By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.
ONE FEATHER STAFF
Eleven action plans for diversifying and growing the Cherokee economy were presented at a Qualla 2020 Community Forum meeting at the Chief Joyce Dugan Cultural Arts Center on Monday, Oct. 13. The plans were presented, and then community members were able to address questions to the panel members.
“The purpose of Qualla 2020 is to diversify the Cherokee economy and reduce its risks so that it can better ensure the well-being of the Cherokee population into the future,” said Annette Clapsaddle, Cherokee Preservation executive director, at the beginning of the meeting. “We need to engage the full knowledge of our community.”
According to information from Qualla 2020, the action plans include:
- Develop a marketing plan to attract knowledge industries such as software developers, architects, engineers, etc.
- Feasibility study for fiber-enabled office building and co-working (shared) space
- Explore potential for an Agricultural and Convention Center at the Acquoni Expo Center (old Cherokee High School) site
- Create implementation plan for compacting BIA Realty function
- Develop draft statuses for individual possessory holding legal framework
- Create a single source of information for small businesses
- Strengthen the Cherokee Chamber of Commerce
- Create an economic development coalition
- Build a more vibrant entrepreneurial culture on the Qualla Boundary
- Expand individual businesses on the Qualla Boundary through 8(a) contracting and similar programs
- Expand sales of Cherokee art
Clapsaddle related that diversifying the Cherokee economy is of vital importance, and she referenced the City of Detroit as an example. She related that, in 1960, Detroit was the richest city in the country per capita and today it has the highest poverty level in the country.
“When the motor industry and manufacturing jobs left, the City of Detroit suffered,” she noted. “It is critical to start diversifying our economy now when the gaming industry is strong rather than wait.”
During the meeting, various Qualla 2020 committee members spoke about the different action plans.
Jason Lambert, EBCI Commerce Division director, spoke on the idea of creating an Agricultural and Convention Center on the site of the old Cherokee High School. “The goal is to make changes to the site to provide another venue for large attractions and shows in Cherokee with easy, public access to parking.”
He said community input and support is important for the idea to work. “We need to make sure the community has a shared vision.”
Lambert said the entire site of 18 acres should be used instead of the existing six acres that are currently utilized. “We need to get away from thinking of the old high school site as only a building. The entire parcel of the land is usable. There is great existing parking there.”
He said such a facility would attract conventions to Cherokee which would build traffic for retail stores.
Hannah Smith, EBCI Office of the Attorney General, spoke on the possessory holding legal framework. “In order to accommodate growth and to allow tribal members to use their land to the fullest, our laws have to catch up.”
She said concerns they hope to address while performing a legal analysis of the framework include fairness, efficiency and privacy.
Lambert then spoke about several ideas involving the Cherokee Chamber of Commerce. “What we need in our community is a single place to go to for business information.”
He said it is important to increase business-to-business relationships. “Within the Commerce Division, our job is to bring visitors to Cherokee. It is then up to the individual businesses to market themselves. The Chamber of Commerce is the conduit for businesses to make their voice louder.”
Russ Seagle, of The Sequoyah Fund, spoke about entrepreneurship in Cherokee and creating a vibrant economy. “I love the word vibrant. It denotes life and excitement. The reality though is most banks don’t want to take a risk on a new business. We need to determine what exists and where are the gaps? What is needed?”
Qualla 2020 will be taking comments and questions on these action plans until the end of October. To weigh in, visit www.cherokeepreservationfoundation.org and click on the Qualla 2020 link.