Joaqlin Estus
Indian Country Today

An Alaska Native start-up company, with revenues that skyrocketed in the last seven years, was recognized for its success and excellence in corporate citizenship this week.

The National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development presented its Native American Business of the Year Award to the Tlingit and Haida Tribal Business Corporation at the Reservation Economic Summit held in Las Vegas, Nevada.

The company “reached $100 million in annual revenue in 2019. We will be around $170 million this year, and we expect to exceed $200 million (annually) … within the next 12 months," said Richard Rinehart, Tlingit, CEO of the company and its first employee. “Our goal is to reach $500 million in annual revenue in the next five years.”

He added the company has been paying off debt and reinvesting profits in the company to grow but it expects to be able to issue dividends to the Tlingit & Haida tribe, which owns the corporation, in the “very near term.”

The tribe’s executive council will determine how the money will be used to support tribal government for more than 32,000 Tlingit and Haida people worldwide.

Much of the fast-growing tribal company’s success is due to the Small Business Administration’s development program for small businesses owned by socially and economically disadvantaged people.

The SBA 8(a) program(named for a section of the law creating it) gives advantages to Native American tribes, Native Hawaiians, and Alaska Native corporations in bidding for federal contracts. In 2019, $30.4 billion in federal contracts went to 8(a) firms.

Rinehart and the tribal company’s Vice President Will Macklin, Tlingit, spoke at a bi-weekly lunchtime chat hosted by the tribe on June 10.

“The business model overall is to engage in federal defense contracting using available preference programs that set aside a percentage of federal contract awards to small businesses and encourage large corporations to subcontract or team with minority and disadvantaged businesses,” Macklin said.

Rinehart and Macklin said low overhead helps the company compete for federal contracts across the country and in other countries. They also credited tribal and corporate leadership for emphasizing long-term success and for bringing their experience to the table.

Rinehart said, “we have corporate offices in Virginia, Texas, Colorado, and Washington. Internationally, we’re in the Caribbean central America and South Pacific.”

He said the corporation’s success is based on certain principles, one being honesty.

Macklin said, “we always told ourselves the truth about the data. It wasn't wishful thinking. It wasn't that ‘we hope things turned out right.’ It was looking at the data and making decisions based on that. That’s really incredibly important as a startup."

The company has 1,400 employees in 20 states and four countries, and is constantly recruiting for positions ranging from IT engineers and diesel mechanics, to managers, janitors and electricians. Rinehart said they’ve even had openings for rocket scientists.

“Perhaps most importantly (to the company’s success), we've taken care of our employees and promoted from within..."

Rinehart said  on various occasions employees have said knowing they’re working for the interest of a Native tribe is one of the reasons they’re working for the company, and “part of the reason they're so dedicated to this.”

The national center and tribal company did not reply to a request for comments in time for this story.

Corrected: several typographical errors were corrected.

Corrected: several typographical errors were corrected.