Tyonek Native Corporation—Defined by Quality, Dedicated People
Young Tyonek shareholders enjoy a culture camp in the Village of Tyonek.
Last year was one of outstanding growth for Tyonek Native Corporation (TNC), which saw its revenue increase 85 percent from 2017, reporting 2018 revenue of more than $144 million. This boosted TNC up twelve spots in our Top 49ers ranks, landing them at number 25. “We’ve had pretty unprecedented, rapid growth,” says CEO Leo Barlow. “We’ve been fortunate and successfully bid a number of contracts with the US government, and in some cases we’re a preferred provider for a number of our customers.”
Barlow stepped into his role as CEO in 2016, and at the same time a new management team took the reins at TNC. “Frankly speaking, the company had strayed from its core business of government defense contracting into more commercial activity. So we brought it back together and refocused our strategies on what we were successful at, reaffirming our relationships with the US government and defense contracting personnel,” Barlow says.
Over those three years, the company has grown from employing approximately 300 people to now providing jobs for about 1,200 employees. TNC has operations in fifteen states, including three TNC-owned facilities in Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia, of which the latter two are manufacturing facilities, and TNC subsidiaries operate three of the four naval fleet warfare readiness centers in the United States.
The TNC manufacturing group of subsidiaries has more than 150 active programs that support thirty different customers and brings in more than $75 million in annual revenue, with 30 percent of its contracts spanning multiple years. The group has more than $260 million in revenue backlog, providing avionics and aircraft electrical assemblies and kits, engineering design, US Army and US Air Force ground equipment, and complex systems integration.
The corporation’s services group supports more than twenty clients, bringing in $88 million in annual revenue. The majority (90 percent) of the group’s projects are multi-year contracts performing aircraft maintenance and modification, engineering design and kitting, aircraft hangar work and foreign military support, and cyber operations and training.
In May, Tyonek WorldWide Services secured an IDIQ, five-year contract to support the Army Contracting Command-Redstone Arsenal Logistics Support Facility Management Activity, with a total potential value of up to $2.5 billion. According to the corporation, “[Tyonek WorldWide Services] will provide design, complex engineering, system integration, precision manufacturing, aircraft modification, and testing for aviation systems owned or supported by the Program Executive Office Aviation and Aviation and Missile Command.”
Barlow gives credit for this building success to a supportive and focused board of directors and the TNC team: “It’s all about quality, dedicated people, and we’re very much involved in making sure we have a progressive and healthy workforce.”
With headquarters in Anchorage and operations ranging from Washington to Florida, communication is important. “The wonders of modern technology are great, and we couldn’t do our jobs without it,” Barlow says. Also, members of the TNC team travel regularly to and from Alaska and the Lower 48. “It is logistically a long haul from here to Alabama, but it’s critical. A large part of our core team resides in Alabama: our chief financial officer is down there as well as various subsidiary and other operating presidents and vice presidents.”
While a period of significant growth is beneficial, long-term sustainability for the company is critical. “We’ve got a lot riding right now on the government contracting sector, so as we move forward and we level out our growth, we’ll strategize what different types of industries or businesses we may want to become involved in,” Barlow says. “We want to see a lot more emphasis on more operations within the state. Number one, our headquarters is here; and two, our shareholders are always looking for local employment opportunities.”
Barlow sees potential to take the company’s experience with defense construction in the Lower 48 to develop opportunities for that kind of work in Alaska. Another area he finds interesting is expanding local tourism, perhaps through hotel development or related activities, building on operations TNC already has in the industry.
Tyonek Manufacturing Group operates facilities in Madison, Alabama, and Warner Robins, Georgia.
The People, the Land
Wherever TNC’s business activities may take its employees, the company’s focus is already firmly rooted in Alaska. TNC is the ANCSA corporation for the Village of Tyonek (located approximately forty miles directly southwest of Anchorage) that is the home of approximately 160 of the corporation’s roughly 938 shareholders—another 400 live in the Anchorage and Kenai areas, and the rest live outside of Alaska.
TNC formed the Tebughna Foundation (“Tebughna,” the name for the people from the village, translates as “the Beach People”) in 2007 to manage the distribution of community and cultural donations the corporation makes. In addition to the Tebughna Foundation, TNC also directly funds shareholder health and outreach programs. Just a few of the programs funded by the corporation include life insurance premiums, picnics, higher education scholarships and grants, an apprenticeship program, bear guard training for shareholders, and a Tyonek Community Garden, which is available to all Tyonek residents.
In addition, in 2008 TNC created the TNC Distribution Trust, which was approved by shareholders in 2009. “It was timely for us to revisit [the trust], so we rewrote it and restructured it based on new tax law [Tax Cuts and Jobs Act] that came into effect in 2017.” Barlow says at the company’s annual meeting held in May, shareholders voted in favor of adopting the changes to the trust. “We’re in the process now of structuring that and choosing investment advisors, which hopefully will lead to a trust that lasts well into the future to provide distributions and other benefits to our shareholders.” One of the benefits of the trust is that funds from it can be distributed tax-free to shareholders.
Feedback from shareholders on a variety of issues and policies is important, so this year TNC transitioned what was once an annual shareholder survey to an ongoing, living survey to gather information. “We had a massive kickoff and everybody got a copy of the survey to complete, but we posted it on our shareholder website and we constantly remind our shareholders to please check it out. We change the questions every now and again, so it’s an ongoing survey… continuous feedback is what we want.”
Several recent questions on the shareholder survey are about TNC lands, which include more than 190,000 acres in Moquawkie, Iniskin, Tuxedni, the Talkeetna mountains, and the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. The corporation’s land mission is to “successfully manage and protect Tyonek land to maintain its sustainability to TNC, its shareholders, descendants, and beneficiaries.”
TNC has several significant projects regarding its land. One is a cleanup project in Iniskin, located on the west side of Cook Inlet. Oil and gas development took place in the area in the ‘50s. “There were actually some very high-powered individuals who invested over there. Walt Disney visited. They started exploration way before statehood and left a lot of debris behind.” This included hundreds of barrels full of lubricants for drilling wells. “Some of the lubricant is olive oil,” Barlow explains. “They’re all over the place out there, and the bears love it. They break into those things and roll around.” The barrels are an issue, as are other pieces of debris and equipment that were left behind. “There are congressional initiatives now being introduced to seek cleanup funds to clean some of it up,” he says, as much of the contamination on lands owned by many ANCSA corporations took place before the lands were under their stewardship.
TNC is also looking at a carbon sequestration program. “As we speak, we are taking a forest inventory of certain areas where we are considering entering into a carbon sequestration program with [program developer] Finite Carbon,” Barlow says.
While the program requires a 100-year commitment, puts certain limits on commercial harvests, and mandates harvest updates and regular field inventories, it does not limit all commercial activity, will not affect subsistence and gathering activities, promotes a healthy forest, and allows idle lands to produce a profit. “The hundred-year contract is critical because it’s a heavy decision for a board of directors to make a decision committing the company for a hundred years, but it is good land management practice,” Barlow says. TNC is moving forward with the program, and Barlow anticipates the initiative will be finalized in a year or two.
Other ongoing land programs include enhancing salmon spawning areas, moose habitat work, and culvert replacements and repairs. “Both fish and moose are critical to the subsistence and the well-being of our people—it’s how our culture started, and so we focus on good management practices on our lands.”
Tyonek Services Group employees perform maintenance on an aircraft at company’s hangar facility in Mississippi.
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At the Helm
Barlow actually joined TNC as the lands manager, though he has a long history working in Alaska and for Alaska Native corporations. Barlow grew up in Southeast in a commercial fishing family. After graduating from college he worked for the state for some time before joining Sealaska, of which he’s a shareholder. He worked his way up the ranks and was Sealaska’s CEO for about five years before changing careers to enter the finance industry.
After ten years working for National Cooperative Bank as an Alaska liaison, he decided to retire. “Well, about two years into that I got tired of watching trees grow and needed something to do every day,”
Barlow laughs. “I’m not one of those who can just putter around and do hobbies.” He then took a position as the CEO of the Seldovia Native Association, which is the village corporation for Seldovia. After about half a decade, he transitioned to TNC as the lands manager. “I wanted something less stressful than a CEO job, but it found me again,” he smiles. “So here I am, and I’m very happy to be here. It’s a great company to work for.”