Hometown: Houston, Texas, and Nelson Lagoon, Alaska
Fun Fact: Became city manager of Adak, Alaska, before he turned 30
Adak Island, Alaska, is the westernmost point in the United States—positioned far off in the Bering Sea at the end of the Aleutian Island chain. Back in its heyday, the City of Adak was a U.S. Naval Station; ownership was transferred to the Aleut Corporation after the station officially closed in March 1997. A population of 6,000 dwindled down to 300.
Layton Lockett first stepped foot on Adak in 2008, when his mother was stationed in town over Christmas as a community health aide practitioner. He was impressed by the large airport, paved roads and small-town America feel, all plopped into the middle-of-nowhere beauty of the Aleutians. Less than two years later, Layton became Adak’s city manager.
Becoming the city manager of Adak wasn’t necessarily on Layton’s radar before he visited the place, but having always been interested in management and business, he had a natural tendency of looking around him and finding problems to solve and systems to understand. Adak piqued his interest and when he heard that their city manager had just left, he threw his resume into the mix on a whim. He wasn’t too surprised when he was turned down, the city council citing his lack of a master’s degree.
Layton moved to Alaska with his family from Houston, Texas, when he was just entering high school. When his stepfather’s job in Anchorage didn’t pan out, the family moved to Nelson Lagoon where, instead, his stepfather found a career as a village public safety officer. Also in the Aleutian Islands, though further east, Nelson Lagoon turned out to be a great place for a business-minded kid like Layton to spend his high school years.
“Our principal was very into entrepreneurship,” explains Layton, “like selling Japanese glass floats that we found on the beach or bringing in Subway sandwiches to the school. The opportunities afforded me to get involved in ventures like that—I don’t think I would have gotten those anywhere else.”
So Layton’s education on the logistics and business climate in rural Alaska had begun.
Shortly after high school, Layton began running his own expediting and IT consulting business. What started off as mostly fixing computers here and there turned into expediting when he had the opportunity to help out a friend in the restaurant business who didn’t have anyone to do his shopping for him. Through word of mouth, Layton picked up a few more clients and he was off and running.
He ran his business all the way through college, earning his bachelor’s in business administration in 2006 from UAA. And even as he started working for a tax organization, first as a volunteer while at UAA and later as a program coordinator after graduation, J.L. Enterprises kept doing business.
It wasn’t until that year in Adak when Layton felt like he was facing a crossroads. J.L. Enterprises was on the rocks due to one large client who was struggling and Adak passed on his resume for city manager because he didn’t have his master’s degree. Layton had to make a decision on what to do next.
“I decided I wanted to go spend time with my grandfather in Pennsylvania,” Layton says, explaining that he’s thankful he did since his grandfather just passed away recently. He also decided to go ahead and pursue his M.B.A. while he was out there. Doing his research on schools, Layton found LaSalle University to be the best value for cost and education out of state.
“I also decided I wanted to drive down in a big Alaska truck with Alaska plates…I’m bringing Alaska to the east,” he laughs. “It was a fun year. I got to showcase Alaska and all its unique business and logistics aspects to all these people who had never been very far from the East Coast.”
When he wrapped up his master’s in 2010 he headed straight back to Alaska looking for job opportunities, excited for the next stage of his life.
He heard Adak was looking for a city manager again.
After some initial doubt about reapplying, he sent in his refreshed resume. Two months later he stepped into the position, moving out to Adak a week after being offered the position.
“I quickly learned that to be an effective city manager, you need to know a little about everything and put the people who know a lot on your team,” Layton says, finally getting to implement a management strategy that he believed in already. He also cites public speaking and thinking outside the box as tools that he’s carried with him in his toolbox since an undergraduate at UAA.
Now the CEO of a city, so to speak, Layton balances goals like fiscal stability with hydroelectricity projects. He sits as a member on the Southwest Alaska Municipal Conference and answers to his region and his community. “I provide direction and ideas the ‘glue’ to push things through, but if I really need something, I usually know who to call, who my resources are,” he says.
He’s young (just turning 30), loves to travel within and outside of Alaska, and he loves passing on skills he has picked up along the way.
So, when he goes on vacation to St. Thomas in a few months, sure he’ll be taking in the tourist sights, snorkeling and maybe working on his tan. But he’ll also be looking around and seeing how the town functions, finding out more about its economic profile and its logistics. That’s just the way his mind works.