by Heidi Smith • Photos by Nate Burgher, courtesy of the Thurston EDC
Truckstop and Confederated Construction Company. Diversification has been the key, according to Burnett. “We’ve been focused on not having all our eggs in one basket,” he explains. “Throughout the years we’ve stuck to that plan. When you have a business like a casino, you can go the route of a hotel and golf course and continue to develop a large entity, or you can do what we did and create a variety of different businesses.”
A more recent addition is Talking Cedar Brewery, Distillery, Tasting Room & Restaurant. To open the distilling portion of the business, the Chehalis Tribe had to challenge a two-centuries-old law that banned distilling on Tribal land. They had already developed a partnership with Heritage Distilling Company, a Gig Harbor-based producer of spirits, when they discovered the plan would be illegal under the existing 1834 statute. Tribal leaders lobbied Congress, which voted to repeal the law and remove prohibitions on alcohol distilleries on tribal lands in 2018. “That was a standout moment,” says Burnett. “We were able to get a national law changed.”
Generating income and creating employment are two factors the Tribe considers when looking at any new potential, along with capacity. “We look at the potential return on investment for the pure business part, but we also look at jobs,” Burnett maintains. “With a truck stop or a brewery and distillery, those are providing a different type of job than we’ve had in the past. We’re looking at opportunities for our tribal members, but we have far more jobs than tribal members, so along with that comes opportunities for the surrounding community.” Not including Great Wolf Lodge staff, the Chehalis Tribe employs 471 people through its various businesses, including 39 tribal members.
Meanwhile, fans of Talking Cedar beer can look forward to the potential of a new product in the coming year: Talking Cedar liquor. After the company’s brand of beer did so well in the marketplace, CTE began to give serious consideration to introducing a new brand of spirits in 2022 or 2023.
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