New study suggests Fond du Lac band a big economic engine

The same day the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe made a high-profile announcement of its plans to purchase two St. Paul hotels in a move to diversify its economy, its neighbor to the northeast, the Fond du Lac Band, released a new study estimating the band’s regional economic impact at $305 million.

The Fond du Lac Band commissioned the study from the University of Minnesota-Duluth’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research.

20110831_fond-du-luth-casino_33.jpgThe Fond-du-Luth Casino in downtown Duluth, Minn. was the state’s first jointly run gambling operation. (MPR Photo/Dan Kraker)

Band Chairwoman Karen Diver says the study highlights the band’s economic diversification.

“Too often,” she said, “I think that we’re viewed so much as just casinos, and it really discounts the fact that we really use that money to build a service delivery system and capacity within the reservation as a government.”

Diver says casino revenues help fund government services like health care and community centers. The Fond du Lac band employs about 2,200, second most in northeast Minnesota behind Essentia Health. Study author Jim Skurla estimates the band’s economic activity creates an additional 1,400 jobs.

“So it has an impact not just on people that live on the reservation,” he said, “but a lot of non-natives are also working out there, which I think adds a lot of value to the region.”

The band operates two casinos, but its tourism related businesses account for only about a third of its economic activity. Skurla said he was surprised to learn about the breadth of the band’s business operations, which also includes insurance, construction, health care and other busineses.

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