Native American heritage and tribal communities are not only an essential part of Wisconsin's history and culture, but also play an important role in the state's economy.
Eleven federally recognized tribes call the state of Wisconsin home, and together they employ more than 15,000 people statewide.
Gaming is the biggest tribal industry, as all eleven have entered into Class III compacts with the state to operate a combined total of 23 gaming locations. The Ho-Chunk, Oneida, St. Croix, Menominee and Potawatomi tribes all operate multiple casinos. And although gaming is the largest business enterprise among tribes, lodging, outdoor sports and other tourism-related industries are also part of the economic equation.
The Forest County Potawatomi Tribe and Potawatomi Bingo Casino are currently at work constructing a 20-story, 382-room, hotel next to the casino, located in the Menomonee Valley in Milwaukee. The hotel is set to open in late summer or early fall of 2014, hiring 230 new permanent, full-time employees.
While some tribes organize business development via separate organizations, others organize those efforts within their tribal government. Each of the 11 tribes operates their own, many of which include business committees. In 2004, then-governor Jim Doyle issued Executive Order 39, recognizing the sovereignty of each tribal government and creating the State-Tribal Consultation Initiative, which provides more structure to the government-to-government relations within the state.
Potawatomi has invested efforts into economic development within the tribe by creating the Potawatomi Business Development Corporation.
Other tribes have established these types of corporations as well, including the the Northwoods Niijii Enterprise Community and the Lac du Flambeau Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians, which runs the LDF Business Development Corporation.
Brent McFarland is the director of the Business & Economic Development Department under the Tribal Administration. He is also the chief operation officer of the LDF Business Development Corporation, a wholly owned but separate tribally chartered corporation established in 2012 to diversify tribal assets beyond gaming.
The Corporation is working on a variety of different economic endeavors, from a partnership with architectural design firm Whole Trees to a project to install fiber optic internet cables to tribal buildings.
He stressed the importance of working with state agencies and other tribes. McFarland and the Business Development Corporation hosted the first tribal economic summit in January, 2013, and members of all 11 tribes were in attendance, as were several members of the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, including CEO Reed Hall.
"Tribes have historically been reluctant to collaborate," said McFarland. "But there's much more willingness today to do that than what we've seen in the past."
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