Tribal Economies: The Case for Diversification

In May, the President released his proposed budget with major cuts that will directly impact tribes across Indian Country. And as the growth of Indian gaming has begun to slow, now more than ever tribal governments should be focused on diversifying their portfolios as a means to build stronger and more sustainable economies over the long term.

“Gaming has provided a lift for many Tribes for many years, but the reality is that it hasn’t provided enough revenues to address the many challenges that confront most tribal communities, nor has it supported the growth of tribal economies beyond the casinos,” said Jamie Fullmer, Chairman/CEO of the Phoenix-based Blue Stone Strategy Group. “The gaming industry has been more successful for some than for others, but it is clear that now is the time for all Tribes to focus attention on diversification into other businesses to provide steady revenue streams and creating more tribal jobs.”

The National Indian Gaming Commission (NIGC) reports that Indian gaming revenues began leveling off at around 2007 at $26.1 billion and has had only incremental increases in the last decade, indicating that the industry’s major boom period may have peaked.  

Fullmer says that successful diversification depends on several factors, including tribal leadership, community commitment, geographic location, infrastructure capacity,adaptability in strategic planning and land use initiatives.

“The initial step for tribal leaders diversifying their economy involves gaining an understanding of their Tribe’s particular competitive advantages, the available local and regional economic assets, and access to capital beyond gaming revenues,” said Fullmer. “Armed with this understanding, tribal leaders can then effectively deploy the various diversification theories that are in accordance with their particular goals and opportunities to achieve long-term job creation and economic growth.  

“It is critical to study the local market and workforce, understand the needs and wants of the area beyond just the tribal community and evaluate the potential opportunities in a particular location and then develop action oriented strategies based on the current reality of the area not just the potential.”

Most Tribes find themselves in one of two situations, said Fullmer. They are located near a relatively large metropolitan population, or in a relatively rural, isolated location where gaming operations and ancillary businesses are based on destination resort models or on capturing customers who travel through or near the reservation on major highways.  

Opportunities available to tribal nations with little acreage tend to focus on creating retail and service-oriented enterprises that do not require square footage. Comparatively, Tribes with vast reservations often contain one or more marketable natural resources and agricultural opportunities that can―if chosen by tribal leaders―be leveraged for economic development purposes. While Tribes can have both rural and urban attributes, the options for diversification differ depending on the cultural fit, demographics, and community support in a particular tribe’s situation, said Fullmer.

In general, Tribes tend to fall into one of four categories: Those near metropolitan areas; rural tribes situated on high-traffic corridors; those isolated with natural resources and agriculture; and those who are isolated without natural resources.

“Naturally, Tribes near large metropolitan areas usually have a strong infrastructural and economic advantage, left to solve the straightforward challenge of capturing an adequate piece of the purchasing power of the existing customer base in those areas,” he said. “While Tribes in rural areas, particularly in the western United States, have rural isolated reservations that are not near any major population centers or high-traffic corridors.”

To overcome these challenges, Fullmer advocates for developing a strategy that leverages the Tribes’ sovereign rights and advantages, that looks at both on and off reservation opportunities outside of gaming and toward human and natural resources and  to capitalize on the economic opportunities that tribal leaders may sometimes overlook.

“Blue  Stone’s  goal is to help tribes to evaluate and plan their own unique diversification program to what they believe is best for them, both culturally and economically,” said Fullmer. “But there’s no question that Tribal Nations need to move beyond gaming and establish a secondary, more refined approach in achieving diversification.  We have worked very hard over the last decade supporting our Tribal clients in diversifying their economies by combining our respect for the uniqueness of each tribe’s culture and history, providing proven tribal methods and perspective, while pairing them with best practices from Indian Country and the corporate world.”

A note from Jamie Fullmer – Assessing from the foundation up in 2017

At the start of each New Year, we personally spend time assessing our lives, our habits, our goals. As businesses, we often re-evaluate our collective direction and priorities. Tribes have the same priority with tribal governments and enterprises.

Your tribal system or tribal business is only as good as its people. Human Resources (HR) is the vital link that provides staffing, guidance and advice to all levels of tribal business. Improve the efficiency and effectiveness of human resources, and you set the stage to improve performance and leadership systematically for your ever-growing tribal Nation.

Staffing is the life-blood of any organization. Having enhanced HR team process and support will assist decision-makers in improving their abilities to handle complex situations and make smart, informed decisions.  Through HR assessment, programming reviews, on-boarding, and training, your tribe can equip your HR team with crucial insights and procedures.

Blue Stone Strategy Group does not rely on blanket or universal recommendations for realigning HR structure and drafting new policies. Thanks to the last decade of experience working with tribal human resources departments, we have ample proven-effective best practices and management models to pull from — we adapt and refine those models for each individual tribe.

As a majority Native-owned and -operated business that has spent the last 10 years supporting tribal leaders in governance and economic development issues, Blue Stone Strategy Group clearly grasps the unique structures of tribal governments and enterprises, and how vastly different those can look from tribe to tribe.

2017 is already moving forward so should you!  The time is now to kick start your tribe’s economic development from the ground up, beginning with HR. Here’s what Blue Stone has to offer your human relations department: overall assessment of the effectiveness of your HR department; HR training and development; savings and retirement plan administration; performance and development; recruiting, employment and on-boarding administration; tribal preference policy; compensation analysis; compensation policies and procedures; safety, workers’ compensation, risk management and benefits review; responsiveness, staff workload, and reporting relationships; regulatory compliance audients; update policies and procedures. Check out Blue Stone’s many testimonials from tribal leaders:

“Blue Stone brought a wealth of knowledge and expertise to our organization while emphasizing the need of Unity and helping bring Our Vision to fruition,” said Marshall Pierite, former Tribal Chairman of the Tunica Biloxi Tribe of Louisiana.

So what’s the next step? Schedule a call. Call us today at (949) 476-8828, or contact us via Let Blue Stone help take your tribe’s economic development and prosperity to the next level.

Through strengthening your economic stability and tribal sovereignty, we empower Indian country as a whole.  Plan ahead. Stay ahead!


Jamie Fullmer

Blue Stone Strategy Group
Serving Tribal Nations
(949) 476-8828 office
(949) 861-7419 fax

Tribal Governance Made Easy with Blue Stone’s Soft Touch


Author: Gale Courey Toensing

Blue Stone Strategy Group
, a majority Native-owned and –operated business that supports tribal leaders in governance and economic development issues, has reached an important milestone: October marks its 10th anniversary in business.

That’s a major achievement, since less than 50 percent of new businesses last that long, according to the Small Business Administration. “About half of all new establishments survive five years or more and about one-third survive 10 years or more,” SBA says.

For Blue Stone co-founders Chairman and Chief Executive Jamie Fullmer and President John Mooers, the anniversary is a time to celebrate. “Not only are we celebrating 10 years in business, we’re celebrating the economic impact of our work with over 100 tribes across Indian country,” Mooers told ICTMN.  “We continually review and reflect on the business practices that make us a long-standing, solid and strong team.”

That continued self-examination inspires Blue Stone leaders to re-commit to Blue Stone’s mission – helping tribal leaders protect tribal sovereignty by providing them with supportive services in governance and economic development that promote sustainability and economic independence.

“We are solidly committed to our purpose of serving tribal leaders and helping them to support and protect sovereignty,” said Fullmer, former chairman of the Yavapai-Apache Nation.

Tribal leaders have much on their plates and tribal government systems and their economic development arms are often stretched thin because of competing priorities for time and resources, Fullmer said.

The partners pride themselves on community-based, strategic planning with tribes. “Our focus is not only creating viable solutions, but the ultimate test is to ensure smooth and successful implementation. The last thing tribes need is another binder of plans on the shelf that never gets implemented,” Mooers said.

During their ongoing self examination this year Fullmer and Mooers looked closely at where tribal leaders are having the most challenges. “How can we provide the best support with our work? How can we make sure we’re providing the best project teams with the best subject matter experts?“ Fullmer said. He and Mooers relied for help on Blue Stone’s own internal leaders who guide the firm’s vision and mission.

There probably isn’t a single word to adequately describe what Blue Stone does — neither “consulting” nor “advisory” covers all the firm does. It works exclusively with tribal governments to improve their two core functions: the inextricably intertwined branches of tribal governance and tribal economic development. In line with the fundamental tenet that strong tribal governance protects and strengthens tribal sovereignty, Blue Stone helps tribal leaders develop a vision and structure to promote and grow the services their communities need, as well as the strategies, processes and systems required.

The firm provides tribal governments with analyses of the strengths and weaknesses of their operations, practical advice on becoming efficient and transparent, and strategies for improvement, with workable step-by-step plans. Blue Stone covers all facets of tribal governance, as can be seen on its website, including: tribal financial health, housing, compensation and benefits, training and development, human resources, executive management support, tribal leader development, master planning, tribal land planning, healthcare planning and more.

Blue Stone has helped tribal businesses increase revenues and profits across a wide range of fields, including economic development boards, investment due diligence, feasibility assessments, real estate services, land planning, casino performance, loan restructure, business/enterprise assessment, leadership economic development planning and more.

Each project the firm takes on gets a dedicated project team that includes former and current tribal leaders and subject matter experts who provide one-on-one guidance to the tribal client’s leaders in leadership training and development, governmental financial literacy and accountability to support continued internal leadership growth. The team also reviews departments and programs with an eye to improving efficiency and accountability.

Blue Stone has completed around 400 projects over the past 10 years, working with more than 100 tribes, large and small, all over the country.

The work is challenging, Fullmer said, because each tribe is unique in its culture and how it’s organized, in how the community participates, in financial resources, in demographics, in geographic location, in what they prioritize culturally and in what they prioritize as a government. All of those factors are considered as Blue Stone develops a tribe’s strategic plan. Fullmer added, “People say, ‘Use the cookie-cutter approach,’ but we can’t do that.”

A common element for Blue Stone clients is that differing priorities among leaders have to be resolved for the tribal nation to move forward, and Mooers said that is the main reason Blue Stone is called in. “If there is a lack of alignment on initiatives and timelines and so forth, then things don’t get done.” It’s a challenge, but it’s also one of the best opportunities for Blue Stone to assist.

“Some of the best work we do is work with diverse agendas, diverse political interests. We take a long list of priorities and initiatives and work really closely with leadership to bring them into agreement on the top three or four or five items that are really going to move the community as a whole forward,” Moers said.

The growth and success of Blue Stone’s tribal clients over the past 10 years is the best predictor of Blue Stone’s prospects, because when a business reaches that 10-year anniversary milestone, its future looks bright, according to the SBA, which says, “As one would expect, the probability of survival increases with a firm’s age.”

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