Kevin McKinley already has left his mark on Fairbanksans — scores and scores of them — regardless of the outcome of his campaign for Seat A on the Fairbanks North Star Borough Assembly.
“To me this is a great way to give back to the community and help make a change,” McKinley said about his run for elective office.
As the owner of Body Piercing Unlimited & Tattoo, McKinley’s shop has applied tattoos to many residents, from colorful micro-mini murals on muscular arms to quotes (called scripts) on the wrists and just about any other place that consumers want. Body Piercing Unlimited & Tattoo does it all, under the careful supervision of McKinley, who has expanded his business over the years to locations throughout Alaska.
Now McKinley wants to apply his business acumen to the Borough Assembly.
“When body piercing was becoming hugely popular in the early 1990s, I got in on the ground floor,” said McKinley about the growth of his small business.
McKinley first started by offering body piercings. “Everyone in Alaska wanted to see what was going on with the piercing industry, so we ended up building two locations. Fairbanks was our second location.”
Pretty soon, he saw a demand for tattoos, too. Offering the additional service seemed like a natural fit for his business. McKinley himself is a believer. He sports a single tattoo, a classic deep red heart with the word: “Mom.”
While not a native Alaskan, McKinley has called the state home for most of his life, thanks to the early influence of his mother. McKinley and his mom moved to Alaska from Minnesota when he was a child.
“We landed in Anchorage and moved up to Kotzebue, where I lived through high school. It was an interesting experience being young and being in Alaska in the 1970s,” McKinley said.
After high school graduation, McKinley moved away but the departure was brief.
“I said, ‘I am moving somewhere where it doesn’t snow,’ and I moved to Hawaii,” he said. But even after living in Alaska, Hawaii felt too remote. So McKinley returned to Alaska. He has been here ever since.
McKinley first tried enrolling in school. While attending what was then known as Alaska Community College, McKinley said a professor pulled him aside and offered some advice. “The professor said, ‘I picture you as one of those guys who wants to get out on his own.’ He made me write up a business plan. There were not the personal computers then that there are today. Everything was handwritten. It was a life-changing moment for me and my first exposure to a mentor.”
McKinley left college and joined Bank of the North, working at a location in Anchorage for several years. McKinley started in the mailroom but soon advanced to accounting and then to special credits.
While on a trip to California, McKinley visited a body piercing shop and became convinced that he could do well with a similar business in his home state. It was an “aha” moment that would set the course of his adult life.
“There was no dedicated piercing shop in Alaska,” McKinley said. So he opened the first one, which was in Anchorage. He then opened the Fairbanks shop three years later. He never looked back.
In 2021, McKinley has spent three decades owning and operating small businesses that thrive in Alaska. Today, he has four studios — two in Anchorage, one in Palmer, and one in Fairbanks on College Road.
“There is a different feel to every town,” McKinley said. “But Fairbanks has always felt like home.”
McKinley said that if he served on the borough assembly, he would bring a keen understanding of the concerns and challenges that Alaska business owners face in uncertain times.
“I hire a lot of young people, and so I understand firsthand how it’s hard to find people and to find the staffing to make sure things are running smoothly,” he said.
McKinley is no stranger to running for office. He ran twice for a state House seat over two election cycles. McKinley ran against a well-known incumbent and is not deterred by the losses. Far from it. Now he sets his sights on the borough assembly.
On his LinkedIn page, McKinley describes his goals: “As an Alaskan and a business owner, I have watched Alaska grow but struggle in the same breath. My hope is that I can enhance the natural beauty of Alaska while finding solutions for what is heartbreakingly wrong.”
1. Name two of the borough’s most pressing issues and how you would address them.
Military housing is one of the biggest issues facing the borough. The borough should streamline its platting and zoning process so that building can begin in the spring. They should also sell their buildable land. Another priority is to help businesses get back on their feet. ARPA funds could be utilized to assist businesses during their time of need.
2. What new services are needed in the borough and how would you pay for them?
I do not believe we need more services. We need to streamline the services we currently provide and make them more user friendly.
3. What cuts are needed in borough government and what should happen with the money saved?
As Parks & Recreation continues to grow user fees may be necessary. The funds that are collected can be put back into the park system to help relieve property taxes. The borough also needs to sell land that was given to them by the state so they can be put on the tax rolls.
4. Should the borough hire more code enforcement officers to deal with the backlog of land use complaints?
No. The borough just began a new system and hired another code enforcement officer. We should analyze the land use complaints to see if the vacancies currently in the planning department is the reason for the backlog. If so, we need to fill these positions before adding more borough employees.
5. The largest annual appropriation by the borough is for public education. Is the local contribution to education too low, too high, or just right?
I believe they are adequately funded. Most of the cuts that were anticipated were able to be put back in the budget with federal funds. As students decide whether or not to attend the brick and mortar schools, a constant review of student to teacher ratio will be needed.
6. What makes you qualified to hold this office?
I have been a local business owner for over 30 years and have been responsible for producing a sustainable budget and making hard decisions during downturns in the economy. The borough assembly must be willing to do the same with the input of its residents. Listening to the public is one of the most important parts of this job.