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ANCHORAGE - Two tribes on Prince of Wales Island are taking the plunge into high tech.
The tribal governments for the villages of Craig and Kasaan have formed an information technology company to provide computer services to the federal government.
The Craig Community Association and the Organized Village of Kasaan have teamed with n-Link, a Bellevue, Wash., firm, to launch POWTEC. The acronym stands for Prince of Wales Tribal Enterprise Consortium. The company plans to take advantage of federal programs for small, disadvantaged and tribally owned firms.
Craig and Kasaan have long relied on fishing and logging the island's old growth timber as the cornerstones of their economy. But with traditional industries in decline, island residents are looking for new ways to earn a living.
"The problem with the natural resource industries is that they're controlled by the outside market. If the Japanese economy is down, then they don't want to log and people are out of work. It isn't stable," said Richard Peterson, 25, mayor of Kasaan and tribal president.
Computers provide an alternative, said Millie Stevens, 55, president of the Craig Community Association. Stevens has been searching for new ways for her people to make money and considers technology a golden opportunity.
"We're anticipating growing like a bad weed," said Stevens, who is just starting to learn about computers.
Besides servicing government contracts, the new company will operate a computer training center at the Craig tribal hall where members and non-Native residents can hone tech skills. A $600,000 federal rural development grant is paying for the computers and a satellite downlink, Stevens said.
The center will be hooked up to the University of Alaska Southeast and the Northwest Indian College in Bellingham, Wash., for distance learning.
The venture is also unique because tribal governments in Alaska, due to history and politics, are generally more focused on social services than profit-making activities, said Lawrence SpottedBird, n-Link's vice president of business development.
Kasaan, Craig and n-Link each own a third of the new company. The Bellevue firm will act as an incubator, immediately bringing POWTEC in as a subcontractor on existing projects and teaching the islanders how to go after and service federal contracts on their own.
The new firm will create about three jobs in the short term in Kasaan, a community of about 50 people with high unemployment, Peterson said. A few others will be generated in Craig, where the company will also have an office.
"Our goal is to be self-sufficient," Stevens said.