Goldbelt Provides Alaska Expertise on a Global Scale
Federal contracting spells success at Goldbelt
Goldbelt, Inc. is headquartered in Juneau. It’s an urban Alaska Native Corporation that was formed in 1974, named after a 33,000-acre mineralized zone in Southeast Alaska that stretches along the mainland from Frederick Sound to Berners Bay.
The company has honored its namesake, finding success to the tune of $236 million in gross revenue in 2016, ranking the company at number 15 in the 2017 Alaska Business Top 49ers. That same year, Goldbelt was the only Alaska-based company to receive the Presidential Award for Export Achievement; this “E” Certificate was awarded for “outstanding contribution to the Export Expansion Program of the United States of America.”
Also in 2016, Goldbelt was ranked 7 of 4,500 8(a) companies for volume of business awarded by the federal government. In 2017 Goldbelt was recognized as the 2017 Small Business of the Year by the US Department of State for facilitating more than fifty worldwide international meetings sponsored by the department.
Growing Up and Out
While Goldbelt has deep and binding ties to Alaska, it has certainly spread its influence beyond the state’s borders.
Goldbelt President and CEO Elliott Wimberly says the company’s business model in Alaska is built on tourism, marine transportation, and managing the lands awarded to Goldbelt as part of the 1971 Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act.
Outside Alaska, Goldbelt is engaged primarily in federal contracting, “which constitutes about 96 percent of our revenue source,” Wimberly says. Goldbelt’s service sectors include construction, operating as a general contractor on commercial and government contracts; IT sector support; medical services; and military support, providing weapons, ammunition, and vehicles. “We have a relationship with original equipment manufacturers and then, as a broker, resell to both the US government as well as foreign governments,” Wimberly explains.
While much of that work is done within the United States, Goldbelt has global operations, performing work on five continents: North America, Africa, South America, Asia, and Europe. Working internationally “is a recent development in the last ten years and an extension of our services that we provide to the federal government,” Wimberly says.
As an urban corporation, and unlike the regional and village corporations, while Goldbelt was awarded lands as part of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, it was not awarded any money. For the first ten years that Goldbelt operated, it was primarily harvesting and selling hardwood harvested on the company’s land. From timber, the company evolved into tourism, operating the tram on Mount Roberts in Juneau and conducing four- or five-day tours in Southeast Alaska.
The next step in the company’s evolution came when Goldbelt partnered with Coeur Alaska, owner and operator of Kensington Mine to shuttle mine workers between Kensington and Juneau. Federal contracting started in the late nineties and held steady until approximately 2010, when Goldbelt began to expand its federal footprint to its current state. “[Through] that federal contracting footprint, we gained experience and opportunities in international sales of services and goods,” Wimberly says.
A Goldbelt employee holds the first vetting packet to start work in Afghanistan.
Goldbelt has sixteen subsidiaries that perform federal contracting work—of those, five have international expertise, “but they’re not solely relegated to international sales.” Wimberly says, “You have to have capability and knowledge and all the factors that go into international sales in order to do it, but we do not have just one specific company that is strictly international.”
The company’s international footprint isn’t superficial; it leases and rents facilities overseas and direct-hires personnel in foreign locales as appropriate for the work being performed.
One recent, massive project that Goldbelt undertook on the international stage was facilitating more than fifty international meetings for the US Department of State. “We did all the groundwork—back office kind of work—related to venues, hotels, air and ground transportation, interpreters, meals, all of it.” One example of the services Goldbelt provided is an anti-terrorism meeting that was scheduled in Paris sponsored by the US Department of State, at which the US Secretary of State was scheduled to speak. “We facilitated that meeting and probably over 150 diplomats attended.”
The contract for these meetings spanned three years with 2018 being the last. “We’re just wrapping up that contract now,” he says.
Also for the US Department of State, Goldbelt operates in Europe, Africa, and Asia, providing administrative support to US embassies. “That’s a general heading,” Wimberly explains. “We may provide contracting personnel for visas, security assistant to the deputy chief of mission, or documentation support. We have ninety different task orders with the Department of State worldwide.”
The company also operates a Washington DC warehouse for the Department of State. In that facility, Goldbelt receives office equipment—computers, printers, fax machines—that have been pre-screened, “meaning that there are no foreign chips or bugs or anything like that” in the equipment, Wimberly says. When a US embassy requires this kind of equipment, it sources it from the warehouse. Goldbelt maintains the warehouse and exports the equipment to the embassy needing it under secure conditions, preventing tampering of the equipment at any stage.
Related to security, Goldbelt also pre-screens personnel entering the Green Zone in Kabul, Afghanistan for the Bureau of International Narcotic and Law Enforcement Affairs. “If a person receives a job offer from the US Department of State, we do the background check before that person is cleared to work in the Green Zone.”
Goldbelt just completed a cooperative venture between the Department of State and Ukraine, shipping military uniforms and gear to the Ukrainian military in Kiev. The company received a list of requirements and then sourced, consolidated, and shipped the uniforms and gear, given as a grant to the Ukrainians.
Companies within Goldbelt's medical and defense group provide defense and medical-related services to the public and private sectors.
Challenges are Universal
Wimberly says one of the significant challenges Goldbelt faces with its international operations is geography, and while the geography of each locale is unique, the problem certainly isn’t, as Alaskans know. Rough terrain, rural locations, and an uncertain political climate in certain areas are just a few of the challenges Goldbelt must overcome to operate internationally (and domestically, for that matter). Other issues that routinely crop up are cultural differences, language, legal structures, and even sometimes difficulties understanding Goldbelt and its structure as an Alaska Native business and established C corporation. “For example, we often have to have business licenses in countries where we operate, and in order to do that we have to explain our corporate structure, and it doesn't necessarily fit in places that don't understand how we are structured.”
Wimberly continues, “We deal with time zones, employment issues—sometimes there are local customs that provide employees certain rights and protections that are different than US laws.” Accounting styles can vary from country to country, and Goldbelt must comply with international export controls, whether or not they’re operating under a federal contract. Software that’s sent to the Department of Defense has to meet certain certifications and compliance requirements. “And then, of course, clearances: we have to have top-secret clearances, and our personnel have to, in many cases, maintain those clearances.”
All of which must be in order for any international project to proceed smoothly.
But overcoming challenges such as these produces rewards. Wimberly says, “Because of all of the barriers, or the constraints, the margins are higher. There's additional cost related to international trade, but we also are able to charge a higher margin.” For every project, Goldbelt is conscious of how it performs and delivers on the contract expectations, so higher margins don’t change the company’s ethic or dedication to a project, just where it ends up financially. Wimberly says that working internationally has the added benefit of expanding Goldbelt’s abilities and diversifies the company’s revenue sources.
Goldbelt is one year into a five-year “fairly extensive” international contract with the US Department of Defense, Pacific Airforce Command (PACAF). Goldbelt designed and installed a data center in Yongsan, South Korea. While the building existed, Goldbelt amended the building, ran all applicable cable, and installed new hardware and software to create the data center. It also transitioned a data center from Daegu to Camp Humphries, both in South Korea.
The remainder of the contract involves ongoing accreditation work for the PACAF under the Profile Notification Facility Program, Resource Measurement Facility Program, Contingency Command Review Team, and Certification and Accreditation Program—“all standards that are required by PACAF as a part of their data center operations,” Wimberly says.
Working in international markets brings a diversified stream of outside money to Alaska, which directly benefits Goldbelt’s shareholders and community. Wimberly says, “When we talk to US-based decision makers, we do bring out the fact that we are working for 3,200-plus shareholders that are in Alaska and the significance of how our profits impact their lives—that's part of our presentation.”
Which makes sense, as the company clearly states in its vision: “Goldbelt is dedicated to building a bright future for its shareholders.”
Tasha Anderson is the Associate Editor for Alaska Business.