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Colville construction company up for national award

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NESPELEM, Wash. - On budget, ahead of schedule, quality workmanship- for most construction companies, achieving and maintaining just one of those goals would be an accomplishment.

Colville Tribal Services Corp., in business since 1990, achieved all of them and more last year.

So outstanding was the company's performance on construction of four fishing access sites along the Oregon side of the Columbia River last year, the project won the Northwest Division Army Corps of Engineers "Chief of Engineers Construction Contractor of the Year Award" for 1999. It beat out all the other construction companies nominated from across 14 states.

"They did an outstanding job and they were up against some pretty stiff competition from some of the other districts," says Army Corps mechanical engineer Stuart Hanson who served as construction awards coordinator. "But in this particular case, they were far and above the other competitors. They had like a perfect score."

The $5 million project for the Yakama, Nez Perce, Warm Springs and Umatilla nations and the BIA involved complete site development. Corporation crews constructed boat ramps, floating docks, breakwaters and pilings, did water erosion protection work, built roads, parking areas, fish cleaning and drying stations, sanitary facilities, dug wells and handled all utilities, irrigation systems and landscaping.

Crews finished the project on budget and 14 months early. But it was the workmanship and manner in which the project was completed that put it over the top in the regional competition. The project was rated as "excellent" across the board for safety and customer satisfaction.

Paul Tillman, general manager of the corporation, says the company implemented an aggressive quality control system at all four sites that guaranteed an end product of "high quality." The tribes and BIA say the construction project "exceeded all expectations."

The Colville corporation is in competition with seven other construction companies around the country for the highly competitive national award. The results of the national competition will be announced soon, Hanson says.

Needless to say, Tillman is extremely pleased with the company and even more proud of his 50 employees.

"Any success of this corporation is from the hard work of its employees working together as a team, and that's so important in the construction industry," Tillman says. "They all deserve credit."

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Tillman, who was raised on the reservation and has worked in construction all his life, has managed a complete turn-around since he became general manager in 1996.

Aggressively pursuing off-reservation contracts all over the Northwest, as well as continuing the company's on-rez construction work, Tillman helped push the corporation's gross revenues from an average $4 million per year to $10 million in 1999. Under "managed growth," he expects the company to gross around $17 million next year.

The company is involved in everything from demolition projects along the coast for the U.S. Navy, to electrical and data cabling work for the U.S. Forest Service in Wenatchee. But Tillman says that one of the things that really helped the corporation grow, is networking with other tribes.

Working on other reservations, the corporation hires local workers through Tribal Employment Rights offices. Specialty staff, such as electricians and project managers are supplied by the Colville corporation.

Aside from being able to handle typical road and utility construction, HUD housing and large commercial projects, Tillman moved the company heavily into design and construct. On-staff architects such as Lummi tribal member Joe Oreiro provide the vision for projects as varied as a community center for the Nisqually Tribe near Yelm, to a detention center on the Colville Reservation.

With an eye toward future expansion, the corporation is securing a skilled tribal work base. Anita Tonasket, Colville apprenticeship coordinator, developed a carpentry apprenticeship program for Colville members in partnership with the Spokane Community College.

Three students participate in the carpentry program which requires a minimum of 144 hours of course work each year year. Electrical and heavy equipment operation apprenticeships, as well as millwright and logging apprenticeships are offered as well.

"I have about twenty to twenty-five people that have applied to the program," Tonasket says. "The carpenters I have working all the time because that's where most of the employment is."

At the Colville Reservation, approximately 48 percent of the 9,000 tribal members are unemployed, a figure both Tonasket and Tillman would like to see change.

But for now, winning the regional award has helped give the Colville Tribal Services Corporation a great reputation which means more contracts and more and more jobs for tribal members down the road.

"We're growing," Tillman says. "We're going to have to build a bigger office very soon."