Alaska firm finds success in Irvine

Published January 2019

By Peter J. Brennan | From: Orange County Business Journal

An Alaska-based firm is seeing its construction-management firm do quite well in Irvine, California. Ahtna Design-Build Inc.’s revenue spiked to $12.5 million for the 12-month period ended June, up 510 percent from the same period two years ago. That growth places it at No. 2 on the Business Journal’s annual list of fastest-growing companies with revenue between $10 million and $100 million.

“We’ve been very successful in winning government contract awards,” said President Craig O’Rourke of the Irvine unit.

It’s a subsidiary of Ahtna Inc., one of 13 Alaska Native regional corporations formed under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971. Perhaps the best known in this group is the Arctic Slope Regional Corp., the largest Alaska Native-owned corporation, with revenues over $2 billion a year and oil services and operations along the Alaska northern slope, where it owns over 5 million acres of land.

Ahtna provides an array of construction and maintenance services across many industries, including oil and gas pipelines. The for-profit company employs 1,300 worldwide and reported $238 million in companywide revenue last year. It also controls about 1.77 million acres in Alaska, where it’s based in Glennallen, a town 200 miles north of Anchorage. The company has over 2,000 shareholders, the majority of whom are of Ahtna Athabascan descent. Its profits support the Ahtna Native people with job opportunities, vocational training and scholarships as well as contributing to preserving their land and traditional culture.

O’Rourke, who isn’t a shareholder, said employees don’t have to be shareholders, but the company has “a strong Ahtna Native hiring preference,” particularly for shareholders, descendants and spouses.

From Alaska to Irvine

The Ahtna Design-Build unit is a certified small business capable of performing a multitude of construction, engineering and environmental services across the U.S. The unit employs 18 people and also has offices in Sacramento and one near Monterey, with plans to open a San Diego office. Its Orange County employee count is eight, double the number from 2016.

Ahtna opened its local office in 2010 because it wanted a California presence, said O’Rourke, who joined a year later as vice president and was named president in 2013. “We didn’t really hit the ground running,” said O’Rourke, who has more than 25 years of experience in the construction industry. “We’re a relatively new company.” As a certified Alaska Native-owned business, the company enjoys certain contract preferences, he said.

Still, the company had to prove it was capable by managing smaller projects in the initial years, such as a treatment plant at Camp Pendleton, O’Rourke said. “Once you start demonstrating that kind of performance, you can move up the level of complexity,” said O’Rourke, who was born and raised in Newport Beach and is a graduate of University of California Los Angeles and holds a master’s degree in environmental sciences from California State University Fullerton.

Demolition, dredging

Its recent projects include demolishing abandoned structures for the U.S. Forest Service in the San Gabriel Mountains and for the U.S. Navy at 29 Palms Marine Corps Base; dredging of Morro Bay for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers; and conducting regular operations and maintenance inspections of hangar facilities at the former Tustin Marine Corps Air Station.

Ahtna has qualified for the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Business Development plan, allowing it to win set-aside contracts such as demolition and building restoration projects for Navy facilities in San Diego and for refrigeration upgrades of 30 military commissaries.

The company is also performing work as a specialty subcontractor for various large general contractors for new building construction projects at LA Metro, the Oceanwide Plaza project near Staples Center and at Vandenberg Air Force Base. O’Rourke expects the rapid growth to continue because Ahtna has qualified to bid on government contracts that total about $2.5 billion.

The company may well be on next year’s list again. It’s projected to exceed $30 million in revenue by end of the year.

“We hope to win more than our competitors,” O’Rourke said.