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Shee Atiká board names a new chairman, turns toward business sustainability

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Sitka’s urban Native corporation has a new look — and a new outlook — following annual board elections in September.

Lifelong Sitkan Rob Allen has been named to chair the board, and he’s hoping to steer Shee Atiká Incorporated toward sustainability and profitability. 

Rob Allen has been regularly appearing in the news since he was tapped in 2015 to take over management of Sitka Community Hospital, which was edging close to insolvency. He was just starting a cruise charter business at the time, and it was supposed to be a four-month interim job. But it turned into four years, as the hospital regrouped, repaired its bottom line, and was ultimately sold as an asset to the Southeast Regional Health Consortium in 2019.

Shee Atiká Inc. never has been as close to the brink as Sitka Community Hospital, but the business has not been thriving.

“Things have been kind of tough the past couple of years,” said Allen.

Rob Allen became chairman of the Shee Atiká board at its shareholder meeting on September 12. At the same meeting, longtime board member Faleene Worrell was unseated by the newly-elected Alysha Guthrie.

See the voting results from Shee Atiká’s September 12 shareholder meeting.

Allen says that Shee Atiká has been running on revenues from land disposals, which he believes is unsustainable.

“We had the land sales in Cube Cove, and some of those proceeds we’ve had to use to make our dividends and pay for operations.”

Cube Cove is on Admiralty Island. Shee Atika selected the land under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, logged it, and sold it back to the federal government for $18 million. The corporation has also been selling off residential property on Alice and Charcoal islands in Sitka. The drain on the corporation’s resources was a major source of shareholder unrest in 2017.

Shee Atiká’s remaining large land holding is at the head of Katlian Bay, where the state is currently building a 7-mile extension of Halibut Point Road. Allen says planning for the Katlian Bay site is going to be drawing the board’s attention in the coming months.

“That (Katlian Bay) we definitely want to take a longer-term view on those projects, so they fit in and they’re successful, with what we want to accomplish and with what shareholders would like to see up there,” said Allen.

Katlian Bay is a promising site for tourism development, but its road connection and deep waters create other opportunities as well, especially in the realm of so-called 8(a) contracting. The Small Business Administration runs the 8(a) program, which connects Native-owned businesses with government contracts.

Shee Atiká operates three 8(a) subsidiaries: a technical and engineering firm Shee Atiká Enterprises in Orlando, Florida; a ship repair company called American Marine and Technical Services in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; and a cyber security/IT firm in Montgomery, Alabama, called Alaska Northstar Resources. Allen says this latter firm is Shee Atiká’s largest, with about 45 employees. He also says that the 8(a) contracts represent the best short-term opportunity to get the corporation back on track.

“So that’s exciting,” said Allen. “We’ve been getting some good contracts, and we have some proposals in that we’re watching very carefully. We’re expecting that area to continue to grow, and hopefully to provide some potential opportunity for shareholder hire.”

Allen says that Shee Atiká’s 8(a) companies could be part of the long-term strategic plan for Katlian Bay.

Lastly, Allen says his board is committed to preserving the corporation’s endowment funds. Although he’s an original shareholder, he’s given some of his 100 shares to his daughter, to qualify her for scholarships which Shee Atiká distributes by the thousands every year. So the corporation is seeing more shareholders who own just a few shares, and more shareholders (roughly 60-percent) who don’t live in Alaska. Looking forward, Allen says it’s important to make sure that Shee Atiká continues to contribute meaningfully to art, culture, and language on behalf of these growing numbers of shareholders.

And will he ever get around to launching his charter cruise business? Chairing the Shee Atiká board is supposed to be a part-time job, as is his contract to manage all the CARES Act funding applications by individuals and businesses to the City of Sitka — about 600 of them so far. Allen is a graduate of Harvard and the Kennedy School of Government, but he was practically born on the water as a member of Sitka’s Allen Marine family. For the time being anyway, his dream of cruising Southeast’s waters remains tied to the dock.

“Well, it just seems that idea keeps getting pushed!” he said.

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