By Scott Swingle, U. S. Small Business Administration Northern Area Manager (Fairbanks, AK)
AGVIQ LLC Two hundred miles north of the Arctic Circle and 4,359 miles from Washington, D.C., Point Hope, Alaska, is the oldest continuously-settled Native American site in North America. This community of approximately 900 residents is home to the Tikigaq people, who in 1971, under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, established the Tikigaq Corp. With 1,000 Inupiaq shareholders, the corporation provides arctic construction, rural and urban environmental expertise, and logistics services experience. AGVIQ LLC, which was later created as an environmental subsidiary of Tikigaq Corp. and qualifies as a minority owned (Native American) small business through the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) 8(a) Program, partners with clients to provide a wide variety of environmental services with a commitment to proven technical solutions, health and safety, and quality. However, as a small, Native Alaskan Village Corporation, AGVIQ’s ability to develop business outside of Alaska was limited. That changed in 2002, when Tikigaq Corp. formalized an SBA-approved mentor-protégé relationship with CH2M Hill. The mentor-protégé relationship was approved by SBA on July 25, 2002, making the start of a successful six-year partnership between AGVIQ and CH2M Hill. The business elements and supporting structure of the relationship became the foundation for three SBA-approved joint ventures between AGVIQ (as the 8(a) concern) and CH2M Hill (as the joint venture partner). Each joint venture was strategically developed over the past five years for its unique contracting opportunity, and each has benefited both firms as well as their U.S. Navy clients. “This partnership between AGVIQ and CH2M Hill has been very successful, delivering more than $191 million of high-quality work for our clients,” says Ray Tyler, Director of Navy Programs, CH2M Hill. The completed projects included 120 individual work orders to date and more than 400,000 hours of work with impressive safety statistics. Through the formal SBA mentor protégé program, CH2M Hill mentors AGVIQ in the areas of financial management, business development, business planning, project delivery and technology transfer. The program is intended to improved AGVIQ’s overall efficiency and competitiveness by reducing operational costs, enhancing the performance of environmental engineering and remediation services, developing marketing programs, expanding AGVIQ’s federal and commercial markets and transferring selected CH2M Hill technologies. The formalized partnership has been instrumental for both firms, and each firm looks after the well-being of the other. For example, rather than engaging in a proprietary struggle, there is open sharing of information and resources that are in the best interests of both the business partnership and mentoring relationship, which ultimately services the best interests of the client. This approach enables the team to deliver client work seamlessly while meeting client needs in an efficient way from a cohesive team. In addition, through the mentoring and joint-venture relationships, the AGVIQ-CH2M Hill team can self-perform work by drawing on a large pool of resources available to both partners. To date, more than 70 percent of the available labor efforts have been self-performed. AGVIQ has also benefited in all areas of the mentoring relationship. Receiving guidance on establishing the policies, processes and procedures necessary to compete for government contracts has been instrumental in AGVIQ’s success. With a staff of 35employees, AGVIQ has enriched its skills and professional development opportunities through its exposure to CH2M Hill technology and experts. Health and safety continues to be the primary focus for both firms, and the mentoring relationship supports this by leveraging CH2M Hill’s Target Zero safety commitment culture and training programs.
Carl Waters, a Service Disabled Veteran, is living proof that with the right attitude and a lot of hard work, almost anything is possible. After losing his arm during a long and distinguished career as a fire chief in the U.S. Air Force, Carl wanted to try something different. In 2001 Carl entered the world of construction in the Anchorage area. Carl’s father and uncles had been in the construction business in Maryland for several years and were a tremendous help mentoring him along the way. He started by replacing doors, locks and other small-scale jobs to make a name for himself and build a good reputation. Although Alaska is a vast place, the population is relatively small, which proved to be a challenge for “the new guy” trying to get a foot in the door. “Many contractors have had a lifetime to build relationships throughout Alaska, I have only been here since 1992, which presented a difficult challenge getting started,” said Carl Waters. Shortly after starting his business, Carl came to the U.S. Small Business Administration looking for ways to build and strengthen his business. The SBA’s 8(a) business development program was a good fit for him, and the timing was excellent. “The SBA team here in Alaska has really stepped up to help. They hosted ‘meet the agency’ events that provided excellent opportunities for us to meet different contracting officers and agencies, giving us face-to-face time to sell what our company could do. Getting these relationships started was a tremendous help,” said Carl Waters. In May of 2012, Carl’s Company, Ancor, Inc., graduated from the 8(a) program as a solid and proven business that now employs up to 40 people seasonally. Ancor, Inc. now performs civil dirt work, concrete and builds buildings. Carl has great pride in his current project with Fort Richardson, a power plant which uses trash from the base to power its generators that produce energy for the base. Through hard work and dedication, evident in an average 80 hour work week since starting his business in 2001, Carl has built solid business relationships as well as strong community ties. “Those who are more fortunate should be giving back and helping others. We support the community in many ways including helping local schools, Special Olympics, fire fighters’ associations and the food bank to mention a few,” said Carl. He also makes time to be a strong role model for Alaska’s youth as a softball coach. Starting when his three daughters and one son were younger, he found great satisfaction working with kids, teaching them softball, team and life skills. He continues to coach high school teams in Alaska and has taken some of the players on college recruiting tours to the lower 48. Alaska is truly a better place because of people like Carl Waters, who works hard and makes a difference for his family and community. For more information on the U.S. Small Business Administration Programs and services visit www.sba.gov or call 800-755-7074.