Alaska Native corporations dominate list of state’s top businesses

The monthly magazine Alaska Business put an Alaska Native regional corporation in first place among the state's top 49 businesses based on gross revenues. The Arctic Slope Regional Corporation had revenues of $3.5 billion in the past year (2019-2020). Pictured here, the Anchorage office of Arctic Slope Regional Corporation. Photo by Joaqlin Estus, Indian Country Today.

Joaqlin Estus

Corrected: Leading companies emphasize their ability to stay flexible while taking steps to protect health and safety

Joaqlin Estus
Indian Country Today

Alaska Native corporations top a list of Alaska-owned businesses ranked by gross revenues.

Alaska Business magazine annually publishes a list of the 49th state’s “Top 49ers.” This year 18 of the top 20, and 25 of the 49 are Alaska Native corporations.

The pandemic has presented hardships for retail, tourism and hospitality businesses. In Alaska Business magazine, the top companies emphasized their resilience and flexibility as they described steps taken to protect health and safety.

Despite the new challenges, Native corporations have been a major economic driver for Alaska. The top three Alaska Native corporations have gross revenues in the billions. In the past year Arctic Slope Regional Corporation took in $3.7 billion; Bristol Bay Regional Corporation had gross revenues of $1.7 billion; and NANA had $1.6 billion.

Native companies draw profits from their regional businesses. For instance, Arctic Slope Regional Corporation works in petroleum refining and marketing, and energy support services on the oil-rich North Slope of Alaska.

The Bristol Bay Native Corporation runs sports fishing lodges and commercial fishing ventures in the "wild salmon capital of the world." 

In Northwest Alaska, NANA owns Red Dog Operations, one of the world's largest zinc mines.

Native corporations also draw much of their revenue from operations and subsidiaries sited across the country.

Alaska Native corporations were created by the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971, which authorized the transfer of title to 44 million acres of Native homelands, and $963 million to 13 for-profit regional companies and more than 200 village and urban corporations. In comparison, Missouri, Oklahoma, and North Dakota are each 44 million to 45 million acres in size.

The idea was that the Native corporations would profit from development of the natural resources on their lands and distribute dividends to their Native shareholders. 

In 1972 Native leaders began setting up the corporations then dug into the detailed work of identifying lands with developable natural resources so they could select land within their regions. They worked with the state of Alaska and federal agencies to arrange for title transfers.

However, 20 years after the claims act was passed, less than half the authorized acreage had been transferred.

Still, several of the Native corporations did profit from resource development such as logging, oil and gas development, and mining.

But others didn’t have resources to develop, or did not acquire title for many years. Some invested in unsuccessful projects. Some were victims of scams. Native leaders also needed to quickly learn about the intricacies of corporate law and operations and gain the specialized skills of corporate management. One of the 13 corporations, the one created for Alaska Natives who lived outside Alaska and did not receive land, went under. 

As Ted Stevens, Alaska U.S. senator from 1968 to 2009, gained seniority and power, he was able to get several laws passed by Congress to aid the corporations’ viability.

One such law allowed the corporations to sell net operating losses to companies to use as tax write-offs, with up to 80 percent of the tax savings going back to the corporations. Another law with significant impact was one Congress passed in 1986 that designated the corporations as minority businesses eligible for advantages in federal contracting.

Under the Small Business Administration Section 8(a) program, small businesses owned by socially and economically disadvantaged people or entities, including Alaska Native corporations, Native Hawaiian organizations, and Native American/tribal corporations can:

  • Compete for set-aside and sole-source federal contracts
  • Get help applying for federal contracts
  • Receive management and technical assistance, including business training, counseling, marketing assistance, and high-level executive development
  • Form joint ventures with established businesses through the Small Business Administration's mentor-protégé program

Nationwide, several Native American businesses have successfully participated in the SBA 8 (a) program, including Ho-Chunk, Inc.; Cherokee Nation Technology Solutions; Echelon, Inc. (Coeur d'Alene); Miami Nation (of Oklahoma) Enterprises; and Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation Businesses. 

Over the years, Congress extended additional procurement advantages to tribal, Hawaiian, and Alaska Native companies, as the Government Accounting Office reports.

“For example, ANC [Alaska Native corporation] firms are permitted to receive noncompetitive contracts for any amount, whereas other 8(a) companies are subject to competitive thresholds of $5 million for manufacturing contracts or $3 million for all other contracts. 

"ANCs can also own multiple subsidiaries participating in the 8(a) program, unlike other 8(a) firms that may own only one in a lifetime and no more than 20 percent of another 8(a) firm,” the accounting office stated.

Winning federal contracts requires certain administrative capabilities. Federal contracting is governed by extensive laws and policies. Each request for proposals comes with its own procedures, terminology, and rules for reporting and compliance.

Still, the GAO reports Small Business Administration contracts to Native corporations  represent about a quarter of all 8(a) obligations. The program has allowed the Alaska Native corporations to move into a wide range of enterprises, as the following examples show.

“In May of 2020, teams from ASRC [Arctic Slope Regional Corporation] Federal played an integral part in launching NASA’s historic SpaceX Demo-2 mission. This was the first launch of astronauts from an American rocket from American soil since the last space shuttle mission in 2011,” Alaska Business reports.

Bristol Bay Native Corporation provides specialty services in petroleum distribution, construction, government services, and oilfield and industrial services.

Alaska Business’ Isaac Stone Simonelli reported, "Doyon Utilities landed the largest utility privatization contract ever awarded by the US military in 2008."

“The contract term is 50 years and covers 12 utility systems on the three Army bases in Alaska — Fort Wainwright, Fort Richardson and Fort Greely. Doyon Utilities continues to safely provide reliable utility services,” Doyon CEO Aaron Schutt told Alaska Business. “These services include central heat, power plant heat distribution system and utilidors, electrical distribution system, water distribution system and treatment, wastewater collection system and treatment plant, and natural gas distribution system.”

The Native corporate federal contracts run the gamut from transportation, construction, and information technology to security, janitorial, and real estate.

Here’s a list of Alaska’s top 49 businesses for the year 2019, with the gross revenues for the top ten. The companies that are not Alaska Native corporations are shown in italics.

  1. Arctic Slope Regional Corporation - $3.7 billion
  2. Bristol Bay Native Corporation - $1.7 billion
  3. NANA - $1.6 billion
  4. Lyndon - $1.05 billion
  5. Chugach Alaska Corporation - $977 million
  6. Chenega Corporation - $871 million
  7. Sealaska - $699 million
  8. Agognak Native Corporation - $618 million
  9. Calista Corporation - $573 million
  10. Cook Inlet Region, Incorporated - $493 million
  11. Ukpeagvik
  12. Bering Straits
  13. Koniag
  14. Doyon
  15. Ahtna
  16. Aleut
  17. Olgoonik
  18. Goldbelt
  19. Three Bears
  20. Tyonek
  21. Delta Construction
  22. Chugach Electric
  23. TDX (Tanadgusix)
  24. First National Bank
  25. Sitnasuak
  26. Choggiung
  27. Matanuska Electric Association
  28. Colville
  29. Waterson
  30. Bethel Native Corporation
  31. MTA
  32. Construction Machinery Industrial
  33. Davis Constructors and Engineers
  34. Homer Electric Assoc.
  35. Usibelli Coal Mine
  36. Anchorage Chrysler Dodge Center
  37. Cruz Construction
  38. The Kuskokwim Corporation
  39. Udelhoven Oilfield System Services
  40. Cape Fox
  41. Credit Union 1
  42. Gana-Y’oo, Limited
  43. Airport Equipment Rentals
  44. Everts Air Cargo
  45. Seekins Ford Lincoln
  46. Alaska Village Electric Cooperative
  47. Vitus Energy
  48. Cornerstone General Contractors
  49. Great NorthwestThe Native 
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Correction: Removed one example of an Alaska Native corporation business and added the first sentence in a quote from Alaska Business about Doyon Utilities' contract, and gave correct name of Doyon CEO Aaron Schutt.

Joaqlin Estus, Tlingit, is a national correspondent for Indian Country Today, and a longtime Alaska journalist.

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