Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Tribal Leaders in Okla. Tout Growth through Accountability, Relationships

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Tribal Leaders in Okla. Tout Growth through Accountability, Relationships

Article excerpt

For growth-minded Native American tribes, economic strategies no longer revolve around needed diversification.

"I think we all understand, especially here in Oklahoma, that the gaming market has really matured," said Bill Lance Jr., administrator of the Chickasaw Nation Division of Commerce.

With the hard lessons learned from the 2008 recession, today's tribal strategies sift through opportunities via their accountability, relationships and synergies with both the Indian nation's goals and its existing business portfolio.

That's the message delivered Wednesday by tribal officials from Oklahoma, Wisconsin and North Carolina, all gathered at the National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development's RES Conference at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Tulsa.

"We found that, having lived through that downturn and taken some of the hits that we did on a few commercial real estate investments, that we're taking more time," said Kip Ritchie, chief operating officer of the Forest County Potawatomi Development Corp. in Milwaukee.

Such caution fits their primary goal - generating long-term funding and sustainability for tribal programs and citizens.

"Creating jobs is not necessarily that big an issue for us," said Ritchie, explaining one reason why his organization sought investment opportunities outside tribal lands. "Seeking to return wealth to the tribe, to have a vehicle to support growth for future generations, that's important."

Jason Lambert, director of commerce for the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, said his North Carolina tribe restructured several departments as it re-evaluated its economic development and marketing plans, all in hopes of broadening itself from seasonal tourism swings and gaming's siphoning effect on cash flow.

"In the end, it all goes back to what can we do to enrich the lives of our people," he said. "It all goes back to our community."

The Chickasaws put each business acquisition or expansion opportunity through multiple evaluation levels, starting with preliminary due diligence and vision sharing.

"We want to let them know upfront that there are certain requirements that the tribe requires," Lance said, rattling off such elements as a nondisclosure agreement, audited financial statement, and background checks on potential partners. …

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