converged in downtown Anchorage.

"Since there aren't jobs, we have to create our own opportunities and create jobs. So you know, it is a tough economy, but from a business owner's standpoint, it has great opportunity," Smith said.

Smith is the owner of The Business Boutique, a business development consulting firm, and vice president of the Mountain View Community Council.

"I've always been pretty active in my community in terms of business development … for Black History Month, I wanted to take it to the next level and start something that can be annual," she said of the event.

Jillian Freeman, the owner of Strand, holds her niece Tolliyah Watkins as they look at cellphones at her table at the Alaska Black Business Expo & Summit in the Dena’ina Civic and Convention Center on Saturday. (Bob Hallinen / Alaska Dispatch News)

February is Black History Month, which celebrates black history and culture.

The Black Business Expo took place at the Dena'ina Civic and Convention Center on Saturday afternoon. About 50 vendors signed up, Smith said.

A diverse range of businesses set up tables — including real estate companies, clothing shops, beauty product vendors and the U.S. Navy.

Diane Cutts came to check out the event. She and her husband just started their own business two weeks ago, making roll bar handles — an accessory for Jeep vehicles — and they wanted to see what the event was like.

Cutts said the event was important because "as a minority it's nice to have, so that people can say, 'Oh you know what, we really do do stuff like this, there really is a big crowd there for us, we really can do something for ourselves,' " she said.

Business owners came to network, and also spoke of the sense of inclusion and community that the event provided.

"The people who come through here are our target audience," said Zion Phillips, president of the University of Alaska Anchorage Black Student Union.

Caleb Reed, vice president of the union, agreed.

"With an event like this, it gives different perspectives and different points of views," he added.

Owner of the Purrfect Purr Cat Hotel, Elaine Parry, had come to the event to get the word out about her business. A retired air traffic controller, Parry has spent the last nine years running a cat boarding business in Midtown. So far, the economic downturn hasn't affected her, as she boards pets owned by members of the military, teachers and medical professionals, among others.

She felt it was important to be at the event "just to show a different side of what you see in the news," Parry said.

"We've come to this point in this country where the advantages to dividing you and me is advantageous only to those who want to control us. Because there's no difference between you and I. Peel off the skin, and you know, there's no difference. … White people are not racist. Black people aren't criminals. You can't just make like a statement and say, 'These people are that, these people are this,' and this (event) really shows the dynamic nature of black people in general and black people in Alaska," Parry said.

Smith said she felt the event had been successful for its first run-through and she hopes to grow the expo in coming years.