The Big Twelve: Alaska Native Regional Corporations
All twelve Alaska Native regional corporations marked their 50th birthdays, six months after they celebrated the anniversary of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act that authorized them. The past half-century has seen all twelve—and a few village corporations—grow into the largest Alaskan-owned companies, mostly outpacing the revenue of the richest Lower 48 tribe.
June 2022 was a big month for golden anniversaries. All twelve Alaska Native regional corporations marked their 50th birthdays, six months after they celebrated the anniversary of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act that authorized them. The past half-century has seen all twelve—and a few village corporations—grow into the largest Alaskan-owned companies, mostly outpacing the revenue of the richest Lower 48 tribe (the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community in Minnesota, though it splits earnings among less than 800 members). Heading into the next half century, the corporations are exploring new ways to increase revenue, fill top positions, and ensure that they protect their lands, their shareholders, and their descendants.
In 2021, Ahtna continued a multi-year trend of financial success. Ahtna’s revenues and profits reached the second-highest total in its history, eclipsed only by 2020. In the first half of 2022, Ahtna exceeded budgeted earnings while keeping expenses down. Ahtna, representing the Copper River region, remains focused on increasing shareholder hire and corporate equity in its collaboration with other major companies. Ahtna Marine & Construction Company (AMCC) entered into a mentor-protégé joint venture with a marine construction company and is now executing environmental dredging and dam construction projects for the US Army Corps of Engineers. Last year, as a tribute to the late Ahtna elder and subsistence rights leader Katie John, AMCC unveiled a new dredging vessel bearing her name, which enables the company to bid for jobs beyond the US Coast Guard’s offshore demarcation line. While Ahtna enabled its employees to work from home at the onset of the pandemic, it is currently taking a cautious and measured approach to having employees return to its offices.
Arctic Slope Regional Corporation (ASRC)
Approaching $4 billion in annual revenues, ASRC has established itself as the largest Alaskan-owned and operated company and was ranked 131st on Forbes’ annual list of America’s largest private companies at the end of 2021. ASRC distributed $87.5 million in dividends, or $60 per share, and achieved record revenues and its second highest adjusted earnings, up $34 million from 2020. COVID-19 imposed a suspension of acquisitive growth during 2020 and 2021 and limited support for growth capital expenditures, yet ASRC invested $115.3 million in capital projects and smaller strategic acquisitions. These acquisitions and capital investments now represent approximately 55 percent of ASRC’s consolidated adjusted earnings and are a large component of its dividends. ASRC plans to pursue additional acquisitive growth in 2022 and has a sizeable contract backlog, and early indicators are showing a strong 2022.
Bering Straits Native Corporation (BSNC)
In fiscal year 2022 (FY2022), BSNC achieved a record-high half a billion dollars in revenue and record-high shareholder dividends: $6 million, including a $1,500 bonus for elders. In an impressive turnaround from the Nome-based corporation’s difficult early years, 2022 was the 18th year BSNC accomplished positive financial results. Construction continues to be one of BSNC’s fastest growing segments, helped by the acquisition in October 2021 of Central Environmental Inc. and four related sister companies, Central Recycling Services, C. I. Contractors, Environmental Management Inc., and Concrete Coring Company. Coupled with the May 2020 acquisition of Northwest Contracting, construction services continue to be a focus area for growth as BSNC leverages government contracting advantages. In November 2021 BSNC promoted shareholder Miriam Aarons to vice president of corporate communications and announced in June 2022 the hiring of Kim Cunningham as chief financial officer.
Bristol Bay Native Corporation (BBNC)
According to president and CEO Jason Metrokin, BBNC surpassed its highest revenue year in FY2022, earning just shy of $2.2 billion. The company expects to have a similarly strong year in FY2023, which began April 1, but continues to monitor what’s going on around the globe in terms of the war in Ukraine, government spending, and continued concern around COVID-19. Metrokin credits BBNC’s success to its diversified portfolio. In the government contracting sector, BBNC benefited from increased federal spending, such as medical and military facilities. Seafood had a great year, with this summer’s wild sockeye catch surpassing last year’s record harvest of nearly 42 million fish. Tourists are returning to Bristol Bay for bear viewing and fishing, as well. BBNC recently acquired Fairbanks-based general contractor GHEMM Company to add to its industrial services business line.
In October 2021, board chairman Joseph Chythlook stepped down from that position, remaining on the board, and longtime board member Russell Nelson became the new chairman. BBNC continues to monitor the uncertainly around the Pebble Mine project, including the EPA’s decision on the 404 Clean Water Act Permit, which is expected to occur later this year.
Calista shareholder enrollment continues to grow, and the company recently passed a milestone of $100 million in lifetime distributions to shareholders in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta region. Yulista Holding, Calista’s main holding line, hosted an open house at its new Alabama headquarters in Redstone Gateway, near Huntsville, in November 2021. In June 2022, Yulista added to its aerospace and defense holdings by acquiring Troy7, a woman-owned small business specializing in missile and aerospace engineering. Additionally, Yulista acquired Demil Transport Services (DTS) in June 2021. DTS is a trusted leader in range sustainment and provides services specializing in range residue recycling and range maintenance, adding to Yulista’s existing range operations and maintenance capabilities. In 2022, Calista is working to attract new business acquisition opportunities to continue growth while working to mitigate the economic impacts of the pandemic.
Chugach Alaska delivered record-breaking profits for shareholders in 2020 and 2021. The $43 million in operating profit and $54.9 million in net income for 2021 is second only to 2020’s record operating profit and net income of $93 million and $93.4 million, respectively. The decline from 2020 to 2021 is mainly attributed to the expected decrease in carbon credit offset (CCO) sales as its stock of carbon credits tapers off. Chugach Alaska sold 6.4 million CCOs in 2020 and 2021, generating nearly $70 million in net proceeds and a $16.6 million tax benefit for the region, which spans the coast from the tip of the Kenai Peninsula to Cordova. The corporation is still trying to resolve subsurface split estates with the federal government. Although well past the 18-month deadline for the federal government to identify land exchange options in consultation with Chugach, the company remains engaged to ensure the spirit and intent of this legislation is followed.
Chugach Alaska is building a diversified portfolio by exploring investment opportunities in privately held businesses, private equity, and real estate. In 2021, Chugach announced three leadership appointments: shareholder Peter Andersen was promoted to president of Chugach Commercial Holdings; Angie Astle was appointed president of Chugach Investment Holdings; and Scott Davis was appointed president of Chugach Government Solutions, leading eleven subsidiaries with 4,000 employees. Chugach Alaska distributed $24.2 million in federal CARES Act funds to shareholders, shareholder-owned businesses, and other nonprofit and tribal entities statewide.
Cook Inlet Region Incorporated(CIRI)
CIRI delivered exceptional financial performance in the past year and continues to engage in projects and investments that provide long-term value and benefits for the corporation’s shareholders and descendants. In the fall of 2021, CIRI worked with its affiliated nonprofits to distribute federal CARES Act relief funds. The corporation’s $111.8 million share was directed to Native healthcare, child and elder needs, homelessness and housing instability, workforce re-entry, and family impacts from the pandemic. CIRI and its partner Maple Springs Living opened a new assisted living facility in South Anchorage in July of 2022, and in September CIRI marks the 10th anniversary of its Fire Island Wind project. New programs for shareholders and descendants are intended to provide cultural and education benefits and strengthen connections between CIRI stakeholders and their culture and heritage for a diverse group of cultures and ages. Sarah Lukin joined the CIRI executive team in June of 2021 as the corporation’s chief strategy officer.
The regional corporation for the Interior had total revenue and operating income of $283 million in FY2021 and net income of $37 million after taxes. Doyon hired 316 shareholders throughout the country and paid $22.1 million in shareholder wages. Doyon distributed an annual dividend in December of $1,425 for the typical shareholder with 100 units, plus an additional payment in May 2022 of $1,287 in mineral revenue. Exploration for new mine prospects continued in the eastern Interior and at the Flat project in the Upper Kuskokwim region, and in June the company signed an agreement with Wiseman Metals to search for gold, silver, copper, and zinc in the northern Interior. Doyon also more than doubled its investment in Tectonic Metals and now owns nearly a quarter of the Canadian company exploring the Goodpaster mining district. Doyon partnered with Hilcorp for a third summer of oil and gas exploration in the Yukon Flats.
The company also created a carbon offset program with its Lands Department utilizing 235,000 acres of Doyon land. The program establishes partnerships with companies to offset emissions by utilizing tree coverage, providing revenue for Doyon while highlighting the value of the boreal forest. Doyon also formed a tourism joint venture with Huna Totem Corporation named Na-Dena’, which immediately acquired 80 percent of Alaska Independent Coach Tours. The joint venture is also developing a cruise ship dock at Klawock, hoping to replicate Huna Totem’s success in Hoonah, with the first port calls scheduled next summer.
According to Koniag President Shauna Hegna, this fiscal year looks to be one its best ever, continuing Koniag’s trend of year-over-year growth. Koniag’s recent growth allowed it to increase shareholder benefits for the Kodiak region, including a $2.1 million contribution to the shareholder settlement trust. Approximately 98 percent of Koniag’s revenue is generated by its operating companies, and much of the growth is driven by the government services sector. Koniag added three Alaska-based companies to its energy and water sector in the past couple of years: TecPro in June 2021; Great Northern Engineering in February 2021; and Big G Electric & Engineering in October 2020. Hegna says tourism is starting to rebound from the pandemic, and bookings at Koniag’s Kodiak Brown Bear Center now exceed pre-pandemic levels. In 2022, Koniag expects to see its earnings grow through organic growth in sectors and acquisitions, and the company remains optimistic about the future.
NANA is completing its first year under a new president and CEO, former state legislator John Aġnaqłuk Lincoln. The Kotzebue High School graduate had been working for NANA since 2016, most recently as vice president for external affairs. Stepping into that role, as of February, was Elizabeth Saagulik Hensley, former general counsel for Maniilaq Association, the health and social services nonprofit for the NANA region. Maniilaq’s former CFO, Lucy Aŋasuk Nelson, also joined the NANA leadership team as vice president in charge of administration. The third new vice president named in February was Sandra “Sandy” Salaktuna Kowalski, formerly assistant superintendent of Northwest Arctic Borough School District, now overseeing NANA’s shareholder relations.
NANA paid $18.5 million last fall for its FY2021 dividend to more than 15,000 shareholders, matched by a $1,200 bonus to elders under a program established in 2008. This spring saw another $10.8 million dividend. “Higher fuel, food, and other costs are impacting NANA’s shareholders wherever they live,” says board chair Utuktauraq Ely Cyrus. “The board is grateful that NANA’s strong financial position makes this dividend possible.” The board also approved spending $660,000 toward construction of a new village store in Deering, $715,000 to buy six 10,000-gallon tanks for a new fuel storage facility in Ambler, and $260,868 for construction labor in Kobuk. NANA is entering the last decade of revenue from Red Dog Mine, expected to cease operations in 2031, but the corporation has prepared by diversifying into facility maintenance, engineering, construction, and government contracting.
Sealaska’s business platform is based on contributing to the health of oceans through sustainably produced seafood, environmental remediation, construction, and engineering to address coastal erosion and other impacts caused by rising sea levels, as well as seismic and other seafloor engineering to support offshore wind energy development. In 2022, the company acquired three companies with expertise in ocean health: IceMar, AG Seafood, and Causeway Geotech. In June 2022, Sealaska shareholders voted to extend eligibility for Class D (descendant) stock to descendants whose blood quantum is less than one-quarter. (The previous standard was one-quarter or more Alaska Native blood, as documented by the Bureau of Indian Affairs.) That change keeps Sealaska busy for the remainder of the year enrolling thousands of new shareholders. Sealaska’s leadership team is stable; recent board elections returned four incumbents to the board. Sealaska has been open to and accepting of remote work for quite some time, but the pandemic firmly established that work can be done well and productively with a remote workforce, so the company does not plan to require that its employees to return to the office.
The Aleut Corporation
In January, the board defined a tactical growth strategy for the next five years and established a new strategic ten-year revenue and income goal. The board approved TAC’s recommendation to close its subsidiary, Alaska Instrument Company, because of decreasing revenue streams with no path for growth. In July 2022, Aleut Aerospace Engineering in Colorado Springs was awarded a $10.9 million federal contract to continue its training efforts on behalf of the US Space Force 319th Combat Training Squadron and 533rd Training Squadron at Peterson Space Force Base. As the fiscal year closed, Vergen reported that the swift and rigorous changes that the board and TAC management implemented are moving the corporation in a positive direction.
This year the Alaska Railroad is celebrating 100 years of transportation people and cargo around Alaska. While the railroad is one of the states oldest transporters, it certainly isn’t the only one, and in this issue of Alaska Business we also check in on the Marine Highway, Span Alaska, and the White Pass & Yukon Route. For those interested in Southeast, our focus on that region provides updates on Kensington Mine, Tongass FCU, the troll fishery, and Juneau’s growing landfill.