The Wilma P. Mankiller health care clinic nearly doubled in 2015 with a $10 million expansion of 28,000 square feet
Cherokee Nation Businesses drives and builds a strong economy
By Andrea Richard
The Cherokee Nation’s economy is exhibiting prosperous growth. Driving this growth is Cherokee Nation Businesses (CNB), the tribe’s holding company. Founded in 2004 and headquartered in Catoosa, CNB helped to diversify the tribal nation’s economic development, fueling job creation.
As the United States’ largest tribe with more than 350,000 members, the Cherokee Nation’s jurisdiction spans 14 counties in northeastern Oklahoma with Tahlequah as its capital.
The Cherokee Nation has an estimated $2.03 billion economic impact on Oklahoma, and its businesses employ more than 11,000 people and support more than 17,500 jobs. CNB owns companies in aerospace, gaming and hospitality, IT, health care, distribution and manufacturing, and federal contracting.
Twenty-five percent of CNB’s profits are reinvested to the tribal government, furthering development, according to Charles (Chuck) Garrett, CNB’s executive vice president. “Through the dividends we provide to our shareholders, a lot of the economic development results in funding for education, funding for scholarships, roads and infrastructure,” said Garrett. “All those things, in the end, are necessary ingredients to effective economic development.”
TBJ recently spoke to Garrett about CNB’s new ventures and strategies.
Where are you based?
I am in Catoosa where are our flagship casino is located at the Hard Rock Hotel.
What was the first business launched by the Cherokee tribe?
I happened to know that because it happened in my hometown Stilwell, (OK). Cherokee Nation Industries, I think it was established about 48 years ago now, was our first tribal business and we continue to operate that business today. It’s evolved, but some of the original business lines are still intact. And we do a lot of work for prime contractors in aeronautics.
What are some of the business fields CNB is contemplating entering?
We are always looking for new opportunities and industries to explore. Right now, we are focused heavily on government contracting. And within the world of government contracting, of course, there are a lot of different sectors we focus on.
With the change in administration some of that government spending may shift, so we’re assessing to see where the priorities are of the administration will be; what funding will be approved by Congress, whether there’s an expansion on defense spending or which areas are the beneficiaries of the new administration.
Currently, we are in construction and environmental work. We are also heavily involved in a wide array of technology businesses, some selling directly to the government, some in the commercial space. We also have a fair amount in defense work and the aeronautics areas. We are also looking at various manufacturing opportunities as well.
Are there infrastructure projects that the tribe is doing to help foster business opportunities?
We are currently involved in developing Cherokee Springs Plaza, a development site of 150 acres in our nation’s capital. It sits adjacent to an 18-hole golf course that we own and operate. When it is complete, there will be somewhere around 170,000 square feet of retail, 70,000 square feet of office and a new casino and hotel that will service that community. We expect the casino to be completed by late 2018.
It’s a pretty important development for us because it is in our nation’s capital and is also a regional draw for retail. It creates jobs and improves the quality life for our citizens.
Are there any other recent ventures that you are working on or have launched?
We just got through with working with the nation on expanding two of our medical clinics and building two completely new clinics and communities within our jurisdiction.
And, of course, that has tremendous amount of economic development impact because, not only, the construction that goes on, but also there are jobs that are created at the clinics.
We are in the middle right now of helping develop the W.W. Hastings Medical Campus, a 470,000-square-foot clinic that is being built in Tahlequah.
What sort of small business resources are being used by tribal entrepreneurs?
I am working with the Cherokee Commerce Department and I was recently with the Oklahoma governor and other economic development partners in Oklahoma City, announcing a program that is named Grow OK. Some of the larger tribes in Oklahoma matched a $200,000 grant that we received from the U.S. Economic Development EDA.
The purpose of this program is to identify rural entrepreneurs and businesses and provide them technical assistance. From that, there’s a capital raising phase for the company. It’s a direct way to help rural entrepreneurs.
We do that frequently in our own way with tribal citizens who are looking to start businesses and might need technical assistance.
How do you measure the success of your businesses, such as revenue, profits, job creation or other metrics?
It’s twofold. It’s job creation, both directly at the business and through economic development and it is the dividends that we can send to our shareholders at Cherokee Nation. That’s how we measure our success.
Are there programs such as internships to help provide opportunities to gain experience in the businesses?
We have a very robust summer internship program for Cherokee citizens. I think last year there were around 30 or 40 summer interns with us. And we rotate them through all the various departments within our businesses to expose the student to different experiences to help them in their career decisions that they are making.
Are there outside lenders or partners that the tribe has utilized to help grow its business?
The Tulsa Chamber of Commerce and the Oklahoma Department of Commerce have been big supporters. Also, the Northeast Oklahoma Economic Development Association and some of the other regional economic development groups that we work very closely with and either provide funding or other resources to partner with them and attracting businesses or helping local businesses grow.
Do you do a lot of business with other tribes or is that something you are working on?
We have had various partnering and joint work efforts in the past and we are always looking for new opportunities to do that. But that’s something we would like to do more of.
What have been the most rapidly growing businesses?
That’s been our technology division within our government contracting by far. We contract with federal agencies to provide technical consulting, also software and hardware development.
What’s the future direction CNB is going in?
We are going to play to our strengths and maximize our platform in hospitality and gaming. But we are going to double down on our government contracting business and continue to develop opportunities in the commercial areas as well. ♦