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Study finds tribe contributes significantly to state

Choctaws’ economic impact reaches beyond Silver Star

PHILADELPHIA — The Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians have a much bigger impact on the state’s economy than just gaming, according to a recently released economic study.

“There are great misconceptions about the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians,” said Robert Ingram, executive director of the Center for Community and Economic Development at the University of Southern Mississippi, whose department co-authored the economic impact analysis with the Goodman Group.

“Many people have the misconception that, because the Choctaws don’t directly pay taxes, they don’t add any real benefit to the economy,” said Ingram. “The Indians did not believe this was true and they asked us to do a study to determine what their economic impact actually was on the state.”

For instance, the study showed that the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians paid $170 million in wages in 1998 and has been responsible for creating more than 12,000 jobs.

“It was important to the tribe to go to a third party for verification of the economic impact that the tribe has in Mississippi,” said Creda Stewart, director of public information for the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians. “We wanted to share with people the broad spectrum of the impact that we believed was happening other than the casino.”

Dr. Lowell Goodman, author of the study, said, “it is the largest (economic) impact I have ever analyzed, even larger than most military bases.”

The bottom line: the tribe is very self-sufficient and adds millions of dollars to the economy in Mississippi, said Ingram.

“The purpose of the study was for the Choctaws to better understand their economic impact in the state and to be able to tell the general public that the tribe is not only self-sustained, but adds to a major part of the state’s economy,” Ingram said. “The Choctaws are one of the largest employers in the state and they just don’t employ Indians. They employ a huge number of people from the non-Indian population and a great deal of the money comes from businesses the Choctaws own all over the state. Money spent outside the reservation includes sales and property taxes.”

The analysis of all industries on the reservation and all tribally-owned enterprises included wages, corporate purchases, employment and other economic indicators to determine the reservation’s economic impact on the surrounding region and on the state.

Even though Philadelphia-based Silver Star Resort & Casino is one of the largest casinos in the state, with five-star restaurants, a 500-suite hotel and two championship 18-hole golf courses, there’s much more economic diversification the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians brings to the South.

“The Silver Star is only one of their visionary ventures,” said Jimmy Heidel, executive director of the Mississippi Department of Economic and Community Development. “The tribe has also developed world-renowned golf courses, an industrial park, printing and direct mail plants, automotive wire harness operations, small motor manufacturing and other businesses which create good job opportunities.”

The Choctaw Reservation consists of more than 25,000 acres in portions of Attala, Jones, Kemper, Leake, Neshoba, Newton, Scott and Winston counties.

The tribal government, headed by longtime leader, Chief Philip Martin, is responsible for providing members with education, health care, job training, housing, police and fire protection, tribal courts, utilities and other community infrastructure.

“As a professional economic developer, I have a special place in my heart for Chief Phillip Martin and the tremendous achievements of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians,” Heidel said. “As one of the 10 largest employers in the state of Mississippi, the Choctaw Indians are making a substantial contribution to economic growth.”

The tribe has more than 6,600 employees on it annual payroll of $123.7 million. More than $210 million is generated in economic development activities. Per capita income in the tribe, with a population of 8,300, has increased 346% within 16 years. Unemployment has decreased from 75% to 4%. About half of the tribe’s population is under the age of 20. With more than 1,700 students, the tribe operates the largest unified reservation school system in the U.S., said Stewart.

“No single group illustrates Mississippi’s forward economic momentum more clearly than the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians,” said Heidel. “The Choctaws personify the entrepreneurial spirit we talk about all the time here in Mississippi because they have expanded into so many productive areas.”

Chahta Enterprises of Philadelphia, producer of wire harnesses for General Motors and one of the first economic entities to provide a number of jobs to the tribal area, now has four plants with almost 200,000 square feet of manufacturing space, a site in Sonora, Mexico, annual sales of more than $43 million, and about 1,200 employees on a $12 million annual payroll.

After the success of Chahta Enterprises, other manufacturers followed suit, including American Greetings, who decided to locate a plant in Philadelphia. The tribe established Choctaw Greetings Enterprise. Among other ventures, the tribe also operates a nursing home, retail center and construction company.

Silver Star doesn’t disclose its revenues, but Boyd Gaming Corp. (NYSE: BYD), which includes the casino as one of its 11 operations in Nevada, Mississippi, Illinois and Louisiana, reported “positive year-over-year comparisons” in the second quarter of 1999 even though Sam’s Town Tunica, also in the group, reported a 9.5% operation cash flow decline versus the prior year, according to information obtained from the company’s Web site.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne Wilbanks Jeter at lwjeter@yahoo.com.

About Lynne W. Jeter

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