Tribal business is specialty of Oklahoma company

York Electronic Systems is American Indian-owned, but its president says real key to winning jobs is good service
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Wednesday, December 26, 2012

BROKEN ARROW, Okla.—Oklahoma has one of the greatest concentrations of American Indian tribes in the nation, and tribal businesses are an important vertical for York Electronic Systems, which is based here.

“We specialize in education, health care and houses of worship and we do commercial and industrial,” said Jennifer Jezek, president of the integration firm founded by her parents in 1984. “We also specialize in Native American businesses,” which range from schools to casinos.

Her parents retired in 2012. Since Jezek took over, the business—of which about 95 percent of the projects involve fire work—is now 100 percent female-owned and also 100 percent Native American-owned, she told Security Systems News. She’s of Cherokee heritage on her mother’s side.

York Electronic, which has 37 employees, also has an Indian-owned business certification from the Cherokee Nation, Jezek said. Such TERO (Tribal Employment Rights Office) certified firms receive preferential treatment when it comes to Housing Authority of the Cherokee Nation and Cherokee Nation Purchasing Department bid processes, according to the Cherokee Nation website.

But Jezek said being a minority-owned business is no guarantee that her company, a Gamewell-FCI distributor, will win a job. York Electronic’s quality service is what makes the difference, she said.

“A lot of people ask me about having a minority status as part of your business, if it is the end-all and be-all,” she said. “And I’ll tell them it might open a couple of doors, but all of the work that you do to develop relationships and represent your company and provide great service is all absolutely required. There is no magic handout, but it certainly helps businesses that have a minority initiative in one way or another—it makes it easier for them to do business with us.”

Oklahoma’s Native American population exceeds 500,000, second only to California, which has nearly 690,000 Native American residents, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2011 American Community Survey, which tracks American Indian and Alaska Native populations. There are nearly 40 federally recognized tribes in Oklahoma.

Jezek said those tribes “represent their own communities with hospitals and schools and with community welfare [organizations], and of course Indian gaming is legal in Oklahoma, so we have something on the order of 150 casinos [in the state].”

“We do some of everything,” she continued. “We’ve done tribal hospital work, tribal clinic work, tribal school work, and then we’ve done casino work.”

For example, she said, this past summer York Electronic did a fire system project in a 150-room hotel with a casino gaming floor.

Another project in the summer was a fire system overhaul of a tribal school, Jezek said.

“That was a really cool project because it was multiple sites networked together,” she said. She said the school “had extremely dated systems that were really disparate in very old buildings. … They built some new facilities, and their goal was to bring everything up to code and find a way for those facilities to communicate together.”

In addition to good service, the fact that York Electronic is an integration company is another key to winning jobs, Jezek said.

“Oklahoma is really diverse as far as types of businesses, but all our clients have that same need of a high level of expertise and experience. … They want local service and they like that we can offer them turnkey solutions,” she said. “So whether our client is a general contractor or is an end user, they have one throat to choke, so to speak. They don’t have to have 10 different service providers to support and secure their facility.”