With more than $750 million in building projects to complete, the Cherokee Nation has embarked on a monthslong hiring spree.
A labor recruitment effort that began in late July won’t end until mid-September for the tribe, which is looking to bolster affordable housing, medical facilities and Head Start spaces over the next three years.
“It’s easily the largest three-year endeavor in Cherokee history,” Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. said by phone. “It’s really challenged us to identify contractors to do the work in an environment where there is a great deal of competition because there is a lot of construction going on elsewhere.”
Contracts and jobs for close to 50 projects are up for grabs across the nation’s 14 counties. To meet the demand, the tribe already has held recruiting events in Tahlequah and Claremore, with five more scheduled in Roland, West Siloam Springs, Catoosa, Pryor and Grove.
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Hoskin said he has been encouraged by the feedback.
“The Cherokee Nation, through our own statute, has had an Indian preference in contractors, and that’s still very much the case,” he said. “There’s probably an historic level of Native Americans or Native American-owned firms getting work through the Cherokee Nation.
“But the message we have to send is that we need all hands on deck. Today, we want to make sure that all contractors know that they are welcome.”
The Cherokee Nation is finishing up the Durbin Feeling Language Center in Tahlequah.
In addition to that, components of the tribe’s new construction boom include a $400 million hospital in Tahlequah, a $35 million outpatient health center in Salina, a $16 million child care center at MidAmerica Industrial Park in Pryor and a $10 million community center in Kenwood.
“The trigger really was housing,” Hoskin said of the building push. “What the deputy chief (Bryan Warner) and I have put a lot of effort into is crafting not only budgets to do a great deal on housing but being very thoughtful about how we make some generational impact in the area of housing.
“Earlier this year, we re-drafted a law called the Housing Jobs and Sustainable Communities Act. When we did that, we put an emphasis on things like affordable housing, housing repairs for elders, a special program for our fluent speakers. We’re looking at crisis shelters to address domestic violence and homelessness. Those are all ambitious goals.”
Wednesday outside Claremore, scores of prospective contractors, plumbers, electricians and general laborers filed into Cherokee Casino at Will Rogers Downs for the tribe’s second job fair related to the initiative.
Thousands of workers will be needed over three years, said Hunter Palmer, director of economic development for Cherokee Nation Career Services.
“We’re going to need all kinds of skilled workers in all different trades to be able to fill these jobs,” he said. “We want to bring awareness to all these opportunities coming up.”
Greeting visitors at Wednesday’s recruiting event was a map designating where the projects are planned. Some are in the Nation’s smallest communities, including Dwight Mission and Marble City in Sequoyah County and Ochelata in Washington County.
“We have to move heaven and earth to find contractors,” Hoskin said. “We have to look at this big picture, and we have to cast as wide as net as possible to get people to work on projects.
“There’s a lot of these communities that haven’t seen a lot of investment. Sometimes, it’s hard to get contractors to get off the beaten path and go to some remote areas. But we believe they are out there.”