Minority businesses start bonding over government contracts

Posted: Friday, May 30, 2008

ANCHORAGE - Black business leaders have long complained about the awarding of federal minority contracts to Alaska Native corporations. But the bad feelings have begun to subside as black-owned businesses consider partnerships with Native firms.

Last week, more than 20 black business executives from around the country networked with Alaska Native firms and other minority-owned businesses based in Alaska at a conference at a downtown hotel.

"I found out that you aren't bad," said prominent black business leader Harry Alford at the conference, hosted by the Alaska 8(a) Association. The term "8(a)" refers to the federal rule that designates 23 percent of government work for small and disadvantaged firms. Alaska Native firms get certified for minority business contracting under the rule.

A few years ago, Alford said he thought Alaska Native corporations were "the devil" as federal contracts designated for minority-owned companies increasingly flowed to Alaska Native firms.

As head of the National Black Chamber of Commerce, he was outraged when billions in federal contracting dollars were awarded without competition to Alaska Native firms for post-Hurricane Katrina reconstruction, while black-owned firms based in the region were bit players.

Alford relented after talking to Arnold Baker, a black New Orleans executive who formed a partnership on the Gulf Coast with Eyak Technologies, a firm owned by Eyak Corp., the village corporation for Native shareholders in Cordova.

Baker convinced him that the black entrepreneurs could benefit by working with the Alaska firms, he said.

Many of the black entrepreneurs left Alaska at the end of the week with new business partnerships with Native-owned firms, Alford said Wednesday. "Twelve or 13 have got commitments so far," he said.

Baker, who also attended the meeting in Anchorage, said that "Everyone is watching this ... to see if it works."

Alford told Alaska business executives at the conference that he'd tell Washington, D.C., lawmakers who have in the past attempted to curtail Alaska Native firms' contracting advantages to "lay off."

Ron Perry, a Native business owner in Anchorage who leads the National 8(a) Association, said strategic alliances between the minority groups will help them compete against even bigger businesses and may help quiet their political enemies in Washington, D.C.

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