High unemployment, low income and poverty is a difficult fact of life in many of Alaska's smaller communities, including those on the Kenai Peninsula.
Next Wednesday and Thursday, the Alaska Department of Community and Economic Development will host the Greater Kenai Peninsula Funding Summit for Small Communities at the Aspen Hotel in Soldotna.
The effort is being coordinated locally by Kenai Peninsula Economic Development District Inc.
"The DCED has put together a 'Dream Team' of funding agencies," said Andrew Schmahl, project coordinator for the KPEDD.
The idea is to put the leaders of small Kenai Peninsula communities face-to-face with what he called front-line decision-makers from those agencies in an effort to help those communities cut through red tape and find funding for a variety of projects, he said.
During the two-day affair, each community will get the chance to pitch a pair of projects to a panel of agency representatives and learn directly where funds might be found and how to go about securing them.
Following on the heals of successful summits held previously in Copper Valley, Yukon Flats and Bering Straits, the Soldotna event will include representatives from the DCED, the Denali Commission, the Rasmuson Foundation, U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development, Cook Inlet Housing Authority, the Economic Development Administration, the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities, the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority, Chugachmiut, the Department of Health and Social Services and the federal Housing and Urban Development -- funding sources whose programs may be able to assist small communities.
Expected to attend will be leaders from Hope, Moose Pass, Nanwalek, Ninilchik, Port Graham, Seldovia, Tyonek, Nikolaevsk, Anchor Point and Funny River, as well as the Kenaitze Indian Tribe and Ionia Inc.
Lt. Gov. Fran Ulmer, Denali Commission state co-chair, said in a KPEDD press release that the face-to-face meetings would allow representatives of the communities and agencies to discuss community projects and match up proposals with appropriate funding sources.
"Summits are a learning experience for everyone participating," Ulmer said.
The summits are considered an excellent tool for expediting the funding of critical health and safety infrastructure, said Jeff Staser, the commission's federal co-chair.
"We applaud the efforts of local community leaders and the many state and federal agencies that make this process work so very well," he said.
Schmahl said the summit is aimed at small communities who may have been largely underserved in terms of grants for projects. It is not set up to accommodate individuals or nonprofit agencies seeking access to funding, though he suggested such a summit might be held in the future. Neither were larger peninsula communities such as Kenai, Soldotna, Homer and Seward invited to attend. They have many more resources and are better able to attract grants than are the smaller communities.
"They are metropolises compared to the smaller communities," Schmahl said.
This is the first such summit on the peninsula, he said. In theory at least, community leaders will first hear from the agencies overviews of what they do. Then they will get the opportunity to present their projects to the panel and other village leaders.
They'll hear from the agency representatives about where funding might be found and how to go about getting it.
Schmahl said the KPEDD would follow up the conference over the next year to see how well those communities do in terms of securing project funding.
Success will be defined not only where communities find money for their projects, but also perhaps where community leaders learn their projects may be unfundable. In that case, Schmahl said, there is success in not wasting more effort on an unfundable project.
Schmahl said the Soldotna summit has been co-sponsored by ConocoPhillips and Wells Fargo.
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