Meskwaki looking for new businesses besides casino

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TAMA COUNTY, Iowa (KCRG TV9)- The Meskwaki Nation near Tama is trying to get involved in new businesses outside of casinos. And that need to diversify led to the creation of what’s called Meskwaki, Inc.

The site of a new warehouse and manufacturing facility for Meskwaki, Inc. It's part of a tribal effort to diversify into new businesses.

That push, started several years ago, now includes a construction company building a housing development in Marshalltown, a travel plaza along Highway 30 and, coming soon, a warehouse and factory site that will package and distribute tobacco products.

Mark Hubble, CEO of Meskwaki, Inc. says as tribal members look around the state they see a lot of competition for casino dollars. And while the Meskwaki Casino and Hotel is still the main economic engine the thought was to diversify now to better prepare tribal members for the future.

Currently, Meskwaki Inc employs about 80 people. The casino and hotel complex employs more than ten times that number.

But Hubble says the growth is coming faster in the non-casino businesses if you consider that back in 2014, those businesses produced zero revenue for the tribe.

“In 2015, we grew to about $15 million. We’re approaching $20 million now. I think once the warehouse and distribution facility gets onboard revenues will grow quickly,” Hubble said.

The warehouse and factory is slated to open by fall. And Meskwaki workers will ship native American products under the “Big River” brand to customers worldwide from that location.

But they also plan to manufacture both their own brand of tobacco as well as e-cigarette products.

Hubble says Meskwaki already employs more people than any other business in Tama County.

Matt Bear, the Travel Plaza manager, says expansion should eventually mean more opportunities for employment.

“I think a lot of the tribe are excited about the opportunities forthcoming. A lot of time the only jobs available were through the tribal government or through the casino,” he said.

Jason Davenport, a tribal council member, said one long term goal is to wean the tribe from depending too much on the casino operation for revenue.

“I hope the tribe, the corporation, can become bigger than the casino and be the force behind the tribe,” Davenport said.

Hubble says for now, it’s first steps along the road to economic development with the hope the “Meskwaki” brand eventually comes to mean more than just the casino in the minds of eastern Iowans.