IT company's success buoys a Winnebago community
(Omaha World-Herald (NE) (KRT) Via Thomson Dialog NewsEdge) Aug. 27--WINNEBAGO, Neb. -- Tucked in the cornfields of rural Nebraska, on an Indian reservation where buffalo graze and deer run free, a grass-roots telecommunications and computer company is flourishing.
All Native Systems, which is owned by the Winnebago Indian Tribe of Nebraska and backed by parent company Ho Chunk Inc., is a small business expanding into a major player in the area of managed information technology services.
Among All Native Systems' clients are the U.S. Census Bureau, International Broadcasting Bureau and U.S. State Department, with which it has a $38 million contract related to Iraqi reconstruction efforts. It has another deal to install the first national criminal database for the Mexican government.
All Native Systems' performance has won recognition. The State Department nominated it for the department's annual Small Business of the Year Award. The U.S. Navy, another client, presented the company with a certificate of appreciation in May for its services after Hurricanes Ivan and Katrina.
Kathleen Piper, deputy district director of the U.S. Small Business Administration of Nebraska, said she has been amazed by the success and global efforts of the company.
Piper, who has assisted All Native Systems on federal contracts since 2001, said the company has experienced tremendous growth over the seven years it has been in business. In 2005, the company reported more than $13 million in revenues, compared with an estimated $5.6 million the previous year.
With large-scale projects, including one that sought to identify more than 400 murders that took place in the Mexican border city of Ciudad Juarez, the company is a great example of a small business making its presence known in Nebraska and around the world, Piper said.
"It's kind of fascinating that this little firm in the middle of nowhere is doing all this major stuff," she said of All Native Systems, which started in January 1999 with only three employees.
"I'm not sure if this is some kind of cultural, spiritual quest or if it's how we all operate in the Midwest, but they are hardworking and understated with the attitude of, 'If we don't do it, who will?'"
The company's "quiet" success has resulted in economic progress for Winnebago, Piper said. "Any time a community thrives, it helps us all."
Terry Mogensen, the company's chief executive, said boosting the community's prosperity is among All Native Systems' business goals. The larger purpose has contributed to the company's success, he said.
Working for the greater good of Winnebago has motivated the company's 146 employees to work even harder, he said.
Business development manager Jake Moore said that of 15 employees at All Native Systems' two Nebraska offices, seven are Winnebago Indians. The company strives to hire qualified Winnebagos and other American Indians, he said.
"When you look at the difference between us and a lot of major businesses out there, you realize that our shareholders aren't the most influential, rich people in the world. They are the everyday man walking on the street here (in Winnebago)," he said.
The unemployment rate in Winnebago was approximately 66 percent in 1994, the same year Ho Chunk Inc. was formed. The town now has an unemployment rate of about 10 percent, Moore said, which, while still much higher than the rest of the state, is a substantial decrease from the mid-'90s.
With a population of 1,400 people, 80 percent of whom are members of the Winnebago Tribe, the town struggled with poverty for years.
"We are trying to provide and improve quality of life locally," said Annette Hamilton, vice president of operations for Ho Chunk Inc. "We're saying that in order to have culture, you don't have to be poor."
About 22 percent of the corporation's 524 employees are American Indian, while 15 percent of that 22 percent are Winnebago Indian, she said.
Lance Morgan, a Winnebago Tribe member and lawyer who graduated from Harvard Law School, created Ho Chunk Inc., which is owned by the Winnebago Tribe. The $100 million corporation oversees 13 businesses categorized under four divisions: retail and distribution; construction and housing; marketing; and media and government contracting.
All Native Systems is the sole company under the corporation's government contracting division. It was started in order to provide information technology assistance to other Ho Chunk companies, which include AllNative.com, a marketing and merchandising subsidiary.
Eventually, the company expanded to provide services for federal agencies and private companies. The company now has as many as 15 active federal contracts with seven clients, Mogensen said.
All Native Systems has come a long way since it started, and its officers believe it will continue to grow.
"We are working to make All Native Systems the largest Nebraska-based defense contractor by the year 2010," he said.
Piper said she wants to see other companies go from small to big, as All Native Systems did, and she encourages firms to copy the company as it becomes more successful.
"Success breeds success," she said. "Their record speaks for itself, and the sky's the limit for them."
Copyright (c) 2006, Omaha World-Herald, Neb.
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Business News.
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