Great Companies Spotlight: Sovereign Nations

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With millions of dollars in profits, tens of thousands of jobs and an economic impact reaching far into the billions, the business endeavors of the sovereign nations in Oklahoma are integral to the growth of the state. Operating in a wide variety of industries, tribal businesses collectively are one of the largest employers in Oklahoma, if not the largest, says George Tiger, principal chief of the Muscogee Creek Nation.

“Tribal nations are growing, making a large impact on the Oklahoma economy,” says Tiger. “It is something that Indian people take a lot of pride in.” 

The Cherokee Nation’s business endeavors posted revenues totaling more than $700 million in the 2012 fiscal year and employs nearly 9,000 people. A recent study by Oklahoma City University showed that the Chickasaw Nation alone had an economic impact of $2.4 billion in Oklahoma in 2011 and is responsible for creating approximately 16,000 jobs in the state.

“All of the money we make goes back to the Chickasaw people for things like housing, daycare, head start programs, job training, clothing and scholarships,” explains Vicky Gold, office manager for the Chickasaw Times

The unique aspect of these numbers is that the economic growth and jobs are largely located in rural Oklahoma, providing opportunities to small communities across our state. The Osage Nation currently employs approximately 1,000 persons in positions ranging from general clerical, executive, professional skilled to semi-skilled, non-skilled and service personnel. The Osage Nation is the largest employer in Osage county, just like many of the other Nations in their respective counties.

In 2010, the Choctaw Nation enterprises sustained 14,138 jobs, some indirectly, in the state of Oklahoma and directly employed 8,472 employees generating over $260 million in payroll income.

“All of this income spills right back into our communities,” confirms Lana Sleeper, public relations and marketing director for the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma.

The Muscogee Creek Nation was the first tribe to own a hospital and has its own college, the College of the Muscogee Nation. When Tiger began working with the Muscogee Creek Nation in the 70s, they only employed a few hundred people, now that number has risen to nearly 4,500, says Tiger.

“We are now more like a big corporation,” explains Tiger.

In terms of profitability, these sovereign nation businesses are quite similar to mainstream corporate businesses. They differ, however, in mission, says Joseph Tillman, a division leader with the Osage Nation, who has a long professional history in private business. 

“Private businesses tend to focus on individual gain,” says Tillman. “We focus on the group gain of the Osage Nation and its people.”

Jon Davidson, senior director of Hospitality Services for Hard Rock Casino in Tulsa, which is owned by the Cherokee Nation, agrees. Similar to Tillman, Davidson spent the majority of his professional career working for privately owned hotels.

“Working in the private sector you are very much driven by the standard benchmarks of profitability – for owners and investors,” explains Davidson. “While profitability is still a significant benchmark, I am working to help fund an amazing array of programs and services for, literally, a nation.”

Each nation takes pride in not only contributing to Native Americans but to all Oklahomans, as well.  

“We want people to know we share communities,” promises Tiger. “When we succeed the State of Oklahoma does as well.”

Cherokee Nation
Total Employees: 9,000
Industries: Aerospace and defense, manufacturing, environmental, construction, information technology, telecommunications, casinos, horse track, hotels, convenience stores and retail shops.
Employee Benefits: A comprehensive package including paid leave, medical, retirement and tuition reimbursement for full time employees.

Choctaw Nation
Total Employees: 8,000+
Industries: Gaming, travel plazas, manufacturing and supplies for the federal government and branches of armed services, and contracts with federal government to provide medical care to branches of armed services overseas.
Employee Benefits: A comprehensive package including paid leave, medical at no cost to the employee, retirement, and tuition reimbursement for full time employees; additionally, a training program for employee advancement.

Chickasaw Nation
Total employees: 12,000
Industries: Tourism, entertainment, manufacturing, medical technology, medical services, government contracting, banking and communication.
Employee Benefits: A comprehensive package including paid leave, medical, retirement and tuition reimbursement for full time and some part time employees. Also feature an Individual Advancement Plan with financial incentives.

Muscogee Creek Nation
Total Employees: 4,500
Industries:  Gaming, oil and gas
Employee Benefits: A comprehensive package including paid leave, medical, retirement and education opportunities.

Osage Nation
Total Employees: 1,000
Industries: Retail shops, Okmulgee Country Club, casinos, travel plaza, convenience stores, medical and defense and other agencies
Employee Benefits: A comprehensive package including paid leave, medical including critical and cancer care, and retirement. Also offers perks like roadside assistance.

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