By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.
ONE FEATHER STAFF
What will Cherokee look like in five years, 10 years, 20 years? Will a water park be constructed? Will a Bass Pro Shop be built in town?
The Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy, most commonly referred to as CEDS, is developed every five years by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and is the blueprint for new and potential projects and initiatives.
By developing the CEDS, the Tribe is eligible for over $150,000 in planning grants from the EDA according to Jason Lambert, Division of Commerce director. “It does prioritize projects and opens you up for funding resources. We received $3.5 million in federal funds alone off of our last CEDS which was in 2007.”
The EBCI CEDS Planning Committee (which, by Tribal ordinance is the EBCI Planning Board) has been gathering community input on CEDS and recently came up with their top ten projects including (in order): direct investments for EBCI Portfolio, Adventure Park/Canopy Walk, Elementary School Parcel, Water Activities Center – Pool and Beach, Cherokee Crossing, Bowling Alley, Snowbird Lodge, former High School site, Riverside Campground and Wildlife Attraction.
“Whenever you look at the top ten, we are already actively engaged in working towards six of them,” said Lambert. “We’ve requested funding to start something on those projects or we’ve already got funding in place for different portions of those.”
Public forums were held recently to gather community input on the CEDS document and objectives and projects were discussed in several areas including: tourism, commercial and retail development, revenue diversification and small business and entrepreneurship opportunities.
“There are studies out there that show that tribes that have a Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy receive more in federal funds from a variety of sources, not just the EDA,” Lambert related. “It’s a good document to have….it has been good to us.”
Doug Cole, EBCI Planning and Economic Development manager, said a grant was awarded by the Cherokee Preservation Foundation for the creation of this year’s CEDS document. “We basically got that grant based on the performance of our last CEDS.”
Some of the projects completed from the last CEDS include: Sequoyah National Golf Club, Cherokee Action Park, downtown revitalization projects, Cherokee Greenways Projects and more.
“A strategic plan should always be a living plan,” said Cole. “It shouldn’t be a plan that you put on the shelf in a three-ring binder that gathers dust.”
One of the top projects for this year’s CEDS document is the development of a resort area tentatively known as the Snowbird Lodge. “This will give us the opportunity to look at some kind of hospitality business or hospitality accommodation business in the Snowbird Community specifically taking advance of the Cherohola Skyway,” said Lambert.
“A the same time, it would provide some jobs to our members in Graham County,” he commented stating that the county has one of the highest unemployment rates in the state of North Carolina. “Forty jobs in Graham County will lower the unemployment rate by 1 percent.”
Cole said another project that received much discussion during the CEDS process has been the old Cherokee High School site with several possibilities existing for that site including keeping it as a recreation and event area, using it as the site for the new Cherokee Indian Hospital and others.
“I really don’t know which way it’s going to go, but for the Tribe’s sake a decision needs to be made,” Cole related. “It’s like $750 a day for heating and cooling and utilities costs just to keep it in its current state.”
The draft CEDS document is set to be presented during the July Planning Board meeting. “They’ll review that and then it will go out for public review,” Lambert said. The final document will be sent to EDA in September.
Cole and Lambert both praised the work of the Planning Board in the development of the current CEDS document. “I applaud them for being forward-thinking and really thinking outside the box,” Lambert said. “Direct investments being the highest scoring project blew my mind and in a really good way. I was not expecting that.”
“This dovetails well with where we are going with our efforts of combining Marketing and Promotions and Economic Development into this Division of Commerce. It dovetails very nicely with that.”
Matthew Pegg, Cherokee Chamber of Commerce executive director, stated, “I have served on several of the subcommittees for the CEDS planning and am excited about the future of Cherokee as both a place for our Chamber members to do business as well as ensuring that Cherokee is the preferred travel destination of the Southwest. The final CEDS document will serve as a blueprint for the growth and development of Cherokee. Should Cherokee be fortunate enough to execute all of the projects on the CEDS plan, the impact on the businesses and people of Cherokee will be tremendous.”