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From client to owner

Warm Springs gains another Native-owned enterprise

PORTLAND, Ore. - Cort Directions, a leading provider of payroll and human
resources management software, started in 1975 in Palm Springs, Calif. One
of owner Jerry Cort's first big customers was the Confederated Tribes of
Warm Springs. It was only a step away from Cort visiting the tribe in
Oregon, falling in love with the place, and relocating his business to
Bend, Ore. The move was an auspicious one, since just over 25 years later
in 2003, Warm Springs Ventures, the business arm of the tribe, purchased
Cort Directions.

The Warm Springs Tribe, located on the east slope of the Cascade Mountains,
has a long history of successful business development dating back to the
1940s with its first major timber contract. Since the post-World War II
era, the tribe has established itself as a first-rate supplier of green
timber products to the environmental community. The tribe also runs a
resort and a museum, and is involved in hydroelectric production. In the
late 1980s, though, the Warm Springs people realized that relying on the
reservation's natural resources and culture put limits on growth. So for
the next two decades leaders explored ways to diversify the tribal economy.

The outcome was Warm Springs Ventures, an economic development corporation
started in 2001 with a charter to go out and invest tribal money. Key
tribal leaders chose a board of directors whose first job was to conduct a
national search for a chief executive officer. Thomas Henderson was tapped
as CEO and came on board with a mission to create sources of long-term
revenue for the tribe as well as enhance employment opportunities for
tribal members.

To date Ventures acquisitions include two ceramic tile companies, Kibak and
Sea Lane, as well as Cort Directions. Mike Grigsby, director of marketing
at Cort Directions, said, "Tribes often realize that they don't have the
business experience in what they call 'the white man's area.' So what the
Warm Springs have done is use the Ventures company as their group of
experts in dealing with businesses outside the tribe's more familiar sphere
of interests."

Cort Directions works with mid-range companies that have 500-40,000
employees. The company's current client roster includes Harvard University,
Boeing, the Denver Broncos and Tribune Publishing, among other notable
firms across the United States. "We started out with software for
window-based systems," Grigsby said. "But more recently we've expanded to
Web-based applications. That way companies can outsource the entire job of
doing payroll and the more complex tasks of managing human resources if
they choose."

While payroll is a fairly straight-forward chore, Grigsby explained that
human resources management is more involved. Not only tracking
applications, benefits and certifications on employees, but also handling
taxation matters gets into complicated territory. "Our niche is being able
to do complex calculations," said Grigsby. "Like tips or bonuses, for
example. In some states you may be able to pay less than a minimum wage to
a waitress or waiter if what they earn in tips is figured in."

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Another example of Cort Directions handling more sophisticated accounting
procedures is with their Denver Broncos account. "The Broncos use our
software to pay their team, and the reason they do is because we take care
of figuring out how much tax the players have to pay various states in
which they play games. It's all dependent on how long they play in each
particular city."

Having the Warm Springs tribes involved, at least indirectly, with outfits
like the Denver Broncos is one thing, but getting down to the brass tacks
of building business connections in Indian country is another. Again, Cort
Directions is in the thick of it.

"Because we're Native owned, we go after Indian country business," said
Grigsby. "We sort of have a natural affinity with the tribes who have their
own timber, power and fishing companies. And we very often find ourselves
working with casinos - gaming and the hospitality end of things. Also we're
on the municipal side as well - our payroll and human resources management
software and Web systems can help with the running of tribal governments."

The question is, though, how to grow this potential niche now that Cort
Directions is Native-owned.

Enter Red Skye, LLC, a Native women-owned company based in Warm Springs
with ties to Indian country. President and member of the Warm Springs
tribe, Aurolyn Stwyer-Watlamet works with colleague Natalie Charley, a
Quinault tribal member. The pair functions as value-added resellers for
Cort Directions.

"Aurolyn is at virtually all the conferences and boards and represents us
there. Aurolyn goes to these events and adds her input and talent in that
area. She and her partner work nationally. They travel all over."

Watlamet and Charley bring gaming, marketing and business acumen to Red
Skye. That background combined with their knowledge of the market in Indian
country and their cultural savvy make the firm an asset to Cort Directions
and its marketing.

The Warm Springs tribe has gone from a focus on more insular natural
resource-based businesses to reaching out to experts in the larger society,
experts who have helped the tribe invest funds and diversify its economy.
In the process the Warm Springs have watched their role of client with Cort
Directions grow to owner of the company. Now, as Cort Directions seeks to
expand their business into Indian country, the firm has hired none other
than a Warm Springs business, Red Skye, to facilitate that move, bridge the
gap between the cultures and translate benefits associated with Cort
Directions payroll and human resources systems to Native entrepreneurs and
tribal governments.