For the first time since 1999, shareholders in Goldbelt, Juneau's urban Native corporation, will be getting dividend checks in the mail.
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"Jiminy Christmas! You're kidding. This is good news," shareholder Marge Gamble said upon hearing the news. She plans to put the money away for her grandchildren, she said.
Dividend checks totaling $1.25 per share will be mailed out in early February, according to Goldbelt officials. The typical shareholder, who owns 100 shares, will receive $125.
Goldbelt has 3,200 shareholders, who own a total of 272,200 shares of stock. The decision to pay dividends was made Saturday during a regular monthly meeting, said board Chairman Joseph Kahklen in a press release.
The dividend is a promising sign for the corporation, which has suffered financial setbacks due to a 1999 accident and an inconsistent tourism market.
Board member and shareholder Randy Wanamaker said that the troubles began when the company made the shift from relying on timber to tourism in the late 1990s.
In 1999, one of Goldbelt's tour boats hit a rock in Glacier Bay at the start of the season.
"We lost the boat for the entire season, and we literally had to refund thousands of tickets," he said.
Making the situation worse, the corporation's managers had canceled its business-loss insurance just weeks before the accident.
The following year, the dot-com bust in the Lower 48 caused many tourists to cancel their summer vacations to Alaska, Wanamaker said. The Sept. 11, 2001, attacks also took a toll.
That's when Goldbelt decided to rely less on tourism and more on government contracts.
President and CEO Gary Droubay said income has increased in the last two years largely because of contracts that subsidiary affiliates known as 8(a) companies have with federal government branches.
These include construction, vehicle and information technology equipment leasing, military training, facilities management, personnel placement, logistical support and aerospace engineering. The businesses operate in Washington, D.C.; Maryland; Virginia; North Carolina; New Jersey and Louisiana.
The 8(a) program was designed by the U.S. Small Business Association to help small businesses compete by allowing them to contract directly with the federal government.
They also may subcontract with larger businesses that have federal contracts. Alaska Native corporations and companies that are majority-owned by Alaska Native corporations are considered eligible.
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"Goldbelt issues first shares since 1999"
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Goldbelt formed an 8(a) company in 2000, and four more in 2002 and 2003. In each case, while retaining majority ownership, Goldbelt has offered minority ownership to other companies or individuals with expertise in their areas.
Goldbelt also still has tourism investments in Juneau. The corporation owns and operates the Mount Roberts Tramway and the Goldbelt Hotel. It also owns and operates Goldbelt Security Services and the Seadrome dock facility at Echo Cove, which is under construction. Goldbelt has agreed to provide bus transportation to Kensington Mine workers.
Founded in 1973 and incorporated on Jan. 4, 1974, Goldbelt was organized under the 1971 Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act. Through the act, descendants of Alaska's original inhabitants were given $966 million in cash and title to 44 million acres of land to compensate for the loss of their homelands. This was divided among more than 200 community corporations and 13 regional corporations.
Goldbelt stock represents assets worth approximately $62 million and 32,000 acres of land in the Juneau area.
Droubay said it is too soon to tell whether the dividend checks will be issued more regularly.
"We hope so," he said.
Brittany Retherford can be reached at email@example.com.