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Community Perspective

Shop better, shop smarter: A new venue for Alaskans to buy local

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Forever and ever, the Fairbanks Economic Development Corporation has encouraged residents to “Think Local” and shop “Fairbanks First.”

Today, though, the ravages of COVID-19 have elevated “buying local” from simply “a good thing to do” into a true community necessity — small businesses across our community are at dire risk of individual and collective failure and are literally crying out for support. In response, the Alaska economic development and business support communities are stepping up: they’ve created a website (BuyAlaska.com) that is free to join, free to use, meant to highlight only businesses that are based in our Alaska communities and meant to serve as a shopper’s go-to resource for local businesses. What we need now is for (1) local businesses to list themselves on the site, (2) local residents to make BuyAlaska.com (“Interior” filter) their first online stop, and (3) all of us to put just a little more effort into supporting those local businesses that, by “living here,” help make and keep the Fairbanks North Star Borough a place where we all can and want to live.

As of this writing, the BuyAlaska site has 304 listings statewide but only 41 for the Interior — a mere fraction of our hundreds and hundreds of local businesses. So, if you own or operate a local business, take 10 minutes (right now!) and list it — it’s a fast, free and easy way to get more exposure. And if you’re a shopper, check out the site but also keep checking in — it’s been built for you as much as our local business community and, already robust and useful, promises to only get more comprehensive from here.

For reasons beyond any of our control, COVID-19 has led to an increase in online shopping across nearly all categories. The shift in buying habits has been reflected across all demographic groups — not just the younger generations (who have grown-up with greater connectivity and tend to shop online with greater easy and frequency at all time) but in the older generations (whose propensity to frequent brick-and-mortar stores pre-pandemic served as a major and necessary bedrock for said businesses).

This has been borne out by numerous business surveys conducted over 2020: From the most recent survey conducted by FEDC (in partnership with the Fairbanks Chamber of Commerce, Explore Fairbanks and the FNSB), 44% of local businesses were experiencing a marked decrease in revenues, 37% felt unsure the assistance they’d received was adequate to see them through the pandemic and a full 77% were concerned what would happen to their business if no further federal or state assistance materialized.

Little wonder, then, why businesses big and small await further action from Congress and the state Capitol — they desperately need it. But along with calls for increased federal and state funding support, a consistent request of the business community is for a greatly intensified “buy local” push and response: to have their need for state or federal assistance reduced by having more of what had built and sustained their businesses to begin with — local dollars from local customers.

Economic development organizations like FEDC understand that no one can un-ring a bell or turn back the clock — online searching and shopping are here to stay — but they simply don’t have the resources to replace federal or state cash assistance. That leaves “buy local”: Helping local business tap into the online marketplace and local customers find, locally, the things they’ve increasingly started to buy, via e-commerce, from places far, far away. Hence, BuyAlaska.com.

For local businesses: As noted at the top, the BuyAlaska.com website, created by the Alaska Small Business Development Center, and supported by local entities including FEDC, the Chamber, Explore Fairbanks and the FNSB, is free to join and free to use. It’s also, importantly, easy to access and easy to navigate (once registered with a simple email address and preferred password, you’ll be almost immediately directed to the “list your business” page, where uploading information about your business will take less than 10 minutes).

One of the best parts is that you don’t even need to have a website (or even a logo) to list your business — you can get listed with really nothing more than a phone number.

For the customer: The BuyAlaska.com Business Directory is user-friendly and super searchable, allowing you to look for businesses by name, key words, general category (like “restaurants” or “retail”) and, of course, region. You can even filter for Alaska Made or Grown products, and whether or not the business provides things like curbside service or shipping.

Yep, the COVID-era has been tough, and we still have a ways to go, but there definitely are things we can do to make our lives and community better and stronger as we go: Buying Local is one of them. So check out BuyAlaska.com, where you can both shop for the things you need and shop local.

Evan Wilken and Julia Hnilicka are project managers for the Fairbanks Economic Development Corporation.

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