A Tradition of Business since the 1700s
As early as 1700, when the first Europeans ventured into what is now east Mississippi, the Choctaw people had a strong economy based on communal ownership and responsibility. The Choctaws enjoyed a brisk trade with the French, and were noted for their high quality farming, adept trading skills, and overall level of prosperity. Doing business with others has always been a strong tradition of the Choctaw Tribe.
1800s through early 1900s - Sharecropping
Beginning with the Treaty of Hopewell in 1786, a series of treaties ceded tribal lands to the U.S. government which eroded the base of the Tribe's economy. During the 1800s and early 1900s, tribal members that remained in Mississippi made their living primarily by sharecropping. They became an impoverished people with a substandard quality of life and poor health conditions. In the early 1900s, the Mississippi Choctaws were described as the poorest pocket of poverty in the poorest state in the country.
Opening the First Business
The Tribe was federally recognized by the United States Government in 1945. By the late 1960s Tribal leaders did not see any improvement in their situation despite 15 years of effort by the federal employees sent to help them. The Tribal leadership realized that it would never rise out of poverty through dependency on the government. With Choctaw unemployment remaining at 80%, the first goal for the Tribe's economic development program was job creation.
Chief Phillip Martin began to establish his reputation as a visionary by capitalizing on the only opportunity that existed at the time. The federal government was sending funds to the Choctaw Tribe to build houses under a low-income housing program. He realized that the tribe could start a construction company that would build these houses for a small profit, while also teaching tribal members a skill. In 1969, the Tribe opened its first company, Chahta Development, to build houses for tribal members.
The Tribe's Industrial Revolution
Building upon this progress proved to be a slow process. Chief Martin felt that the next step in tribal development was to recruit industrial jobs to the reservation; his timing couldn't have been better. During the 1970s, manufacturing jobs began to move South to avoid the increasing wages of unionized labor in the north. In a gesture that epitomizes Chief Martin's determination, he wrote 500 letters to companies around the U.S. asking them to locate a plant in the Tribe's newly developed industrial park. This tremendous effort was rewarded when Packard Electric, a division of General Motors, committed to opening a facility on the Reservation. In 1979, Chahta Enterprise opened as the Tribe's first manufacturing company producing wiring harnesses for the automotive industry.
The next industrial project involved American Greetings Corporation, the world's largest manufacturer of greeting cards. For the first time in Indian country, Industrial Revenue Bonds were issued by the local, non-Indian government to finance the construction of a facility on the Reservation. In 1981, the 120,000 square foot plant was leased to American Greetings, and created approximately 250 jobs for the local community.
The next development came in the form of a joint-venture between the MBCI and Oxford Speaker Company from Chicago. Oxford was seeking a minority partner located in the south to manufacture automotive speakers. Choctaw Electronics Enterprise opened in 1985 as the Tribe's first joint-venture.
In only 6 years, the MBCI opened 3 new companies, using 3 very different business models. It is this flexibility that has been the backbone of the Tribe's continued success. Industrial expansions continued throughout the 1980s and 1990s with the opening of Choctaw Manufacturing Enterprise, First American Printing & Direct Mail, and First American Plastic Molding Enterprise. By 1998, the Tribe had 6 manufacturing companies employing approximately 2,000 people in 5 industrial parks. Chief Martin had achieved his first goal of creating employment opportunities for Tribal members.
Diversification into the Retail and Service Industries
During the 1980s and 1990s the Tribe also worked to diversify its economy. At that time, it was heavily dependent on the automotive industry which is cyclical in nature, and vulnerable to recession.
In 1986, the Tribe opened the Choctaw Residential Center, a 120-bed nursing home that provides full-time care for the elderly and employs 125 people. In 1989, the Tribe opened a community retail shopping center that offered a grocery store, bank, general merchandise, and other convenience items to the local community. This facility employs approximately 100 people while also generating significant sales tax revenue for the Tribal government operations. Other service-oriented businesses that opened include the Choctaw Office Supply, Choctaw Post Office, and Choctaw Forestry Enterprise. By 1990, the Tribe had developed a diversified economy that included manufacturing, retail, service, and government jobs.
Focusing on Revenue
The next phase of economic development began with the opening of the Silver Star Hotel & Casino on July 1, 1994, marking the Tribe's entry into the tourism industry. Since 1994, the Silver Star has undergone 5 expansions to become one of the largest casinos in the State of Mississippi. The Tribe has also opened the award-winning Dancing Rabbit Golf Club, a 36-hole golf resort designed by Tom Fazio and Jerry Pate. In 2002, the Tribe opened the Golden Moon Hotel & Casino.
The hospitality industry has proven to be a very beneficial industry for the Tribe in terms of revenue, job creation, average pay per employee, and positive publicity. For these reasons, the Tribe intends to continue the expansion of its tourism amenities to develop a destination resort centered around the gaming industry. Lake Pushmataha, a 285 acre recreational lake, opened in the summer of 2005 for families to enjoy.
Focusing on Careers
In 1995, using revenues from the gaming industry, the Tribe established a Scholarship Program that provides financial assistance to tribal members that want to pursue post-secondary education. This created exciting, new opportunities for tribal members to improve their skills and abilities. It also caused the tribe to pursue the creation of job opportunities that require advanced skills and pay higher wages. The Tribe formed new companies that created several rewarding, new career opportunities on the Reservation. First, the Tribe formed Applied Geo Technologies, Inc. ("AGT"), the Tribe's first high-tech company. AGT now employs more than 350 individuals engaged in advanced manufacturing, robotics, environmental services, and engineering services. Next, the Tribe formed Choctaw-Ikhana Laboratory Services to provide calibration and metrology services to various government and private-sector clients. Ikhana now has operations in both Mississippi and Texas. In 2005, the Tribe also created the Choctaw TechParc, a 150-acre master planned business park to help recruit high-tech companies the Reservation. AAI Corporation, a division of Textron, was recruited to the TechParc to open an advanced manufacturing facility to manufacture ground-support equipment for unmanned aircraft. Real Time Laboratories ("RTL") has also opened a manufacturing facility that manufactures climate control equipment for military vehicles.
Since 2001, the Tribe has created several new career opportunities on the Reservation and will continue to pursue profitable, new businesses that will continue to bring higher paying job opportunities to the community.