John Baily wears many hats.
He is the CEO of Tigua Inc., which oversees the Ysleta del Sur Pueblo’s various business ventures.
Since he took the job five years ago with the intent of breaking into the federal contracting market, Tigua Inc.’s revenue has grown from $7 million to more than $40 million.
Baily is also president of the El Paso chapter of the Association of the United States Army, or AUSA, a non-profit that advocates for soldiers. Those who have worked with Baily say he has been a key player in the effort to stave off further cuts at Fort Bliss while wearing another hat, as chair of the Armed Forces Division of the Greater El Paso Chamber of Commerce.
So it’s a little surprising to learn that Baily, who is 50, has been in El Paso less than six years. El Paso is the first place he’s ever worked and lived full time outside of his hometown, Colorado Springs.
“We used to talk about Colorado Springs being one of the most friendly places you could be. This is like night and day different. El Paso is probably one of the friendliest places I have ever been,” Baily said. “I am also a golfer, so I love the year round golf.”
Baily is also a family man. He’s been married for 26 years and has five children: Eoin, Brighid, Padraic, Molly and Morgan. Baily and his wife are proud of their Irish heritage and adopted the Gaelic spellings for their first three children. They stopped at Molly.
“We looked at the Gaelic spelling of Molly and thought, ‘None of us are going to be able to spell it.’ It’s like 20 letters long,” Baily said.
Two of his children are attending college in El Paso. The oldest is a zoologist in Colorado Springs and his younger children are in school here.
Before joining Tigua Inc., Baily headed the Alaskan tribal corporation Aleut Management Services, which is headquartered in Colorado Springs. He was recruited to El Paso by the Ysleta del Sur Pueblo to do here what he had done for the Alaskan tribal corporation: grow revenue and build its federal contracting business.
Tigua Inc.’s revenues had come mostly from selling lubricants, transporting oil, selling tobacco and running a convenience store. It was established in 2008 as the tribe’s economic development corporation. It does not oversee the Tiguas’ adobe-style Speaking Rock Entertainment Center.
When the state closed the former casino to gambling in 2001, the tribe lost a substantial source of revenue. But government contracts have helped create a reliable source of income for the tribe, Baily said.
He sat down with El Paso Inc. in his Tigua Inc. office in the Mission Valley and talked about the tribe’s latest business ventures, preventing new cuts at Fort Bliss and helping El Paso businesses hire soldiers.
Q: When you first became CEO of Tigua Inc., you said you wanted to get into government contracting. How is that going?
It’s been fabulous. We started with zero government contracts, and we are sitting right now with 20 contracts nationwide.
Because we are tribally owned, we get Small Business Administration privileges.
Q: Contracts set aside for minority-owned businesses.
Yes. It provides an opportunity for us to earn money that is given back for the welfare of the tribe.
Q: What is the value of the contracts?
Tigua Inc. as a whole finished last year with over $40 million in revenue. Contract-wise we probably finished close to $20 million. We’ve seen a ton of growth over the last five years.
We now have contracts that go coast to coast and border to border. We are in California and Washington, D.C., and as far north as Minnesota and as far south as West Palm Beach, Florida.
Q: How does that benefit tribal members?
We employ quite a few tribal members. But the other thing that we do is what we earn profit-wise goes back to the tribe in dividends. They’re able to use that to support programs.
Q: What are some examples of the contracts Tigua Inc. has?
We do the facility maintenance for the Harvey W. Wiley Federal Building in College Park, Maryland, where Food and Drug Administration offices are located and they do food testing.
Right across the street we do the same for the building where ATF (Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives) does forensic work.
We do the grounds maintenance at Fort McCoy. We also have the Sam Nunn Federal Center building in Atlanta, Georgia, which is the second largest building in the GSA (General Services Administration) inventory.
Q: How many does Tigua Inc. employ?
About 220 nationwide.
Q: And here in El Paso?
Right around 50 employees.
Q: What else are you doing to increase revenue for the pueblo?
We are growing our smoke shop. Starting in September, we will have a line of wine that will be Tigua branded.
We bought a trailer out at Fort Bliss. It sits in the commissary parking lot, and we sell flags, pins, glasses, hats and tribal wares.
Q: What’s next?
We’re going to start focusing on telecommunication and IT, especially in the military world. That’s one of our big growth opportunities.
Q: What specifically?
It could be things like doing database management and back office operations for the military.
Working for the tribe has been a wonderful opportunity for me and my family.
Q: How many members does AUSA have in El Paso?
AUSA has been in El Paso for at least 30 years, and we are one of the larger AUSA chapters, probably among the top four. We have about 1,200 individual members and about 90 corporate members.
Q: How did the growth of Fort Bliss, from roughly 9,000 soldiers in 2005 to more than 30,000, impact membership?
We grew quite a bit for six years; and then sequestration and the budget cuts began, and we have seen a decline in our membership across the board for the entire association.
We are at about 80,000 members nationwide right now, and we were at about 120,000 members at one point in time. It’s been hard with the force reductions.
Q: What about in El Paso?
We’ve seen a drop this year. Really it is the first time in four years that we’ve been under 1,500.
Q: What does AUSA do in El Paso?
Our tagline is that we are the voice for the soldier and support for their family. One of the big things we do is advocacy. Soldiers in uniform can’t raise concerns to Congress, so we take those issues to Capitol Hill – things like pay cuts. One of our big wins recently was helping to restore the military’s tuition assistance.
Locally, we try to help soldiers any way we can. There are times that soldiers just need support. Maybe they need financial assistance or help connecting to the right people and organizations in the community.
We have also done things like help a soldier get home because there is a death in their family and they cannot afford a plane ticket.
We also run programs for soldiers’ families. They are serving right along with the soldier. We do training for spouses about how to interact with the military and get around on post. A lot of times spouses want to know where they can volunteer and get involved.
Q: Like Acronyms 101?
(Laughs) Yes. You get to find out that ACS stands for Army Community Service and other things like that.
You’ll get soldiers coming in who are looking for information about school districts and places to live. One of the things we find with younger, junior enlisted soldiers is that they are sometimes coming in with a spouse who they married at their last duty station, has maybe never left their family, and have heard rumors about El Paso.
They get here and experience culture shock, so they “hibernate.” They get on post and never get off. We hold events to get them out into the community.
El Paso is one of the friendliest communities I have ever been in and one of the best supporters of the military anywhere. It is just getting those soldiers and spouses to understand that people in this community will do anything for them.
Fort Bliss is definitely a reach-out-to-the-community post. It is probably one of the most open, community-oriented posts I have ever seen in the Army.
Q: What are your goals for AUSA in El Paso?
We definitely want to increase our membership. It is much easier to go into Congress and talk to them when you have 100,000 members or more and we don’t.
We have a big job fair coming up. We really try to help soldiers get into a job here in El Paso when they leave their position in the Army. Our goal would be to keep every soldier that is leaving the Army in El Paso. It is a big deal for us.
We are working to do a financial training class for young soldiers and also want to do an orientation for spouses, taking them around to key places in El Paso.
Q: Fort Bliss is losing 1,200 soldiers over the next two years as part of an Army reduction plan that is impacting posts nationwide. Is there any consolation?
Yes. We could have lost 16,000 soldiers. That was the original worst-case scenario estimate for a post of our size.
When the Army listening session was held in El Paso, me, Gus Rodriguez and Chuck Harre, who are also with AUSA, as well as Tom Thomas, the El Paso-based civilian aide to the secretary of the Army, gave a presentation to Army leadership about why they would want to keep everything here in El Paso.
Q: What was your strategy to reduce the impact?
One part of it was to talk about what is at Fort Bliss. Since 2005, they’ve spent upwards of $7 billion at Fort Bliss to expand the post. Why would you reduce 16,000 soldiers when you have state-of-the-art everything out here? We are the only post where you can shoot missiles to pistols.
We’ve got the size to have another division here.
Between Fort Bliss, White Sands Missile Range and Holloman Air Force Base, we’ve got a triad that is just unbeatable anywhere else in the world.
Q: The 1,200 soldiers the post is losing. Is there any way to keep some of them in El Paso by helping them transition to civilian life here?
We sure hope so. Besides the job fairs, we work very closely with Soldier for Life, which is a new program the Army’s running to help soldiers transition into civilian life. We also help businesses translate Army résumés.
Q: How so?
Say I’m a tank driver, and I put that on my résumé and give it to a company. They are going to go, “We don’t have tanks here and don’t need anybody to drive them.”
But what they don’t see is that tank driver was the senior person in the tank. So not only did they drive the tank, but they also led their soldiers and have great decision-making skills – all things a business owner is looking for. It is really just helping the business owner understand Army talk and soldiers understand business talk.
We’ve also partnered with different local companies like Mesilla Valley Transportation. Some soldiers come out of the Army with experience driving big trucks but don’t have their Commercial Driver’s License, so they can’t transition out.
Mesilla Valley Transportation is bringing them in and doing that training. We are also working with Hewlett Packard on some similar things to create those types of opportunities.
Q: Are there many soldiers transitioning to civilian life these days?
Yes. We are seeing a lot of soldiers getting out and staying in El Paso. We’re seeing senior leaders retiring and staying in El Paso. El Paso is going to become a vet-centric place. People like the weather. They like the community.
Q: Are many of the soldiers transitioning successfully and are businesses successfully tapping into that resource?
That’s a hard question. Yes, they are transitioning. Businesses probably aren’t tapping as much as they could. That’s a learning process.
Even if I get out as a junior enlisted soldier, I’ve got leadership skills and have done things most 23-year-olds probably have never done. Those are things that can transition into a business, and we are making strides in that.
Q: Are the defense cuts impacting the private sector here, too?
They are hurting everybody, and we are seeing a reduction in the scopes of contracts. Some of the contractors don’t have the same number of people they have had in the past and don’t have the same payroll that they’ve had.
Q: Does AUSA in El Paso still have the Guardian program?
It used to be called the Guardian program. We would partner a brigade with a local business and they were there as a support to the soldiers. But we’ve renamed it Community Partners and moved it to more of a volunteer program.
What we try to do is get our corporate members to engage with the soldiers, to create volunteer opportunities for both company employees and the soldiers.