By ROBERT JUMPER
ONE FEATHER EDITOR
The Principal Chief recently released the figures for our individual per capita checks, and the numbers are up. Roughly, we will be seeing an extra $300 (over previous December). Thanks to the dedicated work of the tribal government, casino management and personnel, it looks like it has been another prosperous year for the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.
In order to continue the growth that Cherokee has enjoyed, we cannot continue to depend on one industry to supply the revenue necessary to sustain economic development. Great things have been accomplished with the funds we have generated though casino revenue, levy collection and grants. Community buildings, hospital construction, tribal housing and many other needed municipal projects have grown from the income from the tribe’s efforts in gaming. And, our tribal programs do an excellent job of identifying research and development funding, but grants will not sustain the tribe as those have done in decades past. We have grown in size and need beyond the resources that may supplied by grants.
But, speaking from an economic development standpoint, we are a “one-pony show” (others might say “we have our eggs in one basket”). While it is an awesome generator of jobs and cash, our gaming operation is vulnerable to poaching. We have enjoyed a long of run of monopolizing the gaming tourist.
But, threats to that monopoly have been appearing with alarming regularity. Regular media reports indicate a continued and growing effort to establish an adult gaming footprint to our east in North Carolina and in states that surround us to our west. The tribe has already successfully defended a first wave of small, independent video game operations in North Carolina. The reach of those video game “bars” was significant enough to show an impact to tribal gaming revenue, and that is just one battlefront.
Many of the very positive benefits that our people enjoy depend on a strong, consistent revenue stream, and the best way that we may protect our revenue stream for the future is to turn a stream into many streams. A good sign that the next generation of leaders are thinking about the need to diversify are two recent ideas that were brought before Council in recent weeks.
Pyrolysis, the process of gleaning renewable energy from our waste products, looks to be a possible new industry in the making. Another group, Common Sense Cannabis, presented a very reasoned, rational approach to the possibility of considering cannabis, in some form, to become a cash crop for the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.
In a recent conversation with some marketing professionals, I suggested that tourism in Cherokee needs more product development than advertising enhancement. If we intend to target the family audience with our tourism efforts and depend on family visitation as a revenue stream, the quality and quantity of “things to do” must increase.
We, as a tribe, have the minds, capability and resources to create sustainable economic development. It is not an accident that we are an economic leader in the southeast, bringing jobs and money to Cherokee and surrounding counties. The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians has been celebrated by the state and nation for its successes in revenue and job creation. We have competent leadership that can facilitate diversification of our revenue streams to into a solid foundation of growth for future generations. All the ingredients are there. It is time to get the job done.