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Best in the West Brings Success to Small Local Businesses
Contest Open to Entire YK Region
Storyknife, Sept./Oct. 2019 edition
More than 75 small businesses in the Yukon-Kuskokwim (YK) Delta have received startup training and funding from the annual Best in the West competition over the past decade.
Even more impressive: 80 percent of them are still in business!
It isn’t too early for YK Delta residents to think about applying for the 2020 Best in the West competition, which Calista Corporation proudly supports along with many other regional partners.
Applications are typically available in early December. Participants attend workshops where they learn the ins and outs of developing a business plan, professional licensing, budgeting and marketing. Awards are announced in the spring.
In the 2019 competition, a total of $33,500 was split among five winners, many of whom used the money to help with startup expenses.
Here are a few stories from 2019 Best in the West winners whose businesses got off the ground this summer.
Joe Pete, Apollo Home Solutions LLC
Delivering heating fuel, gasoline and diesel in Bethel provided Joe Pete a steady paycheck but it wasn’t what he likes to do best—building and fixing things with his own hands.
The young husband and father of two aspired to create a handyman business.
With 7-plus years in construction and some training and experience in plumbing and electrical, Joe already had critical job skills. What he needed to learn was how to run a business.
During the Best in the West contest, Joe created a business plan. To find out if he could secure adequate customers and be profitable, he conducted market analysis, gathering data from city records and the U.S. Census Bureau. He also learned about creating an LLC and how it would be taxed.
“It was challenging and fun at the same time,” Joe says.
“Time passes by too quick to put off your hopes and dreams.” – Joe Pete, Apollo Home Solutions LLC
Joe named his business Apollo Home Solutions LLC. He used Best in the West award money to pay for tools and a portion of his licensing costs.
When Storyknife first talked to Joe in May, he had created a Facebook business page and ordered business cards, but his state business license hadn’t arrived in the mail yet.
By late summer, Joe was booked up with projects and getting ready to take Apollo Home Solutions full-time.
His advice for other prospective business owners: “Don’t be like cheap tape, which doesn’t stick to anything. Things usually work when you stick with it. Mistakes and failures are at your side as wise teachers, guiding you toward success.”
Joe says, “Time passes by too quick to put off your hopes and dreams.”
Carole Jung Jordan, Jung & Jordan Trucking
When a sand pit on the outskirts of Bethel came up for sale late last year, Carole Jung Jordan and her husband John Jordan saw a window of opportunity to create a family business.
They bought the sand pit with their own savings. As they worked through the purchase process, they joined the Best in the West competition.
Their intentions were to start a business of hauling sand, topsoil and gravel for residential and commercial customers in Bethel.
Step by step, they built their new business, Jung & Jordan Trucking. John already owned a dump truck and had his eye on a small yellow D-3 dozer.
The couple used the Best in the West award money as a down payment for the D-3, with financing for the rest provided by First National Bank Alaska.
“I didn’t think the Best in the West process was very difficult. I thought of it as more of a challenge, because you had to do the different steps along the way. My husband and I participated in all of the workshops and enjoyed them,” Carole says.
“This competition opened our eyes to the different businesses growing in Bethel. It helped us to network and talk to different business owners in town. It also helped clarify some things. My family owned businesses, but this was my first time ever having a business.”
John was already well versed in sand pit operations; he had successfully operated a dirt hauling business in the past and worked with the previous owner of the sand pit.
“I think it’s very important for Calista to support local small businesses through Best in the West because the money earned here will stay here and help support families.” – Carole Jung Jordan, Jung & Jordan Trucking
The family worked as a team this summer – Carole took care of the business side in the evenings, John’s 14-year-old daughter helped with phone calls, and John operated from a work trailer at the sand pit.
When Storyknife caught up with Carole at the end of the summer, she reported that business was going well and keeping them very busy. “We knew there was a demand for this. Now we’re really seeing it.”
Like other winners, she is taking full advantage of Facebook as a form of advertising. “Everyone is on Facebook nowadays.” Carole ordered merchandise, including a company cap for her husband and t-shirts for her daughters. They drove their dump truck in the July 4 parade.
Carole is a big believer in the goals of Best in the West. “The advice I have for other small businesses is to join Best in the West. It will help solidify your business plan. The other participants are very supportive and have good ideas and feedback.”
“I think it’s very important for Calista to support local small businesses through Best in the West because the money earned here will stay here and help support families. We also want to show our four daughters that they can do things themselves. There’s no limit to what they can do, just because they live in a small place like Bethel.”
Patrick Samson, Tundra Leather
Not long ago, Patrick Samson painstakingly cut and stitched custom leather items tough enough for a subsistence lifestyle on the tundra.
Lately, he’s taken it to the next level with a Cobra Class 4 industrial sewing machine.
“That sewing machine is a godsend,” he says.
Patrick’s new business, Tundra Leather, specializes in heirloom-quality products like knife sheaths, wallets and handbags.
Until recently, Patrick’s ability to churn out items was limited by the time and effort it takes to punch holes, sew, and tighten pieces of full-grain leather by hand. “Every 20 minutes, I needed to shake my hands. You get up in the morning, your hands are stiff.”
Thanks to the Best in the West contest, Patrick could afford to buy a sewing machine that is speeding up his product assembly and reducing stress on his hands.
Patrick selected the machine after extensive online research and Facebook group discussions with other leather craftspeople. The machine was shipped from Los Angeles, trucked to Seattle and then flown to Bethel by way of Anchorage.
Patrick continues to work full-time as a transportation director in Bethel but plans to accelerate his production of leather goods after subsistence activities end for the year.
“Christmas is around the corner. I’m trying to stock up so people have gifts they can buy,” he says.
How Patrick became interested in creating high-quality leather items is an interesting side story. It all started when he began making his own hunting knives. He decided to make some sheaths, too, but the leather he ordered was flimsy and the tools weren’t all that great either.
“I thought, there’s got to be a better way to make a knife sheath. Out here with the elements, you need a good leather. I had the drive to make the absolute best knife sheath ever.”
He found some thick and heavy leather online. “Lo and behold, it was a lot more superior.”
“That’s when it dawned on me that there are people like me who need a superior leather product,” he said.
One of Patrick’s favorite aspects of the Best in the West competition was getting practice in public speaking and how to market a product. “The positive feedback from other contestants also was very good,” he says.
Patrick’s advice for other prospective business owners is to forget the negative vibes and go with the positive ones. He’s selling products that are more costly but more durable that what YK Delta residents can typically find online.
Patrick says, “Know that you have something good, and stick with it.”