The recent reports of employers leaving the United States for tax breaks won’t ever happen with certain businesses in Oklahoma: those companies belong to tribes, and they’re here to stay.
That’s one big message from Oklahoma Congressman Tom Cole. At his recent town hall meeting in Purcell, Cole (Chickasaw) said the sovereign tribes of Oklahoma are also their own corporations—buying, selling, and creating jobs.
“I always say we have 39 tribes, that's like having 39 corporate headquarters and those corporate headquarters are never going to Dallas or Houston and those jobs are never being shipped to China,” Cole told the audience.
Cole responded to the questions about job creation during the town hall meeting, where he also weighed in on other concerns of the day, including foreign conflicts involving the U.S., farming concerns, veteran’s affairs, immigration and other issues.
Cole said a recent study from Oklahoma City University looked at tribe’s collective impact on the Oklahoma economy.
“It’s like $13 billion dollars a year,” Cole said.
“If you look at the number of jobs, for instance, the Chickasaws and Choctaws together employ three times the number of people that great companies like Devon and Chesapeake employ in Oklahoma. And they tend to employ them in our more rural economically challenged areas,” Cole said.
Cole went on to say when the tribes make money, it stays in Oklahoma.
“When they make money they invest the money here, they keep it in Oklahoma,” Cole said.
“They are a magnet for tourism or if you look at the large gaming facilities. We have WinStar on the Texas border, it’s the largest casino in the world,” Cole said.
“Almost 90 percent of its clientele are Texans who are spending money here. Very similar numbers for the Choctaw facility in Durant. So tribes have really arrived and it’s not just gaming entities, they've diversified,” Cole said.
In the audience was the State Representative for District 42, Lisa J. Billy. Billy, who is also a member of the Chickasaw Nation, elaborated on tribal diversification and used her father, Frank Johnson, as an example. Johnson retired from OG&E.
“Most people have no idea that there is a tribe in the state of Oklahoma that has a license to buy and sell utilities,” Billy said. “Probably 30 to 50 men that work for my Dad do all kinds of electrician and infrastructure work. Those are very very good paying jobs.
“I happen to know young men that my Dad has helped train, helped them to get educated. That's just one tiny area where they're providing all kinds of great jobs in south central, southeastern Oklahoma,” Billy said.
Billy said tribes are in the business of helping the all Oklahomans.
“I think that a lot of times, because historically I don't know if tribal nations have been very good about talking about what they do or bragging about what they do, but what they are doing right now, we talk about our economic base, we talk about contributions that tribes make. Whether it’s to our volunteer fire departments, to our public schools, to our roads and transportation...this is happening all the time, all over the state,” Billy said.
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