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Choctaws create jobs

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CHOCTAW, Miss. ? Mississippi will soon owe more than 23,500 jobs and $38 million in tax revenues to the economic prowess of the Choctaw Indians, concludes a study recently released by researchers at Mississippi State University.

The tribe's ambitious construction program, including a new hotel and second casino, will increase the state's Gross State Product by $318 million, said the report.

But the Choctaws became an economic engine long before the onset of Indian casinos, said Meghan Millea, co-author of the study. "The Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians is involved in much more than gaming and recreation," said the economist. "They produce plastics, electronics; operate tribal government and educational facilities.

"Their purchases from Mississippi businesses and payments to their workers continually circulate money through the economy."

The report was sponsored by the Choctaw and meshes with its public relations offensive against a call by some state politicians for the tribe to pay state taxes. Last fall State Sen. Jack Gordon, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, suggested that the state renegotiate its gaming compact with the Choctaws to require tax payments.

Choctaw Chief Phillip Martin countered with a vigorous defense of the tribe's economic benefit for the state, and he continued the argument in commenting on the new study.

"Some people complain that we don't pay taxes, but they fail to acknowledge that we do not cost the state anything, either," Martin said. "This study by Mississippi state shows that we are a huge financial benefit for Mississippi, and we don't ask for anything in return."

The study predicts that by this October the tribe will be responsible for 14,817 permanent jobs generating a $356.8 million annual payroll for Mississippians. The annual tax revenue from this workforce will total $18.7 million. In addition, the tribe's nearly half billion dollar investment in new construction projects will create 8,686 jobs with a payroll totaling $236.7 million. This one-time stimulus will produce another $19.7 million in state tax revenues, said the study.

Co-author Jon Rezek adds that the tribe's tourism industry attracts 2.3 million out-of-state visitors yearly to the Pearl River Indian Reservation. They spend $51 million with off-reservation businesses. "The sectors most affected by visitor spending are the transportation, retail, and food and beverage sectors," said Rezek.

The tribe operates the Silver Star casino and is now building a second one, The Golden Moon, across the state highway. It is also developing a nearby 1,000 acre resort including three hotels.

But the tribe's economic renaissance dates before the advent of gaming to the mid-1970s push by Martin to attract manufacturing to the reservation. With support from Packard Electric, a division of General Motors, the tribe opened Chahta Enterprise in 1979 to produce wiring harnesses for the automotive industry. When in 1998 automotive customers announced that they were transferring their business to lower-cost Mexican factories, says a tribal economic history, Chahta Enterprise responded by expanding south of the border. It now operates a wiring harness plant in Senora state that employs approximately 1,700. The tribe says it is now seeking high-skill employment to replace the low-skill jobs relocated to Mexico.

Martin argues that in addition to its economic success, the tribe is solidly rooted in central Mississippi. "We should be considered the ultimate locally owned business," he said. "We are not going to move to greener pastures, like some companies do."