Norwich project spotlights tribal, city and state cooperation

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It may have gone largely unnoticed outside southeastern Connecticut, but
the recent opening of an $18 million office building in downtown Norwich
spotlighted what can happen with a cooperative relationship between tribal,
city and state governments.

Elected leaders from the federal, state and local governments praised the
role of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation at the recent opening of the
Mercantile office building in the heart of downtown Norwich, a proud
Connecticut city with a historic role in development of our country.

They noted the economic progress already generated because of the tribe's
significant investment in the city and its people. But they also made a
larger point about the progress that can be made when people of diverse
backgrounds come together and work for the betterment of all.

Mayor Art Lathrop likened the importance of the Mercantile building to the
1913 opening of the American Thermos company's world headquarters in
Norwich. In addressing those gathered for the grand opening, Lt. Gov. Kevin
Sullivan pointed out that it is a lot easier to cross a bridge than it is
to scale a wall. Congressman Rob Simmons noted that great things can be
accomplished by joining to advance the common good.

Advancement. Bridges. Great things. These are all associated with success,
and the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation is proud to have played a key
role in creating a real success story with this project. It will mean tax
revenue for the city of Norwich and jobs for its people.

This project will prove to be an essential stimulus for continued growth in
the city. It grew out of a long commitment by many leaders, including my
predecessor Skip Hayward and, more recently, Ken Reels, who pushed this
project along.

I think what we have seen in Norwich and also in our relationship with the
towns closest to Mashantucket, namely Ledyard, Preston and North
Stonington, is gravitation toward positive leadership. One of the first
bridges we were able to cross linked Mashantucket and the city of Norwich.

We met in the middle of that bridge with the leaders of the Rose City and
talked about mutual interests and moving forward together into the future.
It is awfully easy as a leader to stand up and talk about what you are
against, but negative leadership in the long run is wholly unproductive. It
benefits no one.

I hold Norwich as the model of what a relationship of mutual cooperation
can look like between a tribe and a municipality. And there is no reason
why that model cannot be applied elsewhere in our region and across the
country.

We have been talking for quite some time about shattering the walls of
misconception that have existed between Mashantucket and other communities
and replacing them with bridges of understanding.

We are proud to be a part of the fabric of this region and this state. And
nowhere is this more apparent than in the whirlwind of economic activity
generated by our Foxwoods Resort Casino.

Because of Foxwoods, the tribe has been a major economic contributor to the
federal, state and local governments. For instance, in 2003 alone the tribe
paid local governments $2.5 million in property taxes for off-reservation
holdings. Since 1993, we have paid the state more than $1.9 billion in
earnings from our slot machine operation. This has been done under terms of
a negotiated agreement between our government and the state. That agreement
calls for us to generate the income and for the state to decide where it is
spent.

And over the last four years, we were responsible for $1.5 billion in
employee-related tax payments and fees to the federal government and to the
states of Connecticut and Rhode Island.

Obviously, those are big numbers. Whatever else they say about the economic
activity at Mashantucket, they speak to a serious commitment the
Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation has made to their fellow citizens of this
great state and country. Job creation is a fundamental building block of
society, and the tribe is proud to provide direct employment to more than
12,000 people. In addition, there are the many thousands of indirect jobs
and business benefits.

When we mention the tribe's economic contributions, we should also note the
significant role our museum plays in bringing greater understanding, an
essential element to any society.

What happened in Norwich with the Mercantile project was a team victory.
There is a real opportunity to create an even larger team with even larger
benefits. Let us keep moving forward by crossing those bridges of
understanding today so our children won't have to scale those walls of lost
opportunity tomorrow.

Michael Thomas is chairman of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation.