Native corporations report impact

PHOTO/Courtesy McKinley Air Service
Alaska’s Native regional and village corporations contribute widely to the state’s economy and will grow and prosper as Alaska develops, senior managers of three prominent Native regional corporations said June 5.

Native-owned corporations have invested in timber, hotels, oilfield services, mining and several other types of businesses, said Jacob Adams, president of Arctic Slope Regional Corp. of Barrow.

But in the long run, it is the huge private land base owned by Native corporations, combined with the talents of young Alaskans educated and trained as a result of the corporations and their business activities, that will boost the state’s growth, Adams and the others told the Resource Development Council for Alaska Inc. in Anchorage.

The council was holding its annual membership luncheon at the Sheraton Anchorage Hotel.

Adams said the values held by Native people, as they move into leadership roles in the state’s business community, are also important.

"Cooperation, respect and integrity are values that are ingrained in our cultures," he said.

Barbara Donatelli, executive vice president of Cook Inlet Region Inc., agreed with this. "Alaska Natives have a concern for the well-being of the whole group, not just the individual. This is good for Alaska," she said.

Marie Greene, president of NANA Regional Corp. of Kotzebue, said her corporation has invested in 35 businesses that employ 1,800 Alaskans and 1,200 people in the Lower 48.

NANA’s goals are jobs for its shareholders and business opportunities, Greene said, and one of its successes is the partnership with Teck Cominco in developing the Red Dog Mine, which is on NANA-owned lands.

"Thirty years ago there were very few jobs in our villages. The only jobs were seasonal, except for a handful in the village store or in the school," Greene said. Now 60 percent of the work force at Red Dog are shareholders. NANA’s ultimate goal is for shareholders to manage the mine and its operations.

But accomplishing that will require continued investment in education and training, Greene said. The need has spawned the creation of strong regional education and training initiatives.

NANA and other institutions in the region, like the nonprofit Manealuk Corp., the Northwest Arctic School District and others, formed the Northwest Arctic Higher Education Consortium to promote education and training.

The consortium has now been enlarged to include the Arctic Slope, with the addition of Arctic Slope Regional Corp., the North Slope Borough and Phillips Alaska Inc. as members.

Adams told the council that the 44 million acres of private lands owned by Alaska Native corporations will be a key factor in the state’s future development. However, long delays in conveyance of these lands by the government to the corporations have impaired this potential, he said.

But now resources on Native lands are being produced. Adams said Native lands are included as part of the largest new oil and gas field to be developed in the last decade, the Alpine field on the North Slope.

He is optimistic that the huge coal reserves of the western Arctic, which are owned by Arctic Slope, will begin to be developed within the next decade as part of a plan to supply power for continued development of mining in the Red Dog region.

Adams said that shareholders in Native corporations who are taking advantage of scholarships and other assistance to secure higher education and training will provide a critical pool of skilled workers for Alaska’s industries in future years.

"Young Native people who go outside the state to pursue education typically return when their education is complete," bringing their knowledge and skills back home, Adams said.

Adams is concerned, however, about the future of Alaska’s rural economy, its communities and the smaller village corporations, he told the council.

Reducing conflicts between the state’s urban politicians and rural people is critical to the future of the state, because rural communities depend on public infrastructure and services.

"I don’t expect the same level of services in Atkasuk, an Arctic Slope village, as I would in Anchorage, but I would expect some level of understanding" about the needs of rural people, Adams said.

Donatelli said that while the largest industrial firms working in Alaska have their headquarters out of state, Alaska’s Native corporations are based in Alaska.

They are important sources of investment in Alaska enterprises, she said. Recent economic studies showed that a group of 21 Native corporations, including 12 regional corporations and nine village corporations, employed 10,600 Alaskans with a payroll of $350 million in 2000, Donatelli said.

06/16/2002 - 8:00pm