By: Catherine Sweeney The Journal Record
OKLAHOMA CITY – The Citizen Potawatomi Nation is battling a nationwide problem with a global solution.
Loss of manufacturing has affected cities, states and tribal nations across the United States. Younger people are leaving their homes to look for better work or settling for jobs with lower wages. As a result, economies in those regions have lagged.
The Citizen Potawatomi Nation and the surrounding area are no different.
James Collard, the nation’s tribal economic development director, said the answer lies in expanding the potential client pool, which comes naturally to his community.
“Historically, many of the tribes, particularly Citizen Potawatomi Nation, have been traders for hundreds and hundreds of years,” he said. “The notion of trade is in the DNA, in a sense.”
That’s why the nation began working on Iron Horse, an industrial park that replaced a cornfield blanketing 400 acres off Interstate 40 and U.S. Highway 177. The area held more than productive soil. A Union Pacific railroad runs through the middle of it.
“It just seemed to make sense,” Collard said. “The railroad runs literally right through the park. We believe in freight rail, and it is coming back. These kinds of parks can serve as a main to bring the manufacturing back that has been lost.”
Collard said this project’s return on investment is significantly higher than that of retail and other development.
“It comes down to multipliers,” he said. “Different jobs have different values.”
Collard based this value on the ability each new job has to spur more new jobs. Four new retail positions are required to trigger demand for one more job, he said. Those numbers are reversed in manufacturing. A single manufacturing job will create four to five non-manufacturing jobs, he said.
Years before tribal officials began marketing the site, they had to determine its target market. Collard said it was a good time to fall back on the tribe’s roots. They considered the long-term implications.
“It might be a way to reconnect with that emphasis on trade,” he said.
The site received its foreign trade zone designation in 2014, allowing the tribe to market several duty breaks to foreign manufacturers. Companies using the site will see duty exemptions on imported raw materials and outgoing waste and other materials. They won’t face tariffs on goods they sell to the U.S. in both public and private sectors. Users would also see fewer regulations on storage time processes.
“The cost savings are enormous,” Collard said.
Matthew Weaver is the director of marketing and business development for Foreign Trade Zone 106. The organization covers 22 counties and acts as a liaison between organizations seeking the designation and the federal government.
He said Iron Horse has a magnet site designation. Instead of seeking the designation for one specific site for a specific use, the Citizen Potawatomie Nation sought the designation for a whole park.
Companies would still have to go through an activation process, but operating on a tract that is already designated simplifies that process. Companies don’t have to seek activation if they build in Iron Horse, but it’s available.
“That’s just something that’s available in Citizen Potawatomie Nation’s toolkit,” Weaver said. “It’s a value added that (the tribe) can say, ‘We’re serious about businesses located here, and we’re sophisticated enough to know this is a major incentive.’”
Kyle Dean is an economics professor and the director of the Center for Native American & Urban Studies at Oklahoma City University. He studies the economic impact tribes have on the state.
He said the Citizen Potawatomi park’s success could bleed into other parts of the state. As nearby cities such as Dallas and Oklahoma City grow toward each other, the surrounding area tends to benefit as well, and that could increase interest in Iron Horse.
“I have high hopes for this,” he said. “I think it’s going to be good for the metro.”