Cherokee Nation Helps Drive Economic Growth

Article by Mike Averill for the Tulsa World

From Macy’s to Sofidel, the last few years have seen several large employers moving into northeast Oklahoma. It’s no secret that it takes incentives to lure large-scale projects to the area. What’s not as well known is who is helping to provide these incentives.

For the past several years, the Cherokee Nation has partnered with the Tulsa Regional Chamber to drive economic growth in the area. The tribe is investing profits from its casino operations into job creation through financial incentives as well as job training and recruitment.

The tribe can bring incentives to the bargaining table — such as tax credits for companies that build on tribal land and hire Native American workers and for accelerated depreciation — that companies can’t get in other states. The tribe can also offer startup funding and infrastructure when needed.

As part of the package to attract the Macy’s Fulfillment Center near Owasso, the tribe provided $500,000, including money for infrastructure and closing. The main infrastructure project was an industrial road to the facility. The company was able to realize more than $1.2 million in Indian employment tax credits in 2015 and 2016.

The tribe is able to offer job recruitment and training services as incentives through its career services department, including on-the-job training options and salary reimbursement.

“When you talk about the Cherokee Nation being at the table when bringing in a lot of these companies, that is one of the things we are able to offer,” said Diane Kelley, executive director of the Cherokee Nation’s career services department.

The tribe is also able to host job fairs for employers to ensure they remain fully staffed.

“Sometimes tax credits and job training are enough to attract a business. Other times we might connect a sewer line from one of our housing additions to an nearby industrial park,” Baker said. “We build it, and sometimes it is that last piece of the puzzle that gets someone to move here into the Cherokee Nation.”

“When we sit down with some of these companies that have done business all over the country and the world, we can show them the cheap utility rates that exist here, the access to water, the tax credits, accelerated depreciation — and they don’t have to bring a recruitment team,” Baker said. “We’ve done a lot of the leg work that a lot of cities and regions would have to start from scratch on, and it’s working.”

Some of the projects, like Sofidel, are not on Cherokee land.

The Italian paper manufacturer announced earlier this year it is building a new plant in Inola that will employ 300 people. The plant is being built on Creek Nation land that is adjacent to Cherokee territory. More than 57,000 Cherokee citizens live within 25 miles of the plant.

The Cherokees provided $250,000 in startup costs and will provide job fairs and job training.

“Even if our people don’t get the jobs, somebody is going to get them, and sometimes that opens up a job in one of our home communities that one of our folks can get,” Baker said. “If it helps the economy in northeast Oklahoma, it ends up helping every Cherokee businessman and woman. It helps the tax base and the schools.”

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