Coeur d’Alene plan to move and expand businesses

PLUMMER, Idaho – The Coeur d’Alene Tribe acquired majority ownership of Berg Integrated Systems in June after working on the acquisition for about half a year.

BIS, a subsidiary of F.O. Berg, a company that has been in existence in Spokane since before 1900, is now being relocated to the reservation into a large building that formerly housed a wood products operation. When operational, it will increase the company’s space nearly sixfold.

“We felt there was a need to strengthen our tribal economy,” Coeur d’Alene Tribal Vice Chairman Francis SiJohn commented when discussing the recent purchase of two businesses. “We were lucky to look at F.O. Berg and HearthBread companies. We figured this would be our start at bringing companies down to our reservation.”

Quanah Spencer, legislative director for the tribe, explained the company is a light manufacturing corporation that uses a “lean” process.

“Lean manufacturing cuts down on costs associated with labor and manufacturing, such as time spent walking from station to station, and thus is more efficient. The profits made in addition to what would have made in the past are distributed to employees. Our employees will be getting those profit-based incentives so they’re more inclined to do output and do it great. They really are a partner in that company.”

BIS initially will be fabricating the steel components used in tent systems under a Department of Defense contract for medical units. Other Berg subsidiaries will manufacture the fabric portions and they will be assembled at the tribal facility so that when they are shipped they will be ready-made and ready to go with all components inside.

HearthBread is another Spokane company that is now totally owned by the tribe. It also was acquired in June but will likely remain in Spokane for another year. The tribe is currently examining locations and planning an eventual business park along the Highway 95 corridor through the reservation. Conceptuals will be presented to the tribal council soon. When it’s approved and development begins, HearthBread will be relocated to that site.

Spencer explained that the company is noted for its gourmet breads. “They use what is known as Shepherds Grain, a largely pesticide-free grain. It’s not necessarily organic but it’s the next best thing.” The breads are whole-grain and marketed to some of the better retail outlets in the region. The tribe acquired not only all assets of the company but its clients as well. “We’re looking at expanding the market and signing on new clients. Their profits are very good but their present limitation is they need room to grow, a bigger facility.

“The tribe purchased it to provide the capital to finance a brand-new facility and hopefully take it to the next level, that being a very large bakery able to put out wholesome products ranging from huckleberry muffins to Shepherd’s Grain bread and market them to a large clientele.”

The two companies presently employ about 70 people. The tribe hopes to see that number rise to somewhere around 250 employees within five years. There will be a need to fill that gap with skilled and motivated people who want to earn a good living and want to live in the community. Both businesses were presented to tribal membership recently and many young people expressed interest.

“They’re pretty excited about having the opportunity to go work for a company that will offer such a great benefit package and bonuses,” SiJohn said. “We have a good work force here, a trainable work force within the tribe. We want to create opportunities for jobs with good wages. With logging and farming at all-time lows, only the tribal government can create that opportunity. This gives them an added opportunity other than the casino.”