The Business Case for Private Investment and Development in Indian Country

On Wednesday, at RES 2011 in Las Vegas, Gabe Galanda presented a paper titled, "The Business Case for Private Investment and Development in Indian Country" (updated March 31, 2011). The paper was commissioned by the U.S. Interior Department's Office of Indian Energy and Economic Development, for presentation to representatives of Corporate America in attendance at RES.

There has never before been a better time to develop businesses on Indian lands or otherwise in partnership with tribal governments. The Great Recession has taken a disastrous toll on state and local governments. State tax revenues have plummeted, causing state and local governments to cut programs and reduce workforces. Local development impact fees have spiked. Tax assessors are assessing property and excise taxes with reckless abandon, as many state legislatures having withdrawn various tax exemptions and incentives that were designed to catalyze local business development and job creation. Obtaining building permits now takes even longer. It is getting more and more difficult, if not impossible in some jurisdictions, to develop new businesses in traditional commercial sectors.

But while state and local governments struggle to make ends meet, tribal governments have largely avoided economic catastrophe. Fueled by the $26.4 billion Indian gaming industry, Indian Country is generally faring much better than neighboring local economies since the recession took hold in 2008. Ironically, not having property tax bases to begin with, most tribal governmental revenues have remained stable. But tribes are not getting complacent; they recognize that the Indian gaming industry will not sustain its exponential growth over the last decade. The inevitable legalization of Internet gaming and, in some jurisdictions, commercial land-based gaming, will eventually put a major dent in Indian Country’s bottom line. As such, tribal governments are more than ever looking to diversify their economies.

Where tribes bring a staggering array tangibles like land and location, and intangibles like sovereignty, relaxed red tape and tax exemption, their corporate business partners bring proven industry expertise and new capital to the reservation. Whether through a joint venture between a tribe and a non-Indian business, a tribal land lease to a non-tribal company, or a tax credit investment – all of which are contemplated below – there are an abundance of very advantageous reservation development deals for Corporate America to symbiotically explore with tribes at this time in our nation’s history.

Gabriel "Gabe" Galanda is a partner at Galanda Broadman PLLC, of Seattle, an American Indian majority-owned law firm.  He is an enrolled member of the Round Valley Indian Tribes of Covelo, California.  He can be reached at 206.691.3631 or, or via