Few are unaware that the United States has suffered the most severe economic downturn since The Great Depression. Too few, however, do realize that unemployment rates among Natives far exceed rates in even the most dispossessed communities of non-Native peoples. From 2007, the year The Great Recession began, to 2010, unemployment rates among Natives increased 7.7 percentage points to 15.2 percent. Among Alaska Natives, the first half of 2010 saw an unemployment rate even higher, at 21.3 percent. In tiny, rural Kake, Alaska, the rates were alarmingly higher, at 81 percent in 2011. One man who can trace his ancestry to Kake has done the best thing to reverse this devastating trend: He’s insourced jobs to this isolated island by opening an office in Kake.
Jon Duncan, president and CEO of Managed Business Solutions (MBS), lives in Colorado Springs but grew up in Juneau, Alaska. A Tlingit member of the Eagle Killerwhale (Dakhl'aweidí) clan (his Tlingit name is Gooch Tlein) with an MBA from St. Mary’s College of California, Duncan chose the small village where his great-grandparents were born and raised to open a branch office of five workers. With the capability to employ 27 people, MBS has the potential to make a real impact on the economic future of this remote island community.
Situated 72 miles from the nearest large city, Kake’s population rate has decreased 20 percent since 2000. Duncan believes that the construction of an MBS office here has helped stem this trend of outmigration, a trend that, Duncan says, “threatens the very fiber of community health and well-being.”
“As a Diversity Company, MBS is dedicated to bringing a renewed sense of urgency and commitment to rebuilding these rural economies,” Duncan says. “The profits generated by MBS go to supporting over 20,000 Native shareholders as well to supporting community growth.”
According to an MBS spokesperson, Sealaska, the parent company that owns MBS, has provided Southeast Alaska’s local Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian communities with about $260 million in annual revenue in 2011 and has distributed to the company’s 20,000 individual Native shareholders and Village Corporations cumulative over $487 million since its inception. MBS delivers about $22 million to Sealaska’s annual revenues.
Accessible only by sea or air, Kake benefits from the MBS commitment to local communities. Equipped with the same technology and tools used by other MBS employees around the world, the Kake satellite office has “brought new industry to the people of Kake,” Duncan says. “The knowledge and experience our Kake colleagues now have access to are so important as the global information economy unfolds. Our Kake team is going to get professional experience that they can leverage down entirely new career paths.”
Dedicated to future growth in Kake, Duncan’s long-term vision includes a data-processing center—the same kind of center that, he says, “U.S. corporations have been locating overseas in recent years.” Just as in other countries, entry-level positions in these centers do not demand a high skill level, but on-the-job training opportunities enable local residents to gain expertise through their relationship with the company. In return, companies that work with MBS benefit from workers who speak American English and live in a similar time zone.
Duncan is betting that, “with its 8(a) certification and standing as an Alaska Native-owned subsidiary, MBS could appeal to big corporations with diversity goals.”
Now that the Kake staff is “fully functional supporting global Federal programs, HP programs, as well as numerous other customers,” Duncan says, MBS is supporting younger Kake residents and growing a pool of talented future workers by working with the local schools. He says that job shadowing and intern programs are in place that have compelled “several families return to the island, as there is now a feeling of hope in the community.”