Small businesses see a slowdown

Many Alaska small business operators believe a changing economy -- resulting from slowing growth since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks -- will have an affect on their companies, according to a recent survey.

Representatives from the Alaska Small Business Development Center distributed the survey to gauge the extent and type of impact on area businesses. The Alaska SBDC is a partnership between the U.S. Small Business Administration and the University of Alaska.

The two-page survey, coupled with feedback from business operators at two forums, will help the organization develop strategies to help businesses respond to an altered market, said Jerry Anderson, Anchorage director for the University of Alaska Anchorage Small Business Development Center.

"We’re trying to assess the changing economic environment so we can be as responsive as possible," said Jean Wall, associate state director for the University of Alaska SBDC.

Such assistance could be critical to the survival of small businesses, which in turn drive the economy, she said.

"I think we have found in periods of economic distress it really boils down to small businesses," she said. "If there are things we can help them do then we can all move through this new economy much more smoothly."

Tactics businesses can use include improving cash management, reducing overhead or targeting different customers, she said.

The two forums were conducted in late October.

Participants identified tourism, transportation, hotels and lodging, and restaurants as sectors most likely to be affected.

Seventy-one percent of survey respondents believed their businesses would be directly affected as a result of the East Coast attacks. About half of those respondents felt the impact would be a negative one. Forty percent noted the events would positively affect their business, and 10 percent cited positive and negative effects.

Businesses participating in the survey represented seven Anchorage zip codes. They averaged about eight years in business with seven staff members. Most of them listed their businesses as stable or expected to grow before the terrorist attacks.

Participants at the forums expressed ways their companies have been affected.

At a forum at Harry’s restaurant, co-owner Sam Senner noted he had seen some impact.

The restaurant had four banquets scheduled between Sept. 11-13, but those were canceled after the attacks, Senner said. Banquets at Harry’s typically range from 25 to 50 people.

For two weeks after the East Coast attacks, sales at the restaurant dropped, he said. Sales have since rebounded, said Senner, who has logged 35 years in the industry including 11 years managing the Village Inn on Dimond Boulevard.

"I think it was an immediate impact, not long term," he said.

The business also had submitted an order to Frontier Printing to print new menus listing special items. That business was vandalized in what is being investigated as a possible hate crime related to the attacks, and the restaurant was unable to promote the menu items as it had hoped. Consequently, the restaurant was unable to sell the inventory for the menu items, although products did not spoil, he said. Some menus were completed and returned to Senner Nov. 1.

The restaurant employs 57 full- and part-time workers.

Larry Wilmarth, owner of The Surveyors Exchange, also noted a swing in business.

"Everyone’s sitting on their pocket books pretty tight," the Anchorage businessman said.

photo: focus
11/18/2001 - 8:00pm