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Unalaskan takes over local operations of Ounalashka Corp. as CEO heads off island

Hope McKenney

An Unalaska local will soon be heading up local operations for the island’s Native corporation. The Ounalashka Corp. announced last month that its CEO, Chris Salts, will be leaving the island and Denise Rankin will take on a local leadership role.

“She's going to be the go-to person in Unalaska,” Salts said. “Denise has a really extensive background in community boards, school board, the clinic and the tribe — she was the Qawalangin Tribal President for a time, and it's just natural that she takes on that role. She already does.”

As for Salts, he's moving to Anchorage after nearly 20 years in Unalaska. In Anchorage, he said, he’ll facilitate the development of the corporation’s geothermal project and other partnerships, and aims to increase OC’s presence in state and national politics. Salts said he will still act as CEO and Rankin’s new job title is still being determined.

In large part, Salts said the change is because — about a year ago — OC decided to start a company called OC Environmental to clean up World War II contamination around Unalaska.

“It's an environmental remediation company,” Salts said. “We are targeting Unalaska, which has decades of cleanup. And by decades, I mean, it's kind of a full-time concerted effort of cleanup of pollution from World War II. And a lot of that business takes place in Anchorage.”

While most of the cleanup will happen on Amaknak Island, Salts said he will be helping square away the administrative and financial aspects of the new venture from the Anchorage office.

The company was started through the U.S. Small Business Administration’s 8(a) program, which is designed to help firms owned and controlled by socially and economically disadvantaged individuals compete in the American economy.

“The 8(a) program gives you a competitive edge in federal contracting for a period of about 10 years,” Salts said. “After that, the idea is that you are self-sufficient and you can go out and just generally compete for the same contracts. It gives small businesses a chance to grow and compete with the big guys, basically.”

OC received approval for the program several months ago and is currently bidding on its first environmental remediation job, according to Salts. He wouldn’t disclose what that project is, but said the process will give them experience and a competitive edge when going after bigger federal contracts.

While he works to support that program and others from the state hub, Rankin — OC’s property and leasing manager — will take the leadership role of operations in Unalaska and will be the on-site manager.

Salts said they’re still defining her position, but Rankin will be given a different title as she takes on her new role.

Hope McKenney is a public radio news director, reporter, producer and host based in the Aleutian Islands, Alaska.
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