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HARBOR SPRINGS, Mich. — The Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians wants to rebuild and strengthen its economy so that the tribe can better weather unexpected shocks. 

The Northern Michigan tribe is one of the latest tribal nations that the Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration selected for grant funding under the $100 million Indigenous Communities Program, which was created in the American Rescue Plan Act. 

Leveraging the new three-year $1 million grant, the Little Traverse Bay Bands aims to better understand the resources and opportunities it currently has and then position the tribe’s economy for the future, said Hayden Hooper, director of the tribe’s Department of Commerce. 

“Our overall outcome is a stronger, more diversified economy that’s going to ensure we have more economic resiliency,” Hooper told Tribal Business News. “Obviously, we hope that another COVID never happens again, but we just want to be prepared for any kind of economic shock that might happen.”

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The tribe will deploy the economic diversification funding to hire an economic recovery coordinator to help officials develop and implement an economic development strategy, as well as hire a planning consultant to assist in creating that strategy.

According to guidance from the Commerce Department, the EDA stopped accepting applications for the Indigenous Communities Program as of April 19, citing demand that far exceeded the available funds. The EDA received more than $400 million in proposals for $100 million program. 

“This EDA investment will provide a blueprint for the future of the community as they work to draw private investment to the reservation, support Tribal entrepreneurs and spur economic growth in surrounding areas of Northern Lower Michigan,” Alejandra Castillo, Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development, said in a statement.

Based in the northwestern Lower Peninsula of Michigan, the more than 4,000-member Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians operates a pair of Odawa Casinos in Petoskey and Mackinac City. The tribe also established Odawa Economic Affairs Holding Corporation, which is tasked with pursuing business development opportunities, including establishing new firms or acquiring existing private companies. 

Meanwhile, tribally chartered Odawa Economic Development Management Inc. also focuses on non-gaming economic development, including the redevelopment of the tribe’s former casino property into the Victories Square. The mixed-use development currently includes several retail businesses and a Courtyard by Marriott hotel, with plans to construct a new multi-tenant building and a six-story Cambria branded hotel on the property. 

Hooper said the new grant-funded economic development diversification and recovery strategy aims to build off the tribe’s existing pieces. 

“We’re planning to hire a consultant that would come in and take a look at everything that’s already here and already happening and then develop that strategy for what would be next best steps,” said Hooper, who has served in the Department of Commerce role for two years, and worked for the tribe for a total of four years. “We want to have our charters, boards, businesses and branches of government integrated into this one plan and understand what their role will be in this.”

Hooper expects the “comprehensive, documented plan” will require market and workforce research, as well as an examination of the opportunities to attract businesses to tribal lands. Other factors could also include determining what assistance and resources the tribe needs to provide for member entrepreneurs, as well as identifying potential strategic partnerships. “Basically, this is just getting that coordinated effort for all the resources that are available within our economy,” Hooper said. 

The tribe’s next steps will be to post the job openings for the consultant and coordinator positions, who will help define and develop the plan. Hooper foresees the tribe hiring additional temporary staff and research consultants to assist in that effort. 

“Tribal communities play an important role in spurring economic activity and delivering vital resources to families and residents across Michigan,” Sen. Gary Peters, D-Michigan, said in a statement. “I was pleased to have met with tribal and business leaders of the Little Traverse Bay tribe to see firsthand how the American Rescue Plan has already begun to help strengthen communities across Northern Michigan – and I’ll continue working to ensure they have the support and resources they need to be competitive in a 21st century economy.”

The Little Traverse Bay Bands were among a handful of tribes that recently received Economic Development Administration grants. Other Indigenous Communities Program grant recipients included the Pueblo of Jemez in New Mexico, which received a $526,000 grant for an energy feasibility study to determine the tribe’s renewable energy generation capacity and workforce development, according to a statement. The tribe wants to achieve energy independence as it pursues acquiring or developing the energy infrastructure needed to become carbon neutral.

Additionally, Paiute Indian Tribe of Utah will invest a $1.9 million grant to build the new Cedar City Community Health Center in Cedar City, Utah. The center will expand the tribal community’s access to affordable medical, behavioral health and dental care. The project is expected to create or retain around 50 jobs, according to a statement.

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