by Heidi Smith
When the Squaxin Island Tribe was initially considering building a hotel, several tribal members had the same question during public hearings. Could the Tribe afford to do it? Executive Director Ray Peters’ answer was simple.
“I said, ‘We can’t afford not to,'” he recalls.
Each new business is connected to the overall goal of creating a diverse tax base that supports tribal infrastructure. “The tax base is very important for the health, safety and welfare of the people,” says Peters. “The revenues that come from that diversification fund important services like law enforcement, community development, planning, and court systems. Those funds stay in Mason County.”
“We manufacture cigarettes on our property, and that allows us to keep the tax revenue,” says General Manager Mike Araiza. “Manufacturing machinery comes out of either Italy or England, so we’re very fortunate to have some talented individuals who have worked in aerospace engineering and diesel hydraulics mechanics that can reverse engineer parts.”
The decision to add a golf course made Little Creek Casino Resort one of a handful of tribal-owned properties in Washington State to combine three attractions and make the resort a tourist destination. The golf course uses reclaimed water from a state-of-the-art treatment facility and the Tribe earned the first ‘Salmon-Safe Golf Course’ certification through the Seattle-based nonprofit Stewardship Partners for their efforts.
Aside from creating employment, the casino powers the Tribe’s charitable arm, which has donated over $5 million to local nonprofits through grants. Recently the casino partnered with the Girl Scouts, purchasing 10,000 boxes of Girl Scout cookies which they gave away to guests. “It was a good promotion and our guests really enjoyed it,” says Nunez. “We’re always looking to sponsor or donate to charitable organizations.”
Skookum Creek Tobacco plans to add cigars to its product selection while exploring new ways to generate income in the future. Considering the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s increasingly stringent regulation of tobacco, Araiza believes that diversifying is the best way to ensure longevity. “I feel what I owe to my Tribe and my employees is to look at other manufacturing businesses we can transition to that will allow us to take advantage of our employee expertise,” he says. “Maybe it’s not cigarettes, but what else is out there that would make money and provide a tax advantage for the tribe?”
Managing Skookum Creek is a second career for Araiza, who retired from working in city government in Oregon. “I was happy to have the opportunity to come back and work for my Tribe,” he says. “Being able to come home and see how much the tribe has grown and flourished has been exciting.”
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