New Role: Luttrell Promoting Business with Tribes

Mike Seals - June 5, 2020 11:24 am

Rep. Ken Luttrell, a Republican, serves District 37 in the Oklahoma House of Representatives, which includes parts of Kay and Osage Counties.

In expanded role, lawmaker wants to promote business with tribes

from the Journal Record, by Steve Metzer

A state lawmaker appointed to a leadership post within the National Caucus of Native American State Legislators said he hopes to encourage business investment and greater investment in broadband internet in rural Oklahoma.

State Rep. Ken Luttrell, R-Ponca City, has been affiliated with the NCNASL, which includes lawmakers from 20 states, for several years and previously served on its energy committee and executive board. On Tuesday, it was announced he’ll serve as vice chairman of the organization’s Economic Development and Telecommunications Committee.

An enrolled member of the Cherokee Nation, Luttrell, who represented the Ponca City area in the state Legislature from 2006-2010 and was elected again in 2019, said Native American tribes have made great progress in recent years growing and diversifying economies, but their impacts at state and national levels remain vastly underestimated.

In Oklahoma, maybe we’re more aware of it than in other states, but even here (that awareness) hasn’t been for that long,” he said.

A study by university-affiliated economists in Oklahoma concluded that 38 federally recognized tribes in the state had a combined $12.9 billion impact on the Sooner State’s economy in 2017.

The tribes directly employed more than 50,000 people and supported a total of nearly 100,000 jobs, accounting for more than $4.6 billion in wages and benefits.

Luttrell said there’s room for growth. The NCNASL can play an important role, he said, in fostering partnerships between tribes and all levels of government and between tribes and businesses, functioning much as the Oklahoma Department of Commerce does in making the state attractive for investment. Goals include overcoming notions held by some in business that ventures with tribes might be too difficult to pursue or might carry extra burdens because of the sovereign nature of tribes. Partnerships with tribes actually can be quite advantageous, he said.

The Iron Horse Industrial Park in Pottawatomie County, established as a foreign trade zone by the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, is well-positioned to attract industries in the oil and gas, environmental sustainability, automotive and aerospace sectors. Other tribes in the state have entered into successful business partnerships with national and international investors.

The lawmaker said other major goals include improving broadband internet capacities not just in rural Oklahoma but also in other states where Native Americans lack access. The Federal Communications Commission estimated last year that at least one-third of people living on tribal lands across the country do not have access to high-speed internet. Luttrell said expanding access would improve educational outcomes and increase opportunities for young people to grow up, find jobs and raise families in those areas.

There’s not an easy answer to improving broadband access in some areas, but I think with advances in technology we’ll be able to make progress,” he said.

He said emphasis also will be placed on improving health care, especially in rural areas where Native Americans might live. The Economic Development and Telecommunications Committee will address topics associated with economic development, including financial partnerships and corporate investments in Native communities.

I am honored to serve the tribal nations and help build better business relationships and opportunities for native nations and our states,” Luttrell said.

Luttrell is the co-chair of the Oklahoma House Native American Caucus.


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