SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska



Gas pipeline
By Ted A. Wright


November 28, 2005

I agreed with much of what the honorable Wally Hickel had to say about gas pipeline development in his November 27 letter, but it was the second paragraph of his piece that caught my attention. He asks, "Will this resource simply generate cash and dividends or will it be the key to a healthy and sustainable Alaska economy well into this century?" I remember asking almost the same question ten, fifteen and twenty years ago at board and shareholder meetings for Shee Atika and Sealaska. The question then was the extent to which Native corporations should invest in financial markets, distant real-estate and out-of-state business ventures, versus development of businesses in the region that would employ shareholders and other local residents.

I don't ask the questions anymore, and I don't see a new generation of shareholders bothering to ask either. The record of success and failure is mixed when you compare companies that attempted local development with those that looked outside. But sometimes I think about where Southeast Native corporations would be if they had developed the multi-million dollar charter fishery and bottled water businesses now thriving in places like Sitka. Where would they be if they had foreseen the visitor industry boom and joined with tribes to essentially corner the market on cultural tourism in the region? Where would they be if they had worked with SEARHC to privatize the growing and hugely profitable medical and health care industries that now compete with non-Native hospitals and clinics throughout much of the state? Where would they be if hundreds of families remained in the region, worked in jobs they helped create, and paid local sales and property taxes?

The reality of the politics is that boards are pressured to produce dividends, so that is pretty much what they do. In fact, under state and federal law, corporations are pretty nearly prohibited from doing anything that doesn't maximize profits for shareholders. Still, insofar as Native people are supposedly more inclined to take the long view, local and regional business development can be construed as maximization of profit. The difference is that more shareholders would have jobs and paychecks and the dividend to all shareholders would probably be smaller.

The key to a healthy and sustainable southeast Alaska economy is for the ANCSA corporations and the tribes to get together and look for long term development projects in their communities. It may not be a gas pipeline, but a charter boat here, a fishing lodge there, a tourist attraction here and there, it all adds up to much more than another boom or bust mega project that may or may not trickle down to the southern panhandle.

I'm not so concerned about the crisis Murkowski faces, according to Governor Hickel, as I am about the opportunities Native corporate and tribal leaders have for too long refused to face. Just as individuals must look within themselves to do what is right and good, Southeast Native corporate leaders should reflect on the past 35 years of ANCSA then look within their own communities to see what is right and good for the coporations to do these next 35 years.

Ted A. Wright
Seattle, WA - USA



Related Viewpoint:

letter Governor faces his greatest challenge By Walter J. Hickel - AK - USA



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Ketchikan, Alaska