An Anchorage-based Internet information service that helps employees stay in touch with political events and state and federal legislation has been growing by leaps and bounds since its inception just over a year ago.
The main Web page for Prosperity Alaska, a nonprofit project, had more than 10,000 hits in December, up from 150 in December 2007.
That’;s according to Heath Hilyard, a former legislative assistant in Juneau who runs Prosperity Alaska as a sideline to his job as business development manager for Advanced Supply Chain International.
ASCI specializes in Web-based information tools for procurement and supply chain management. Scott Hawkins, president of ASCI, and his partners in the company conceived the concept for Property Alaska and worked with Hilyard to develop it.
Prosperity Alaska now has about 30 sponsors, which are listed on its Web page at www.prosperityalaska.org. The group operates out of ASCI’;s offices in south Anchorage.
It is one of several similar Internet-based information groups, all developed under the umbrella of the “Prosperity Project” of the national organization Business and Industry Political Action Committee.
Hawkins said he and Hilyard started working on the concept of an Internet-based information service in early 2007 and looked to see if there were any national models that could be adapted to Alaska. They came across the BIPAC’;s Prosperity program, and it seemed a perfect fit.
Hilyard said Prosperity Alaska doesn’;t advocate for or against candidates or ballot measures, but provides information on pending legislation with ramifications to Alaska business.
The group makes no secret that it is pro-business and pro-economic development, however.
“In our analysis and review of business-related legislation, we often provide sample letters that cover the major bullet points of the issue. These are examples that employees are free to agree or disagree with,” Hilyard said.
Hawkins said the concept behind Prosperity Alaska is to get information to the grass-roots level of the workforce that will be affected by political decisions.
“The business community does a good job in identifying and working issues at the senior management level, but there is a lot of untapped power among the employees and suppliers to Alaska businesses,” Hawkins said.
“Organizations like chambers of commerce, the Resource Development Council and the Alaska Support Industry Alliance are very good at generating the information, but a lot of it doesn’;t make it down to individual employees, at least to the degree it could,” he said.
Hilyard said managers typically lack the time or ability to spread information down through the ranks, and that leaves employees in a position of getting information about issues that affect their firms, and potentially their jobs, from the mainstream media.
It’;s also important, Hilyard said, that the information is seen by employees to be coming with the support of management, who have signed on with Prosperity Alaska for the service.
“National surveys are consistent in showing that employees regard information that comes from or through their employers with a great deal of credibility, Hilyard said. “They don’;t always agree with their employers, but they regard the information as credible. When the information is provided consistently, however, most employees wind up sharing the views of their employers because they see that their jobs could be affected.”
That Prosperity Alaska is Internet-based is important. Many people today are comfortable in the unobtrusive environment of electronic information, e-mail and Web pages, and that’;s even more so with young people who are likely to be swing voters, Hawkins said.
“There is a convenience factor and a demographic factor. The Internet is a very convenient and cost-effective way to deliver information, and once people decide to get involved it is super-easy to use tools like ours top write a quick note to a public official and hit ‘send.’; It dramatically reduces the personal overhead costs, the time needed, for individuals to become involved,” Hawkins said.
On the demographic side, national surveys show younger voters are more likely to get their information through the Internet, particularly younger women in their 20s and 30s. These people tend to be swing voters, “who can make a big difference in elections,” he said. For those reasons politicians pay attention to what they say.
That Alaskans are more connected to the Internet than anywhere in the nation, on a per-capita basis, makes this vital, Hawkins said.
Online Gov. 101
Prosperity Alaska’;s Web page has tools for people to find their legislators, with voting records, e-mail addresses and phone numbers, along with templates for letters to lawmakers.
Sections now being updated have information on President-elect Barack Obama’;s work in shaping his new administration as well as the new Congress, including information about Alaska Sen. Mark Begich.
There is a “Government 101” that explains how laws are made and how government works, as well as an “issues and policies” library that provides links to information about legislation, and Hilyard strives to have multiple sources and viewpoints available.
During the 2007 debate over Gov. Sarah Palin’;s oil tax legislation, for example, the links provided quick access to extensive information about Palin’;s tax bill, as well as legislative Web sites, including the extensive document library maintained on the Web by the Legislative Budget and Audit Committee.
Hilyard and Hawkins write basic templates, but users are encouraged to edit what is in the template and must add their own content. In fact, the software doesn’;t allow letters to be sent without the additional of original content from the sender, Hilyard said.
Similar Internet-based information groups operate in other states, all developed with the assistance of the Business and Industry Political Action Committee.
BIPAC began in 1963 as a business political action group, and started its Prosperity Project in 2000 to assist members in getting information about issues to employees, and to broaden its scope from simply raising money to a grass roots-type effort to get support for business issues from employees of companies.
By 2006 there were 33 organizations operating in different states under the Prosperity umbrella, including Alaska, and four more are being formed to begin operations in 2009, Hilyard said.
The national Prosperity Project provides software and other assistance, including some start-up financial aid, and in return state Prosperity organizations follow guidelines set out by the national group.
Most Prosperity groups elsewhere operate as a part of local chambers of commerce. Alaska’;s project is unusual in that it was created by a single firm, ASCI, but Hilyard said he and Hawkins were in a hurry to get it launched.
Legally, Prosperity Alaska is a Chapter 501(c)6 organization, formed as a business group, the same status that is typical for chambers of commerce. This means the group can do more than education.
However, because Prosperity Alaska does no political fund-raising for lobbying, it is not registered with the Alaska Public Offices Commission, Hawkins said. If that changes, the group could register with APOC, he said.