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Native Economic Development Conference Focuses On Diversity, Cannabis Potential In Oklahoma

Steve Hahn, president of AT&T Oklahoma, speaks at the Reservation Economic Summit in Tulsa Tuesday.
Rip Stell
The Journal Record
Steve Hahn, president of AT&T Oklahoma, speaks at the Reservation Economic Summit in Tulsa Tuesday.

This week tribal and business leaders met just outside of Tulsa for the Reservation Economic Summit.

One of the sessions of this conference in Catoosa dealt with national companies looking for diversity in their supply chain management – the logistics of moving goods and services from raw materials to the finished product. Executives from Lockheed Martin and AT&T attended the conference and spoke with tribal businesses about their needs for women- and minority-owned businesses with communications, aerospace, and defense expertise, according to The Journal Record’s managing editor Adam Brooks.

Last year AT&T had a goal of 21.5 percent of its contractors being diverse-owned businesses. They actually hit 24 percent. They say they've been working on this for half a century and they're still working,” Brooks said. “One of the reasons they said it's important is because they have a very diverse customer base, which is kind of the whole population. So they need to reflect that in their workforce and their suppliers.”

AT&T wants to find diverse businesses as they move from a hardware-based company to one that’s more software-centric, and Lockheed is working with the Cherokee and Muscogee (Creek) nations and other tribes, The Journal Record’s Molly Fleming writes:

[Lockheed Martin Operations Engineer Greg] Bennett said Lockheed Martin is looking for minority-owned businesses that can build the repair kits or drill kits that are important to building the F-35 aircraft. Other F-35 components are built by larger companies, such as General Electric, which builds the engines. Lockheed is also looking for people who can write code and develop software for airplanes.

Credit Brett Levin / Flickr (CC BY 2.0)
Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Pot Possibility?

During a separate session on Tuesday, tribal leaders discussed opportunities in the cannabis industry. Even though marijuana is still classified as a Schedule I drug under federal law, the U.S. Department of Justice says as sovereign nations, tribes can sell marijuana as long as it doesn’t leave federal lands and enter a state where marijuana is illegal.

Brooks says tribes have tried this in other states with little success.

“In states like Washington and Colorado where they have legal distribution systems they have to work within those systems. But there have also been some other problems. Last year the Menominee Tribe in Wisconsin tried it. The feds ended up seizing 30,000 plants. There was also a tribe in South Dakota that ended up burning its whole crop.”

The National Indian Cannabis Coalition’s executive director Jeff Doctor told Fleming that tribes could be in a precarious situation if they try to engage in actively prohibited under federal law:

U.S. Sen. James Lankford of Oklahoma introduced a bill in August 2015 that would ban tribes from getting federal funds if they sell or cultivate marijuana. While some states are seeing profit from marijuana sales, Doctor said there are also opportunities in growing and processing hemp. The plant is a variety of the Cannabis sativa plant; however, it has lower doses of THC and higher doses of cannabidiol (CBD). Hemp was previously grown in the U.S., making its first appearance with the colonial settlers in the 1600s. It was grown in several states, including Virginia, Kentucky and California. As demand dwindled, so did the supply. In 1937, a tax was placed on cannabis sales. By 1970, hemp sales were made illegal because of its relation to marijuana.

“The groups also say this is really beneficial because unlike casinos, any tribe can get into this if they have land anywhere,” Brooks said. ”They don't have to worry about access to major population centers or anything like that.”

The Business Intelligence Report is a collaborative news project between KGOU and The Journal Record.

As a community-supported news organization, KGOU relies on contributions from readers and listeners to fulfill its mission of public service to Oklahoma and beyond. Donate online, or by contacting our Membership department.

The Journal Record is a multi-faceted media company specializing in business, legislative and legal news. Print and online content is available via subscription.

Brian Hardzinski is from Flower Mound, Texas and a graduate of the University of Oklahoma. He began his career at KGOU as a student intern, joining KGOU full time in 2009 as Operations and Public Service Announcement Director. He began regularly hosting Morning Edition in 2014, and became the station's first Digital News Editor in 2015-16. Brian’s work at KGOU has been honored by Public Radio News Directors Incorporated (PRNDI), the Oklahoma Association of Broadcasters, the Oklahoma Associated Press Broadcasters, and local and regional chapters of the Society of Professional Journalists. Brian enjoys competing in triathlons, distance running, playing tennis, and entertaining his rambunctious Boston Terrier, Bucky.
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