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Tribal enterprise practice: balancing community needs and opportunities
Tuesday, November 03 2015
 
Written by Lee Egerstrom,
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When it comes to putting community development theory into practice, the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin and the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska serve as useful models for Indian Country. Both federally recognized sovereign nations have invested in banks to meet citizens’ needs and to further their economic development. Both have diverse tribal enterprise holdings that produce jobs for their people, profits for their government coffers, and services that meet social goals set for their communities, their people and their surroundings. It isn’t all small, local-based business.

The Oneida were originally from Upstate New York; the Winnebago, a variant name for Ho-Chunk people, were originally from Wisconsin and Minnesota before being relocated in Nebraska.  
In July this year, a joint venture business between the wholly-owned Oneida Total Integrated Enterprises (OTIE) architectural and engineering firm based in Milwaukee and project partner RS&H Inc., a Jacksonville, Fla. infrastructure and facilities consulting firm, landed a five-year, nearly billion-dollar military construction contract with the U.S. Air Force.

The Oneida Nation’s purchase of OTIE 11 years ago was an investment in a successful Milwaukee business that had some ties to the Wisconsin tribe, said Bobbi Webster, the Oneida spokeswoman.
Over the years, OTIE has created jobs directly and indirectly through construction projects for Oneida members, she said. And two Oneida enrolled members serve on OTIE’s board of directors even though management and other directors are professional architects, engineers and marketing and business experts.

OTIE’s website notes the Milwaukee firm has worked on over 50 Air Force facilities in 19 states and at military installations in Guam, Japan, Korea and the Azores.

“Extraordinary tribal leadership 30 and 40 years ago” started branching out and looking for ways to develop the community and economy, Webster said. It helps to have ties with the Green Bay Packers football team as well, she added.

The Green Bay Packers are an iconic example of a community owned enterprise, said Joshua Bloom, partner and principle at Community Land Use and Economics Group LLC in Washington D.C. Small business people in Green Bay formed the team in 1923 as a nonprofit corporation. It continues that way today with successive shareholders buying non-appreciating stock. If the team ever folded, all money accumulated would go to charities.

Football team owners would never again allow a franchise like Green Bay join their ranks when team resale values are the owners’ ultimate Super Bowl. Bloom said the Green Bay team still reminds us what communities can do when a common good is recognized. The Oneidas haven’t lost sight of such opportunities.

Pass through the Oneida Gate at Lambeau Field, go out on Oneida Street on the north side, and travel past the airport to either the Radisson Hotel and Conference Center or the Wingate Hotel, both owned by the tribe. Continue on to the Oneida Nation itself. Gaming, golf, retail shops and otherbusinesses await you. Your business might even avail itself to free trade zone services in the Oneidas’ FTZ zoned property. All such enterprises are operated as separate, freestanding corporations owned by the tribe. All have skilled, independent managements.

The Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska has a separate Ho-Chunk Inc. corporation that is the economic development arm of the tribe. It operates like a holding company and now has 35 subsidiaries involved with information technology, construction, government contracting, professional services, wholesale distribution and logistics, marketing, office products and technology, retail stores, media and marketing.

Lance Morgan, who has held various academic positions and serves on boards for banks and other non-tribal enterprises, is the professional management president and chief executive of Ho-Chunk Inc. The company’s board of directors has two members of the Winnebago Tribal Council and three at-large directors.

Patrice Kunesch and Susan Woodrow, co-directors of the Center for Indian Country Development at the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, said the Winnebago model is ideal. It allows for talented management to make business decisions and separates the decision-making from tribal politics.
In the past year, Ho-Chunk Inc. became a major shareholder in the Denver-based Native American Bancorporation Co., which operates the Native American Bank that makes commercial loans for tribal governments and enterprises.

Morgan was honored in 2014 by the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Minority Business Development Agency with its Advocate of the Year Award. It noted Ho-Chunk Inc. had grown since its 1995 founding to over 1,000 employees, 35 percent of whom are identified as minorities, and 100 percent of corporate management was Native Americans.

Ho-Chunk Inc. has an entity that pursues various government contracts through public policy programs. It is paying off. The Commerce Department honor cited Ho-Chunk’s work in 16 states and eight foreign countries.

Despite this ongoing diversification, gaming and retailing are still the biggest economic drivers for the Oneida and Winnebago communities.   


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