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Coeur d'Alene Tribe cuts ribbon on new enterprise

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PLUMMER, Idaho - A large crowd gathered Jan. 12 for the ribbon-cutting ceremony at Berg Integrated Systems on the Coeur d'Alene Reservation.

Tribal Chairman Chief Allan commented, ''Today we mark a milestone as our first integrated system is complete and ready for shipping to the customer.''

The Coeur d'Alene tribal council was present, as were most of BIS' employees; representatives of Idaho's congressional delegation and many of the material suppliers; Michael Burke, president of North Idaho College, which is working with the tribe to train employees; and many others eager to see the initial finished product - custom expandable modular units.

In June 2006, the tribe purchased BIS and began moving the manufacturing operation to the reservation and training a work force primarily from tribal membership. The purchase is seen as an early effort to expand the economic base tribe's and to offer good salaried positions to reservation residents. ''We enrich the work force with skills they own for a lifetime,'' General Manager Darren Stuck said. ''They are learning basic tenets of high-end steel fabrication, blueprint reading and practical application of basic math skills.''

The original Berg enterprise, called F.O. Berg, was noted for canvas fabrication. Situated in Spokane, Wash., and founded in 1883, it is one of the 100 oldest business entities in Washington still in operation. BIS remains a member of the Berg family but owned by the Coeur d'Alene Tribe and specializing in remote-site integrated systems.

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The structure itself is called a remote-site, integrated Expandable Shelter Platform. The steel structures measure 8 feet by 20 feet for transportation, but the walls expand to create a structure measuring 20 feet by 24 feet. It essentially replaces and updates the old system of tents.

The initial unit will be used as mobile office space by the Oregon National Guard. Additional features on the mobile office include an air conditioning and window package, full lighting, and flooring installation. Many other types of uses can be created for the ESP systems. Examples include medical facilities, water treatment units, executive offices, laboratory facilities, kitchen/dining facilities and security units, to name just a few. Military use is certainly a high-demand area, but disaster relief and various others frequently require ESP units for quick setup in emergency situations. BIS will be building and outfitting these for particular needs for remote sites.

The staff presently numbers 27 but it's expected that the total will pass 50 later this year - perhaps reaching as many as 65 by year's end. Allan spoke about the jobs created, saying, ''We are happy with the development of our company because the work force is here and willing. These are good-paying, manufacturing jobs that will make a meaningful difference in the quality of life for families on our reservation and in northern Idaho.''

Richard Williams is one of the tribal members now employed by BIS. ''It's meant a lot to me, both job- and security-wise.'' Williams had previously worked at the Coeur d'Alene Casino for five and one-half years. ''There are more opportunities for promotions here. I started as a laborer and they trained me to weld. I've never welded before except in high school. They recognized my hard work and willingness to stay late, and now are talking about moving me up again. I really like it here because it has room for expansion if you're willing to work.''

BIS has entered into cooperative partnerships with North Idaho College to develop and train a work force on-site. The first class of new workers graduated from basic welding in December 2006. That partnership will continue with more welding and fabrication classes for employees. The company is also committed to ''lean'' management, which identifies and eliminates waste during production. Cash incentives are also provided for all employees when production exceeds expectations, and Williams mentioned he had already received one such bonus.

''BIS is uniquely situated in the marketplace because we are not just integrators,'' said Allan. ''About 95 percent of this expandable shelter platform system was built right here at our facilities. We are not just another middleman that integrates - we have the depth and capacity to build the structure and integrate for the customers' needs.''