2021 Top 49ers Special Section
Best Practices, Lessons Learned, and In-the-Moment Adaptations
Compiled By Tasha Anderson
Arrow Illustration

his year’s Top 49ers is all about looking at the world anew, whether that’s reconsidering priorities as an individual or a business, re-thinking a five-year plan, or searching out new ways to do traditional business.

To us, there may be no better experts on how to consistently change, adapt, and grow than the Top 49ers, the top forty-nine, Alaskan-owned companies ranked by gross revenue.

This year as we surveyed the Top 49ers to update the ranks, we asked each organization the following:

After 2020 and the first half of 2021, people are eager to move beyond the pandemic and a struggling Alaska economy; but as difficult as it’s been, overcoming challenges can provide a new perspective. What best practices, lessons learned, and in-the-moment (but perhaps becoming permanent) adaptations is your organization building into a fresh paradigm as you look at where we’ve been—and where we’re headed?

Their answers, in their entirety, are below.

2020 was an interesting year that greatly impacted our work environment. Despite the negatives, the pandemic pandemonium provided us with a new perspective and enabled us to reorganize our company and change our communication style to accommodate the fast-flowing information. The end result was a workforce that is better suited to handle new challenges, quickly and efficiently as well as disseminate critical information in a fast and fluid manner.
NANA Regional Corporation
As a corporation, NANA strategically plans for the years ahead and sets goals to further our mission to improve the lives of our shareholders. This practice helps NANA remain focused and on track, even when the unexpected occurs. We are rooted in traditions and cultural knowledge that cannot be shaken, no matter the circumstances.
Cook Inlet Region, Inc.
CIRI continues to evaluate and integrate lessons learned from the past eighteen months into the company’s regular operations. CIRI is utilizing new technologies that continue to streamline several aspects of business operations. The opportunity to review how the organization conducts its business and integrate new and innovative approaches is a silver lining in an otherwise challenging year. Over the last year and a half, as always, the health and safety of CIRI shareholders, descendants and employees has been a top priority for the company.
Gana-A’ Yoo, Limited
COVID has taught us to be resilient and to adjust quickly. Moving forward, we will be blending the traditional with progressive means of communication to best meet the needs of our shareholders, the board members, and the employees. Through leveraging technology and ensuring employees have resources necessary to be successful, we are adapting to our environment. Our new normal.
Davis Constructors & Engineers
Davis safely navigated our way through 2020 and are continuing to work through 2021. Davis’ management kept the office and jobsites running by the ability to adapt to unforeseen circumstances. Last year, all employees were given the capabilities to work from home, when working in the office was not an option. Sanitizing stations, facemasks, gloves were bought promptly and distributed to all employees, offices, and jobsites. When hand sanitizer was hard to find, we bought supplies and made our own to distribute. Davis expanded our work environments, so employees could return to work and safety social distance. Our main focus though this past year was to make sure our employees were able to safely continue to work and provide an end product that would meet our clients’ and Davis’ standards. The lessons that were learned and procedures that were implemented are still in place and affect our day-to-day operations. This past year reminded us the importance of adapting, planning ahead, and teamwork. We are excited to keep moving forward and to see what 2021-2022 has in store for Davis, our employees, and clients.
Despite the disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic over the last year, Lynden kept crucial supplies moving “without interruption” to meet the needs of Alaskans. Managing the difficulties of this past year was a team effort that Lynden proudly attributes to its outstanding employees. Their dedication, ingenuity, and hard work have been awe-inspiring, and Lynden’s culture of safety and innovation shone through. “Lynden people consistently rise to meet a challenge, and this year was no exception,” says Chairman Jim Jansen. “No transportation company in Alaska has a more essential and critical responsibility than we do. Without our service throughout the last year, many Alaskans would not have received food and other essential items they needed to survive. Our employees can be proud of that and many other accomplishments.”
Ukpeaġvik Iñupiat Corporation (UIC)
Despite the many challenges of 2020, UIC and its outstanding employees were able to take the COVID-19 crisis in stride and even excel. In fact, 2020 was the best year in UIC’s financial history with the company achieving record revenues and profits while also adding new companies and new business lines to its already thriving operations. In particular, throughout the pandemic, UIC’s Health and Safety Department has gone above and beyond to ensure the health and safety of our employees, clients, and shareholders, all while adhering to local, national, and global guidelines and safety standards. Relying on the lessons learned this last year, the Company remains optimistic and hopes for a much better 2021.
Usibelli Coal Mine
Despite the uncertainty brought on by COVID-19, Usibelli Coal Mine continued operations with minimal disruption due to the implementation of the CORESafety system and framework, as well as the comprehensive workforce protection plan. UCM had zero work-related injuries due to COVID-19 and had zero close contact transmissions of the disease. This allowed our team of employees to continue to produce coal used to provide heat and power for Interior Alaska homes and businesses, including hospitals, clinics, and military bases.
The Kuskokwim Corporation
During the course of operations, businesses face many different challenges. It is critical for a business to be diversified and nimble in order to navigate and survive such challenges. The pandemic has shown us that we can be more efficient in operations and embrace new technologies to get the work done.
Bristol Bay Native Corporation
During the COVID-19 pandemic, BBNC worked hard to persevere so that we could continue to support our communities and our people. We are proud to be a well-diversified company that is always moving, growing, adapting, and focusing on retaining a healthy cash flow. This allowed us to continue performing well and delivering for our shareholders and descendants by distributing items like personal protective equipment (PPE), cleaning supplies, food, and continuing to offer employment, training, and distribution payments. As tough as the past year has been, BBNC is reflecting upon everything we’ve learned about perseverance, innovation, being nimble, staying connected, and taking the lessons we’ve learned and applying them to a new way of thinking and doing business.
Early on, our Board and Leadership team recognized we needed to adjust our business strategy in order to remain nimble during these rapidly changing times. At Koniag, we don’t run from adverse climates, we’re used to finding our way through the stormy seas of the Kodiak region. Koniag relied on our Alutiiq value of resilience and our ability to adapt to rapidly changing environments to move forward and find innovative ways to expand throughout the pandemic. We added to our successful business lines by acquiring new businesses in our Koniag Energy and Water sector and purchasing the remaining ownership in our commercial IT subsidiary Open Systems Technologies. We found ways to build community and connection for both our employees and our Shareholders, hosting our first-ever virtual annual meeting. Our virtual events were so successful that we’re working on ways to continue connecting our Shareholders who live across the globe. Closer to home, we worked with our Kodiak Island regional communities to identify their needs during the height of the pandemic, delivering food assistance to Elders and others in need.
Everts Air Cargo & Everts Air Alaska
Everts Air’s response to the pandemic included the development of an aggressive company tracking and communication program, which also ended up including a comprehensive education guide. Ultimately, our immediate response to the pandemic ended up fulfilling the requirements of our Critical Infrastructure plan which we continue to facilitate and update regularly.
Goldbelt, Incorporated
Goldbelt embraced the work from home model and will continue with a hybrid model post-pandemic. Goldbelt was prepared for remote work by moving most processes online and was able to continue business operations without skipping a beat. Goldbelt learned that talent is everywhere. Removing the requirement to hire in a specific location has allowed Goldbelt to fill specialty positions with qualified professionals.
Great Northwest
Great Northwest dove into the challenge of creating and adapting a new level of safety protocols amidst continuously changing mandates and guidance. We were able to utilize digital ticketing systems for material hauling operations, eliminating the need of paper tickets changing hands. This new technology has continued to be utilized by government agencies where the comm infrastructure is adequate. Office employees were also able to work remotely, which Great Northwest will continue in some form. While in-person collaboration and communication can’t be replaced, the efficiency and flexibility of virtual meetings has proven to be highly productive amongst our teams.
Watterson Construction Co.
Increased utilization of digital collaborative tools makes everyone more efficient.
TDX (Tanadgusix) Corporation
Maintaining and preserving all current COVID-19 protocols to protect our employees, customers, and the public proved successful in sustaining us through the 2020 year. Working hard with all of our operating group we achieved a better than imagined overall results. We look to a strong recovery in 2021 but even more so in 2022.
Matanuska Electric Association
Members counted on us for critical power when they needed it most, while keeping employees safe. We increased communication, launching member email updates and DocuSign. We helped members experiencing hardship access funding for overdue bills to ease the cost burden for all. We adapted to at-home work: call wait times dropped and member satisfaction ratings increased.
One of the positives that our company has been able to take from the pandemic has been the use of technology to help connect us with our shareholders. Many within our shareholder base live outside of Alaska and we’ve been able to create more opportunities to directly engage with them through virtual meetings.
Three Bears Alaska
Our response now—after a year and a half of Covid—is much like our response when Covid first hit, only more so. We continue to be very creative in enlarging and strengthening our supply chain so that we can serve our fellow Alaskans with the products they want when and where they want. And we’re continually working to support and compensate our employees who’ve done amazing work and have proven over and over just how “essential” they are. We could not be prouder of our Three Bears Team. And it is this teamwork, this working together under stress, that has made Three Bears a stronger and better company over the last year and a half and that will make all of Alaska stronger and better in the long run.
Our work at the LRDR project has introduced our firm, and our people, on how much effort the government must expend to keep information away from our Countries enemies, who are constantly trying to hack into our systems. The Department of Defense spends billions of dollars, on an annual basis, on Cyber security efforts as well as Risk Management Frameworks (RMF). This field is constantly changing, and it is an effort that changes by the hour. As a result UNIT has upped our complete IT network to levels we have never seen before.
First National Bank Alaska
Over the course of a century, remaining relevant means embracing change and innovation. At First National, that philosophy is part of who we are today. Like many businesses, COVID-19 has given the bank an opportunity to reimagine the workplace. In 2020, many of our employees teleworked because of social distancing requirements. The bank has since come to learn that remote collaboration is possible. Teleworking—the hybrid model of working in the office and at home—can offer tremendous business benefits to the bank and flexibility for our employees. This model allowed First National to achieve its first priority-protecting the health and safety of customers and employees—without sacrificing efficiency and productivity. For the vast majority of customers, the bank’s transition to teleworking was seamless, with little effect on the high-level customer service Alaskans want and expect from First National. Yet, First National has also discovered our work seems to be more fluid and can be more inspiring when we are together in person. The bank is in the process of developing a refreshed approach, process, and procedure for establishing telework agreements with employees during the changing COVID environment. The protocols and mandates for social distancing during 2020 accelerated and strengthened our commitment to technology investment and providing enhanced online and mobile banking services to meet our customers’ changing needs. The constantly changing circumstances of the pandemic put a premium on the ability to adapt and be flexible in responding to those changes. As Alaska’s largest locally owned and operated bank, First National has always been able to respond quickly and the events of the last year and a half have only sharpened that skill.
Chugach Alaska Corporation
People are the heart and soul of Chugach Alaska Corporation (Chugach), from our 5,000 employees to the 2,700 shareholders we serve. The pandemic blurred the line between our employees’ professional and personal lives and reminded us that as leaders, we must adopt a holistic view and consider the “whole person” when it comes to supporting our people. As challenges emerged, our leaders demonstrated extra compassion, patience, flexibility, and innovation. We recognized our responsibility went well beyond keeping people safe from COVID-19 but also ensuring their well-being, happiness, and engagement. Over the past year, that included offering remote and/or flexible work arrangements, equipping our team members with home office equipment, holding virtual team-building events, hosting drive-by events, offering health and wellness programs, instituting support groups for parents, and asking for feedback along the way. Many of the employee engagement programs developed over the past year will continue long after the pandemic. We believe it’s not only the right thing to do for our people, but it is also sound business practice to implement policies that help our employees find balance in their lives. For our remote villages, we facilitated weekly Zoom meetings to connect us to each other and to state leadership and resources to share best practices to protect our most vulnerable. History shows how pandemics have devastated entire small communities, so our connection helped keep them safely protected.
Construction Machinery Industrial
Staying vigilant and utilizing virtual meetings within our company and manufacturers. A positive outcome has been building better communication.
Sitnasuak Native Corporation
Strong team-based leadership and collaboration across all subsidiaries was instrumental in successfully balancing the safety of staff with the operational performance during the COVID pandemic.
The challenges we faced as individuals and businesses since early 2020 have also turned the past year into one full of new opportunities and finding unique ways to connect, such as a virtual gaming tournament that brought together participants throughout Alaska and our first-ever digital annual report for members. More than anything else, these challenges reinforced our belief that it’s incumbent upon all of us to do everything in our power to make sure all Alaskans have access to a reliable, high-speed internet connection. A crisis turned into various other opportunities for growth and flexibility, and we’ve invested time and resources in making sure MTA can operate fully remote without missing a beat in terms of customer service and continued innovation. This includes building out state-of-the-art remote operations for our sales and customer service teams to ensuring a smart and sensible remote work policy to ensure safety remained at the forefront for both our employees and members. While no one could’ve predicted the extent of this recent crisis, our tremendous team kept its eye on the ball, and that’s what we’re doing as we move through 2021 and into the future. We will keep creating, keep adapting, keep innovating, keep building, keep growing, keep bringing Alaskans together, and keep moving forward.
Bering Straits Native Corporation
The company moved quickly to develop a comprehensive and appropriate response at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic driven by several core priorities: protect our people, protect our region, mitigate the spread of the virus, and safely run our operating companies. This led to development of the following protocols, which has helped BSNC deliver meaningful financial returns to its shareholders despite facing never-before-seen challenges: Implementing sanitization and social distancing protocols at all our operating locations. Migrating to work-from-home for most of our administrative staff, including investing in remote work capability. Enacting a cautious approach for occupancy levels in our hospitality and retail operations. Establishing a corporate-wide campaign to encourage and incentivize vaccines for all our employees. Implementing travel restrictions and enforcement of additional safety protocols for unavoidable travel. Adopting paid sick leave programs available under the CARES Act to pay employees for time off to get vaccinated, recover from any vaccine side effects, pay for missed work due to COVID-19 infection within their families, and for missed work due to school and daycare closures. Ensuring operating procedures are aligned with constantly evolving national, state, and local COVID-19 guidelines. We believe these measures have proved effective at reducing our business interruptions while also mitigating the spread of COVID-19.
Olgoonik Corporation
The pandemic revealed the grit and determination of our leadership and our employees all over the world. We found new ways to connect our employees and creative ways to continue being successful for our clients. One of our proudest achievements of 2020 was remaining whole as a corporation—we kept all of our employees on board and working, even through work slowdowns. And we have emerged from the pandemic with a work-ready workforce. Investing in your workforce always pays off.
Cruz Construction
We continue to approach COVID issues with balanced policies while always protecting the personal rights of our employees.
Arctic Slope Regional Corporation
We know the global pandemic isn’t fully behind us and wish for everyone’s safety and good health during this time.
Cape Fox Corporation
When we look back to where we have been to where we are now, we are proud of the way Cape Fox Corporation adapted to a changing environment. We showed a genuine unity of spirit and team resiliency that contributes to our success. Last year we changed our environment by going more digital with new websites for food ordering/delivery, retail options, and remote work environments. These are things that will remain as we look to the future. We also maintained the Cape Fox Team spirit through increased communications and philanthropy. We started a philanthropy program, Cape Fox Cares, to give back to our communities in more effective, efficient ways. We also created a weekly schedule of communicating with all the Cape Fox Team matters of importance that are informational and motivational. As we see life return to some normal, we are steadfast in learning from the lessons it has taught us, which were lessons in staying united during challenges and finding strength and resilience to continue forward in hope.