Fond du Lac Band touts economic powerThe Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa poured more than $300 million into the regional economy in 2011 — and, despite its two casinos, less than half of its economic impact was from tourism.
By: Jana Hollingsworth, Duluth News Tribune
The Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa poured more than $300 million into the regional economy in 2011 — and, despite its two casinos, less than half of its economic impact was from tourism.
That’s according to a study by the Bureau of Business and Economic Research at the University of Minnesota Duluth, commissioned by Fond du Lac and presented Tuesday by band Chairwoman Karen Diver at Black Bear Casino and Resort.
“What we wanted to capture in the economic impact study was how vital the health of the Fond du Lac band is to the entire region; people see us generally as casinos,” Diver said after the talk. “When we look at the reservation as a total — the government and program operations and the enterprises — the economic impact in the region is actually fairly significant.”
Reservation businesses include construction, logging, timber, propane, pharmacies, gas and groceries, radio stations and insurance. The band also offers community, health, government and social services, education, housing and a development corporation. All of those activities put money into the economy. An especially high number comes from reservation services, with a $124 million impact in 2011.
Casino money, Diver said, is used as a “surrogate tax base” to pay for those reservation services.
“It actually leverages more money at that point by bringing in grant dollars, which hires more people and provides more services,” she said. “That is a gift to the people of Fond du Lac that they are able to create a community that invests in its own people and their health and long-term benefit.”
The band has about 4,150 enrolled members and employs 2,200 people. Its payroll without benefits is about $63 million and the benefits it pays total about $18.7 million. The band decided to share financial information because it interacts with so many in the broader community, Diver said.
“Fond du Lac has a role as employers and economic drivers and partners,” she said, “and we’re not just kind of stuck away in our little corner of Carlton and St. Louis counties.”
UMD’s Jim Skurla, director of the Bureau of Business and Economic Research, conducted the study. Through its economic impact, the band created 3,600 jobs in the study area of St. Louis, Carlton and Douglas counties, he said. The economic impact of reservation services created 1,900 jobs, and tourism, mostly from the casinos, created about 1,420.
“They are an important part of our economy here,” Skurla said of Fond du Lac. A large portion of the money the band spends stays in the area, he said — more than money spent by some other local industries such as aircraft manufacturing because the production materials aren’t made here.
“It’s kind of a self-enclosed community that’s an economic engine in Carlton County,” he said.
Ferdinand Martineau said he was surprised by the $300 million number.
“That’s a staggering amount of money,” said Martineau, the secretary/
treasurer of the band. “There was a time when we were lucky to have a
$1 million impact on our local economy, let alone ($300 million) on the regional economy.”
Tribal councils have worked toward band self-sufficiency for decades, he said, and there’s still work to do.
“But now it’s starting to show,” he said.
The band’s value is evident, said Kelly Zink, executive director of the Cloquet Area of Chamber of Commerce, noting the chamber’s tourism office gets many calls about events held at Black Bear.
“We certainly see the impact in Cloquet; there is no question,” she said. “Along with the economic impact, they are a good team player with the community. The collaboration that happens with the two communities is wonderful.”