Native Corporations Drive Alaska Economy

The results are in: Alaska Native corporations (ANCs) are a major force in Alaska’s economy. Of the 49 top revenue-grossing Alaskan-owned businesses, 22 are ANCs – more than any other industry. Eight of the top 10 are ANCs. (CIRI comes in at No. 12.)

The figures come from a report published in the October 2017 issue of Alaska Business Monthly. In 2016, ANCs accounted for 15,365 Alaska jobs, 63,740 total jobs and $11 billion in revenue.

“For over 45 years, ANCs have been building their businesses and, in the process, diversifying the Alaska economy,” said Kim Reitmeier, executive director of the ANCSA Regional Association. “They represent a diverse range of industries, companies, regions and cultures; it is this diversification that has allowed them to grow and thrive. The annual revenue generated by the twelve Alaska Native regional corporations is nearly 17 percent of Alaska’s gross domestic product.”

“The Beginning of a Great Era”

In order to settle Alaska Native people’s aboriginal land claims and provide a means by which they could derive economic benefits from the resources around them, in 1971 the U.S. Congress passed the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA). The legislation awarded rights to 44 million acres of land and a settlement of nearly $1 billion as compensation for lands not returned – and the creation of regional and village corporations to manage the allocation of land and money. A purposeful alternative to the reservation system, ANCSA was the first settlement of its kind between Native Americans and the federal government. Alaska Native leaders fought for the corporate structure for holding land and capital, with the freedom to control their own economic and social future. Passage of the act represented a significant victory for Alaska Native people. When ANCSA was signed into law, the Tundra Times heralded it as “the beginning of a great era for the Native people of Alaska.”

Alaska Native regional corporations like CIRI annually generate nearly 17 percent of Alaska’s GDP. Photo by Ken Graham Photography.

One of the key mandates of ANCSA was the formation of 12 for-profit corporations, including CIRI, which would represent Alaska Native people with ties to twelve geographic regions of the state. (Later, a 13th corporation, representing Alaska Native people who had moved outside of the state, would be created.) The act also created more than 200 village corporations.

Each corporation has interpreted its ANCSA mandate to benefit current and future generations of shareholders in its own way. For its part, CIRI has participated in a wide array of business sectors, including energy development, government contracting, oilfield and construction services, real estate and technology services, with the well-being of its shareholders at the center of every decision. With cumulative distributions to shareholders of nearly $1.1 billion, CIRI remains focused on delivering meaningful and sustainable economic benefits to its shareholder-owners.

CIRI also created and initially funded a family of independent nonprofits to provide social, educational, health care and cultural services to CIRI shareholders, descendants and others.

A Look Ahead

Given Alaska’s current fiscal crisis, the ongoing success and growth of ANCs is critical. “As key drivers of Alaska’s economy, ANCs have come into their own,” said Bill Popp, president and CEO of the Anchorage Economic Development Corp. “In many cases, ANCs are multinational in scope and cut a broad path in the lines of business they represent. They are a key foundational element in the growing diversification of Alaska’s economy and will play a critical role in the future expansion of our state.”

CIRI’s financial strategy centers on a diversified portfolio comprised of industries the company knows well, along with new investments that leverage both the company’s experience and its network of expert partners.

“As always, CIRI’s primary goal is to grow net income, increase shareholders’ equity, and ultimately achieve our objective of steady and growing dividends for CIRI shareholders,” said CIRI President and CEO Sophie Minich. “The success of CIRI and other ANCs benefit not only Alaska Native shareholders and descendants, but all Alaskans.”