By Lee Allen
Say “Quail Run” and most people would conjure up an image of feathered little critters with top-knots scurrying across the desert. Others might envision the myriad of similarly-named schools, apartment complexes, golf courses and RV parks.
Few would call to mind Quail Run Building Materials in Phoenix, but that’s in the process of changing now that the company is Native American majority-owned.
The manufacturer of cold-formed steel building components has been quietly going about its business for some 32 years now, beginning as a stucco and drywall supply firm that also offered a custom brake metal shop. As the company grew, it incorporated the manufacture of furring and framing components until it morphed into a specialty manufacturer of light-gauge, cold-formed, steel framing components and became “The Southwest’s leading provider of commercial steel framing,” according to a company press release.
In January 2013, Quail Run entered into a partnership with the Ak-Chin Indian Community that made the firm 51 percent Native American majority-owned. Under that aegis, Quail Run’s customers get to take advantage of opportunities to qualify for such preferential programs such as the Buy Indian Act, Department of Defense special consideration, and SBA programs. “We couldn’t be happier with our decision to team up with the Ak Chin Indian Community,” says CEO Kyle Clark. “That affiliation has enabled us to more than double our sales, servicing more of the country and allowing us to explore new opportunities for additional revenue in markets we weren’t in before the partnership. In an industry coping with a labor shortage, having Native American community members as part of our workforce has been a positive. They have no trouble putting the team first and the individual second.”
The small Ak-Chin community south of Phoenix speaks Akimel O’odham, Tohono O’odham, and Hia-Ced O’odham. They also speak the language of business in the form of Harrah’s Ak-Chin Casino. These desert peoples have been building in one form or another since the Maricopa Indian Reservation was established in 1912. Developing buildings is nothing new, although galvanized steel formed with a high percentage of recycled materials and delivered via a pickup truck, semi-truck, or rail car is contemporary.
Former Ak Chin Chairman Louis Manuel (2009-2015) is executive vice president of the company. “About the time I got onto tribal council, the economy was headed down, so we started looking at opportunities to increase tribal revenue, to go above and beyond where we had already been,” Manuel says. “When things went south, everybody else kind of took a step back while we took a step forward figuring when things started to rebound, there would be a lot of rebuilding. And while a lot of tribal communities are involved with lumber, there’s not a lot of involvement with steel. We felt it gave us a bit more opportunity on a larger scale.”
And based on gross revenue over the last five years, they were spot on. “The chart is moving consistently upward,” he says. “When we first purchased the company, our revenue baseline quickly increased by about 12 percent. Then the graph moved upward by 25 percent. This year we’re looking at maybe doubling last year’s growth.”
Steel and aluminum are in the news because of the current tariff fight.
“We’re still competitive, especially if we’re working tribe-to-tribe because we get a bit more in the way of tax breaks,” Manuel says. “We’re also looking at the possibility of establishing a foreign trade zone and that would be huge for us and for tribes in the Southwest in general. Work has already been done on that and tribal council is now debating the issue. The trade zone would be a part of our existing industrial park, if approved.”
Quail Run has a manufacturing facility in Phoenix, off reservation, but a second site has been identified within the park, which would offer another opportunity for expansion. “Right now, we have steel framing and whatnot,” Manuel says. “But we might also want to add drywall, HVAC, and other construction services. The council has that on the agenda and by the end of the year we should have some kind of direction on that. If given the go-ahead, it could be done and completed by late 2019.”
The second site also would allow introduction of an educational component to train skilled labor to bring more tribal members into industry certification compliance. The staff of roughly 50 workers is about 30 percent tribal hires.
Other entities are starting to include Quail Run (a member in good standing with the Arizona Small Business Association) in their discussions and Manuel says that tribes could be the next revenue generator for the state of Arizona—economic development by way of partnership moving forward.
“Now that tribes have a bit more financial stability from casino revenue, they are able to sustain themselves better and there are more outside entities coming to them than before. By working together and using the various services and products available among the state’s 22 recognized tribes, we could knock down the state’s budget deficit and generate revenue for all concerned,” Manuel says.
In the interim, housing is always a big issue in Indian Country and Quail Run hopes to be part of that equation too. “Even though lumber has always been a big part of Indian housing, we’re advocating consideration of steel framing with its recycled content, trying to create more linkage with other tribes and outside business interests.”
With Quail Run as a successful business poised for even further success—on the cusp of being a shining star for the Ak Chin tribe—Manuel says: “We have the casino, the golf course, the airport and industrial park as well as our farming, which is huge and defines us as a tribal community in the Southwest. Now we’re going forward and looking for other expansion opportunities.” ♦