Behind the billions are jobs: $2.4 billion in annual economic impact, 16,000 wage earners — that's the Chickasaw Nation's impact on the Oklahoma economy, a study says.
Behind the jobs? Growing diversity.
More than gaming is fueling Chickasaw growth, according to the study, “Estimating the Oklahoma Economic Impact of the Chickasaw Nation,” by the Steven C. Agee Economic Research and Policy Institute at Oklahoma City University.
Gaming did account for 91.5 percent of Chickasaw Nation business revenue of $1.39 billion last year — from 17 gaming centers led by Riverwind Casino in Norman and WinStar World Casino in Thackerville.
But the tribe, based in Ada, also had interests in banking, health care and other professional services, led by Chickasaw Banc Holding Co., which operates Bank2 in Oklahoma City, and Chickasaw Nation Industries, which provides services for state, federal and private clients. Chickasaw businesses also include manufacturing, tourism and energy.
Further, the tribe's direct payroll came to $318 million — $525 million counting spinoff jobs — and the Chickasaw Nation paid $119 million for goods and services from Oklahoma. Chickasaw Nation government spending came to $129 million in 2011, the study found.
The study's findings “are nothing short of impressive, and they show that the Chickasaw Nation's economic activities and enterprises strongly bolster the state economy,” said Kyle Dean, associate director and research economist at the OCU Meinders School of Business.
“Through its diversified enterprises, the study underscores that the Chickasaw Nation has become an integral part of Oklahoma's overall economy and is now among the top employers and purchasers of goods and services in the state.”
Many tribal interests
Oklahoma Commerce Secretary Dave Lopez said the study drew together the Chickasaw Nation's diverse enterprises in a way that is hard to ignore. He spoke of the tribe as a single employer with numerous subsidiaries.
“For us, it puts a face on an employer that sometimes gets overlooked,” Lopez said, pointing out that the tribe and its business combined comprise one of the state's largest employers, with more than 10,000 direct employees working for enterprises that support another 6,000.
Those 10,000-plus Chickasaw Nation employees work in more than 60 different businesses, noted Bill Lance, CEO of the Chickasaw Nation's Division of Commerce.
“We are focused on growing our existing businesses and investing in new ventures with strong revenue and growth potential,” Lance said, mentioning investment in a high-tech medical device with a California company and expansion at Bedre, the Chickasaw-owned chocolate factory in Pauls Valley.
‘Oklahoma a partner'
Lance said the study shines light on the breadth of Chickasaw involvement in the state economy.
“The key takeaway for me is the degree to which reinvestments in Oklahoma are paying dividends, particularly in how they continue to produce good jobs, most notably in rural Oklahoma. The unemployment level in Murray County is less than 3 percent, due in great measure to the investments we are making in several business enterprises,” he said. “Another key takeaway is the more than half a billion dollars in payroll revenue that serves as income for the state of Oklahoma and gives Chickasaw Nation and Oklahoma citizens enormous purchasing power when buying goods.
“Also, I think the report shows how both the Chickasaw Nation and the state of Oklahoma economically complement one another. It is important we both thrive. We consider the state of Oklahoma a partner, and we share a common goal to strengthen the economy and produce as many jobs as we can.”
Lawsuit not a factor
Lopez said the idea for OCU to study the economic impact of several tribes, not just the Chickasaws, came up last year at the annual Sovereignty Symposium, established 25 years ago by the Oklahoma Supreme Court to study American Indian legal issues. Asked whether the study was related to or in response to the controversy over water rights that has the Chickasaw and Choctaw nations suing the state in federal court, he said the study and lawsuit were unrelated.
“We're all looking forward to a positive resolution to those issues, but the study and the economic impact of the tribes are bigger than those involved in the water dispute,” Lopez said.
Chickasaw Nation Gov. Bill Anoatubby said the study should be seen as a snapshot snapped using a long lens.
“Long-term thinking guides our various business enterprises along with our goal to have a positive social and economic impact throughout the 13 counties comprising the Chickasaw Nation in south-central Oklahoma, as well as across all of Oklahoma,” Anoatubby said, pointing out a $150 million medical center in Ada as well as new health facilities in Ardmore and Tishomingo.
“Our economic activities are part of the economic fabric of the state, and the revenues generated through our various business enterprises allow us to invest in programs and services for the benefit of Chickasaw Nation and Oklahoma citizens,” he said.