- Three Native American tribes in Michigan have created a construction and real estate development joint venture that the collaborators say is the first of its kind in the Midwest.
- Grand Rapids-based Aki Construction intends to employ workers from within the three groups, and build projects largely within their communities, according to a release, but company leaders said they also plan to serve other tribes as well as non-tribal groups.
- The team, which announced the new firm last month, is still developing its longer-term strategy but already has some projects lined up, including a large retail, healthcare, housing and manufacturing development north of Gun Lake Casino in Wayland, Michigan. Aki has plans for other undisclosed jobs that it says will be shovel-ready in the spring.
The three entities behind Aki Construction are:
- Odawa Economic Affairs Holding Corp., the business development group for the Little Traverse Bay Band of Odawa Indians.
- Mno-Bmadsen, the non-gaming investment arm of the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians.
- Gun Lake Investments, the economic development corporation for the Gun Lake Tribe.
Aki Construciton’s initial work will be in Michigan, but the contractor hopes to do more in the Midwest and U.S. at large.
“It’s a way to continue our own economic sustainability and keep some of those profits within our own tribes and ecosystems,” said Monica King, CEO of GLI. “The significance of being able to provide those services internally is important.”
Although none of the founding entities is a dedicated construction company, “we all have been circling around this in different ways … and we have had a lot of experience with construction without having a construction company ourselves,” said Julio Martinez, CEO of Mno-Bmadsen.
Mno-Bmadsen owns two architecture companies, a civil engineering company and a design firm that specializes in mechanical, electrical and plumbing work. The tribes also have experience with real estate investments and developing businesses such as casinos, gas stations, hotels, restaurants and retail spaces.
The new business faces challenges typical to all construction firms, including labor, material cost, project financing and ensuring the ability to scale. Launching during a time of national and global economic uncertainty with a potential recession looming is another challenge, but group members say they are focused on the long haul.
Even then, “the tribes have certain needs that have to be met,” Martinez said. Projects like new clinics and schools are a necessity, regardless of the current economic climate.
The new venture will seek to leverage commonalities between cultures and economic practices.
“It’s not as well known, I think, that tribes really do like to collaborate and work well together,” said King. “It’s really incredible that we can do investments like this … We hope to encourage other tribes to do the same.”