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Alaska Natives Strike It Rich in Telecoms Deal

By Yereth Rosen, Reuters,
Thursday 28 December 2000, 7:13 PM ET

ANCHORAGE (Reuters) - Special payments from one of the most successful Alaska native corporations were distributed on Thursday, putting an extra $45,000 into the pockets of most shareholders.

Cook Inlet Region Inc. (CIRI) paid out $314 million to its nearly 7,000 shareholders, natives from the south central portion of Alaska. The typical CIRI member holds 100 shares in the corporation.

The big payout was the result of CIRI's decision to convert its partnerships in VoiceStream Wireless Corp (NasdaqNM:VSTR - news). of Bellevue, Washington, into stock and cash.

The Federal Communications Commission (news - web sites) approved that request earlier this month. After getting FCC approval, CIRI's board voted to return much of the proceeds to shareholders this year and next year.

CIRI officials believe this is the largest single payout from a regional native corporation, corporate spokeswoman Alison Knox said on Thursday.

The board believed that the situation warranted the payout, Knox said. They felt that we were at a point now where we could make the big distribution and still have enough for reinvestment, she said.

CIRI shareholders have already received their quarterly dividend of $6.20 per share, she said.

CIRI is one of 13 regional for-profit corporations that were established by the 1971 Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act. The regional corporations, along with smaller village corporations, are owned by Alaska Eskimos, Indians and Aleuts.

Ciri Pursues Diverse Business Interests

The corporations generally own large amounts of land and many of them derive their incomes from natural resource extraction. Some regional and village corporations have made large cash distributions in the past, pulling some shareholders out of poverty.

CIRI, headquartered in Anchorage and representing Natives in the Anchorage area, has pursued diverse business interests in industries including telecommunications, oil-field services and Lower 48 state commercial real estate.

Thursday's payout is likely to send ripple effects through the region, said Neal Fried, an economist with the state Department of Labor.

Three hundred million dollars is a significant amount of cash in our economy, he said.

The payout is slightly less than Anchorage's total construction payroll for 1999, and slightly more than the city's total health-care industry payroll, he said.

Fried said the large payout and its concentration in a relatively small population is likely to fuel big-ticket purchases, such as real estate and durable goods.

Already, businesses are targeting CIRI shareholders.

CIRI shareholders. It's easy to use your dividend $$$ to buy the house of your dreams, said one advertisement placed by a mortgage company in Thursday's Anchorage Daily News.