“We have 20 contracts in negotiations right now, ranging from $900,000 up to $25 million,” says Doyle Lowry, CEO of the Susanville Indian Rancheria’s Four Tribes.
As the CEO of Four Tribes Construction Services, a general contracting firm owned by the Susanville Indian Rancheria (SIR) in California, Doyle Lowry, an SIR Native, oversees tens of millions of dollars in federal construction jobs.
In fact, 100 percent of Four Tribes’ work is with the federal government, which is why the construction company is headquartered in Maryland. “We need to be near the decision makers,” Lowry explains of the Tribe’s coast-to-coast wingspan.
In 2018, Four Tribes signed more than $40 million in federal construction contracts. 2019 saw brand-new construction projects ranging from $500,000 to more than $20 million, including a $12 million project refurbishing roads at Arlington National Cemetery. “It has really been a great way to create revenue for the Tribe and fund social programs that help our people,” Lowry says.
Even 2020 has been fruitful for Four Tribes. “The good news is we are considered an essential business. We don’t do anything outside the federal jobs market — the federal government, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Marines, different federal agencies,” Lowry says. “We have 20 contracts in negotiations right now, ranging from $900,000 up to $25 million,” Lowry shares.
The Tribal enterprise is quickly expanding its presence in California and Arizona, largely through work at Air Force bases, Lowry says.
Four Tribes’ first client was the Army Corps of Engineers in South Carolina. It built a gravel parking lot and remodeled a secure facility at Joint Base Charleston to the tune of $800,000. “In the construction world, you live and die on your reputation, so you gotta do that first one right,” he says.
After that initial success, contracts started rolling in regularly. The Corps remains Lowry’s largest client today, and business with the agency continues to flourish in 2020.
This federal contracting formula has worked so well that the SIR Tribe has developed six more Tribal 8(a) companies since Lowry launched Four Tribes in 2010, including IT, personnel and environmental businesses.
Four Tribes is also currently expanding from just Four Tribes Construction, formed about 10 years, and Four Tribes Enterprises, which launched in 2018, to add a new company, Four Tribes Civil Construction. “Civil is more like roads, sewer lines on drains,” Lowry explains. “We haven’t actually got our 8(a) yet. That will entail larger civil jobs like roads, highways, maybe dam work, stuff like that.”
While it sounds like all smooth sailing, it wasn’t easy getting the point of winning high-dollar contracts and expanding with more 8(a)s. Lowry admits his Tribe did not know how to get into the federal contracting arena at first. “We spent three years trying to figure it out. You have to jump through a lot of hoops,” some of which can be quite scary for Tribes, says Lowry.
“Sovereign immunity is a big issue. The federal government won’t contract with you if you have total sovereign immunity,” so he advises hiring good lawyers to meet this challenge and structure firewalls to protect your Tribe.
However, if you are willing to adhere to specific requirements set by the U.S, government, he says federal contracting is very profitable, very fulfilling.
“There is so much work out there. I am surprised more Tribes don’t do this,” Lowry says, hoping to encourage other Tribes to take that first unsteady but thrilling step toward more economic empowerment.