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Sealaska loses $21 million

Posted: Tuesday, May 07, 2002

Sealaska Corp. is reporting a $21 million loss for 2001, marking the second multimillion-dollar loss for the regional Native corporation in two years.

In 2000, the corporation, which was formed in 1971 under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, reported a loss of $122 million. In 2001, it lost $21 million on revenues of $146 million, cut 12 staffers at its Juneau headquarters, discontinued several business ventures and saw the resignation of President Robert Loescher.

The corporation made money in previous years and expects to return to profitability, said President and CEO Chris McNeil Jr.

"Sealaska has rounded a difficult corner at a pivotal point in our history," McNeil said in a press release. "Looking forward, we have a strong strategic plan and we have a strong connection with our shareholders on which we are building a future for our company."

Joan Dangeli, one of the corporation's near-16,000 shareholders, was skeptical.

"We're scared to death," she said. "Some of us feel as though the claim has been stolen from us. In 30 years it seems there's not been one successful business.

"There seems to be this lack of innovation and they lack the ability to get a good deal ... They are businessmen with businesses who've learned to pass paper and not run companies."

Sealaska spokesman Ross Soboleff said the corporation had viable ventures that took a hit in the past two years when the market declined sharply and the country went into a recession.

Last year, Sealaska sold its limestone mine on Prince of Wales Island, as well as the majority of its plastics venture, TriQuest Precision Plastics, which once was expected to be a big money-maker. He said TriQuest was hit hardest by the recession as well as the growth of off-shore plastics operations that could sell products for much less.

However, Soboleff said, the change in its plastics investments may bring the rebirth of profitability for the corporation. As part of its strategic plan, Sealaska will combine its remaining plastics plant, in Guadalajara, Mexico, in a joint venture with Nypro, a plastics corporation that has been in business for 16 years, he said.

"Nypro is a very strong, very experienced operation and has many years of success," Soboleff said. "And we may be able to attract some new clientele for them because we have access to the diversity supply markets that other companies wouldn't. So we think it will be a great partnership."

Diversity supply markets, Soboleff said, are those operations that want to do a certain percentage of their business with minority-owned companies.

Soboleff also said Sealaska Alaska Native Wireless should prove to be a "good solid investment," despite legal woes.

In 2001, Alaska Native Wireless, a consortium of three Alaska Native corporations including Sealaska, partnered with AT&T Wireless to buy 44 wireless licenses at a Federal Communications Commission auction for $2.9 billion. The licenses, which once belonged to NextWave Communications, were confiscated by the FCC and subsequently sold to ANW.

A federal Court of Appeals ruling in July determined the FCC shouldn't have resold the licenses and gave them back to NextWave. The issue is going to the U.S. Supreme Court and the corporation hopes for an equitable resolution, said Soboleff. In the meantime, he said, Sealaska is seeing money come in from its investment in ANW.

Soboleff added Sealaska wants to become involved in federal contracting and continue to develop the natural resources of the land it holds, as well as resources on nearby land still owed under the claims settlement act. The corporation has been hurt by downturns in Southeast Alaska's timber industry.

Melanie Plenda can be reached at mplenda@juneauempire.com.



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