The Delta Grassroots Caucus (DGC) is a broad coalition of grassroots leaders in the eight-state Delta region. DGC is also a founding partner of the Economic Equality Caucus,
which advocates for economic equality across the USA.

Nonprofit alt.Consulting's Innovative Economic Development Work in the Delta

Posted on June 06, 2013 at 10:53 AM

We would like to post this message presented to us by Ines Polonius, executive director of alt.Consulting, a dynamic economic development organization that engages in a wide variety of constructive activities in Arkansas, west Tennessee and northern Mississippi. alt.Consulting is certified as a Community Development Financial Institution CDFI) by the US Department of the Treasury.

This year marks the 15th anniversary of alt.Consulting’s great work in our region, and the Delta Grassroots Caucus wants to congratulate this organization for their success and give credit where it is richly deserved. Delta Caucus board of directors (202) 360-6347

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“Message Regarding alt.Consulting’s Great Economic Development Activities in the Delta”

While everyone was talking about job creation in 2012, alt.Consulting created 252 new jobs in the Delta. While everyone was hoping for an improvement in the economy in 2012, alt.Consulting created 21 new businesses and its clients added $32.8 million in new economic activity to the Midsouth region. In 2013, alt.Consulting celebrates 15 years of creating, growing and rebuilding small businesses, strengthening rural communities and low-wealth neighborhoods in Arkansas, West Tennessee and Northern Mississippi.

History of alt.Consulting

As a not-for-profit, economic development organization, alt.Consulting has provided intensive managerial assistance to more than 4,000 rural and minority businesses since 1998. In 2007, as the financial crisis was looming and clients were struggling to obtain capital, the company made the decision to become a lending organization. In 2010, alt.Consulting set out to create new, competitive entrepreneurial opportunities in rural communities by building wealth creation value chains around renewable energy and local foods.

In 2011, the organization was certified by the U.S. Department of the Treasury as a Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI). By utilizing managerial assistance to mitigate risk, alt.Consulting has been able to offer loans to small businesses that do not qualify for traditional financing, making $500,000 available in the form of 31 microloans with a loss rate of less than one percent. In 2012, the organization’s average client engagement took 54 hours, with many entrepreneurs receiving in excess of 100 hours of on-site assistance. Today, alt.Consulting’s team of 12 full-time professionals works with more than 300 businesses each year across five offices in the Arkansas-Mississippi Delta.

Changes on the Ground

During the past 15 years, alt.Consulting has observed continued outmigration from the Delta, increased poverty with average per capita income dropping to $17,000 and an average unemployment rate of 10.25 percent. The majority of those living in the Delta have no net worth and few assets. Already low real estate values have plummeted. In all of this, alt.Consulting sees opportunity.

Every year, more mayors and community leaders embrace the fact that they need to create jobs locally by growing their entrepreneurial base. The Delta is rich in entrepreneurial spirit and individuals eager to create jobs for themselves. Organizations and communities are beginning to work together regionally to support economic development.

Communities of Innovation

In this context, alt.Consulting set out to pursue a parallel strategy of working with rural communities in the Delta to implement entrepreneurship strategies while continuing to provide direct services to entrepreneurs throughout the region. In communities with both elected and nonelected progressive leadership, the organization conducts an assessment of assets, resources, existing entrepreneurs and business opportunities. Local leaders working with alt.Consulting then develop an

Entrepreneurship Plan for their communities. Depending on the needs and opportunities presented by the Community of Innovation, the company provides a combination of the following services and initiatives:

Renewable Energy: A farm-to-fuel value chain offers numerous new entrepreneurial opportunities while creating income opportunities to farmers through a winter-based energy crop. alt.Consulting, Inc. is currently identifying Communities of Innovation interested in implementing a Farm-to-Biofuel System to become more energy self-sufficient and drive economic development by creating new entrepreneurship opportunities.

Introducing The Arkansas Green Energy Network: In 2010, alt.Consulting began building a wealth creation value chain (the Arkansas Green Energy Network) that is leading to systemic change in the Delta and providing new entrepreneurial opportunities in a growing industry. Our value chain has 86 member organizations, twenty of which are actively working together to promote a new bioenergy model based on Camelina, an energy crop that can be grown in the winter in Arkansas, and waste vegetable oil.In January 2012, alt.Consulting published a business feasibility study on growing Camelina as an energy crop. The study is available at

Currently, community leaders in DeWitt, Arkansas are helping their city become a Community of Innovation by working with alt.Consulting to introduce the energy crop to local farmers and developing ownership strategies for micro-bio-refineries that will generate bio-fuel in their town for use in local trucks, school buses and equipment.

For more information contact: Tami Hornbeck, Director of Entrepreneurship Initiatives, (870) 509-1331,;

Local Foods: alt.Consulting has been asked by the Arkansas Delta Seeds of Change in partnership with Heifer International to work with their farm to table value chain to identify new entrepreneurial opportunities and assist entrepreneurs in creating successful ventures in this context.

Delta Made: These value-added products as well as crafts originating in the region are promoted under this joint brand, originally developed by the Rural Heritage Development Initiative (RHDI). When the pilot for RHDI ended in 2012, alt.Consulting was asked to take over the brand and continue to grow it. The organization provides both branding and marketing services for products and entrepreneurs who initially want to focus on producing their product, later growing into the management of a full-fledged business.

Adult Family Homes: In 2011, in partnership with the Arkansas Department of Human Services, alt.Consulting developed a detailed manual for starting adult family homes that provide care for the elderly and for disabled adults in a home setting. This creates a business opportunity for anyone who owns their home while allowing the elderly and disabled to stay close to family and friends.

Keep It Local: In 2012, alt.Consulting launched this initiative to save viable businesses by matching young entrepreneurs with business owners seeking to retire. The new entrepreneurs receive assistance with the issues necessary to operate and grow the ventures profitably - securing funds, tools and managerial assistance.

PopUp Shops: In 2013, alt.Consulting is working with the Mayor’s Innovation Delivery Team in Memphis to bring new business to empty storefronts. PopUp Shops give new retail entrepreneurs the opportunity to test their business ideas from one day to six months while giving landlords new interest in their buildings. The concept has been a success from New Haven, Conn., to Oakland, Calif., but has not yet been tested in rural communities.

Angel Impact Investor Networks: A successful Community of Innovation requires a network of financiers willing to invest in their local entrepreneurs. alt.Consulting provides due diligence services for investors while also developing creative exit strategies, which are often challenging in rural settings.

alt.Capital: Availability of working capital up to $50,000 to both new and existing entrepreneurs helps to fuel all of these opportunities. alt.Capital also helps business owners leverage larger amounts of capital through local banks and other CDFIs. The organization recently became a trustee of Kiva, a crowdfunding initiative. Startup entrepreneurs with viable business concepts who do not qualify for a microloan can be posted on the site to secure investments from individuals around the world. The backbone of each of these programs is alt.Consulting’s intensive managerial assistance, which provides new and existing entrepreneurs with the tools and training they need to ensure their success.

alt.Consulting has been implementing each of these programs with individual entrepreneurs around the Delta for many years. Now the organization seeks to go deeper in communities that are prepared to provide the necessary connectedness and support to entrepreneurs. “Communities of Innovation” is not a certification program but rather a branding initiative for those towns and cities ready to embrace a new economic development strategy and “grow their own.”

For more information about alt.Consulting and all of the initiatives described above, please visit our new website at