Michigan Economic Development Corp. seeks to deepen its relationship with the tribes of the state
When the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians was looking to establish its first certified 8(a) contracting business, the tribe’s economic development arm turned to a key partner within the state of Michigan for help.
It was the same when Sault Tribe Economic Development sought to create the Tamarack Business Center in downtown Sault Ste. Mary, Mich. The non-player tribal arm tapped into the Michigan Economic Development Corporation. for a $250,000 Tribal Business Development Program grant in 2018 to redevelop a once vacant building into a multi-tenant business center. More recently, the state agreed to help support an expansion that will nearly double the size of the center.
Joel Schultz, CEO of Sault Tribe Inc.said these two examples show how the state economic development agency is trying to find ways to help the 12 federally recognized Native American tribes based in Michigan.
“The MEDC has been very good to us,” Schultz said. Tribal Affairs News. “We have a very good relationship. When we have a challenge or need funding to accomplish something or need programmatic support, this is definitely someone we seek to reach out to.
As part of a business tour last week, MEDC CEO Quentin Messer, Jr. met with leaders from the five tribes based in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Messer, who joined the MEDC in May 2021, said the visit gave him the opportunity to meet directly with tribal leaders and economic developers to learn about their needs and further develop executive relationships.
“It’s important for tribal communities to know that we see them, that they are visible to us,” Messer said. Tribal Affairs News. “It’s not just that you come once and the rest of the year you don’t think about it. This is something that is close to our hearts and we are excited about the future. We have a dedicated team (tribal development) which we plan to develop further.
“We realize that there is work to be done and that we have to build trust. These relationships take time and we are committed to getting the job done. That’s the bottom line: the commitment to do the job.
Tribal relationships with the MEDC take shape in several ways. The organization’s Tribal Business Development unit, which is overseen by longtime director Tom Durkee, often serves as the first point of contact for tribes to access funding grants and other state programs, such as this one. who supported the Sault Tribe Business Center.
Additionally, several existing interstate tribal gaming pacts funnel revenue sharing from tribal casinos to the quasi-governmental MEDC through the Michigan Strategic Fund. The Strategic Fund uses revenue-sharing dollars to fund MEDC’s business incentive programs that aim to encourage business expansion and provide training for workers.
MEDC received nearly $54.3 million in Tribal Class III Casino Revenue Share last year, up nearly 88% from $28.9 million in 2020, a landmark year. by numerous casino closures at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Since 1993, Michigan tribes have contributed $952.6 million to Michigan’s strategic fund through revenue-sharing agreements in their gaming pacts, according to a report of the Michigan Gaming Control Board.
During his visit with UP tribal leaders, Messer said they spoke about many of the same challenges that businesses face in rural communities across the state and nation, including the need for development increased manpower to ensure applicants have the right job skills, a lack of affordable housing, and a wide disparity in the availability of reliable high-speed internet access.
In particular, the state and tribes are vying for billions of dollars in federal funding to help bridge the digital divide. To ensure they coordinate their efforts, Messer said he spoke with tribal leaders about the resources available through the new Office of Broadband Internet and the Office of Rural Development.
“The key is that the lines of communication are open,” Messer said.
Kim Klopstein, the recently elected president of the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community in Baraga, Michigan, met with the MEDC team last Wednesday to discuss a series of ideas to “help stabilize and grow the economy” for the tribe.
Recent collaborations between the tribe and the state included a $160,000 state grant to fund a 3-mile non-motorized trail over marshes, shoreline, sidewalks and bridges to connect the L’ Anse to the nearby town of Baraga.
Klopstein also pointed to a new feasibility study to create a shared kitchen project to help tribal members process fish and food.
“The MEDC takes its relationship with this tribe very seriously and has come to see how it can assist in the economic development of our tribal businesses, tribal member-owned businesses and infrastructure not only in the Keweenaw Bay Indian community, but also helping Baraga County as a good,” Klopstein said in an email to Tribal Affairs News. “The Keweenaw Bay Indian community is pleased to continue to have a strong relationship with the MEDC.”
Even in cases where the MEDC does not have a specific program tailored to the needs or structures of tribal communities, the organization usually finds creative ways to provide needed assistance, according to Schultz of Sault Tribe Inc.
“For programs in general, sometimes they’re limited in how they can help us, but they’ve still found ways to help us,” he said.
Additionally, Sault Tribe Inc. also works with tribal member-owned businesses to access state grant and incentive programs, and on its booking hosts a consultant from the Michigan Small Business Development Center, a program supported by the MEDC and the US Small Business Administration.
Schultz cited the example of Tipping Point Solutions Inc., an 8(a) certified high-tech entrepreneur based in Denver, Colorado and owned by Sault Tribe member Rick Schmidt. The company tapped into MEDC’s Michigan Micro-Enterprise Development Program for a performance-based grant of $75,000 to support the opening of an office on tribal lands in Sault Ste. Married.
From Messer’s perspective, he said he wanted to take the time to meet with tribal leaders to find ways to strengthen their relationships and look for opportunities to improve the way the MEDC works with the tribes.
“We always have the opportunity to do more. That was part of the reason for having these conversations, to figure out how to do more. This is the opportunity that we need to seize and start exploiting, and I think we will,” Messer said. “We went in with a certain humility, knowing there was work to be done and a willingness to learn and understand how we can be of service as they achieve their economic development and other aspirations for their community. .
“Each tribe has its own aspirations and views. We need to be thoughtful and respectful of that.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This story originally appeared in Tribal Business News and is reprinted with permission.