Portions of this article were reprinted courtesy of Alaska Business Monthly from the April 2010 issue, pg. 82. Photos by Chris Arend & Article by Tracy Kalytiak
"Twenty years ago, it seemed Chugach Alaska Corp. was experiencing one financial catastrophe after another. The regional corporation for the Prince William Sound area was created in 1971, encompassed five Native villages and the cities of Seward and Whittier, Valdez and Cordova. It busied itself with minor construction and maintenance on the trans-Alaska oil pipeline, as well as timber and fish processing.
Its troubles began with the Exxon Valdez, in March 1989, spilled 11 million gallons of oil into the sound. Then, timber prices plummeted after the corporation built a more than $20 million sawmill in Seward in 1990. A blaze at the company’s large Orca canning facility on Labor Day that year destroyed the plant’s loading dock and freezing plant after a massive pink salmon run that summer. The company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. At the time, it had revenue of less than $10 million and net losses of nearly $64 million. Fast-forward two decades. Now Chugach Alaska Corp. is ranked among the state’s Top Corporate 100 because its decision to delve into government contracting opened lucrative financial vistas for the company.
Chugach Alaska billed more than $1 billion last year - up from $950 million the preceding year. It employed 6,604 people, with 1,031 employees in Alaska, as of December 2009. Uhart helped steer CAC through its lengthy recovery and onto solid financial ground after former CEO Mike Brown recruited Uhart in late 1993.
“I met everyone who worked for the company, memorized all their names within the first couple of days, that’s how small it was,” Uhart remembered of his earliest days with CAC. Chugach Alaska is looking toward involving itself in projects associated with Alaska gas and spur lines, projects in the West Pacific region of Asia and diversifying into markets that are not traditional for the company.
Uhart envisions the company potentially launching environmentally responsible guided tourism opportunities for the 250,000 acres it owns in the Prince William Sound region. “We’re cautious because of the value and the nature of those lands,” Uhart said. Also, he said, CAC is exploring ways to bring broadband Internet services to areas that are underserved, providing more opportunities for shareholders in remote areas to participate in contracts. Now that it has put its financial woes behind it, Chugach is now looking at enhancing the benefit programs it provides to shareholders - providing dividends, training, scholarships, internships, apprenticeships and shareholder development programs."