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Tribal Members in Rural America

Lance Morgan, member of the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska and President/CEO of Ho-Chunk, Inc., speaks on the efforts for economic development in rural communities and opening job opportunities for tribal members.

Ed. Note: Champions of Change is a weekly initiative to highlight Americans who are making an impact in their communities and helping our country rise to meet the many challenges of the 21st century.

I recently was invited to the Champions of Change event for rural America. It was great to meet with President Obama and Secretary Vilsack and hear how much they cared about some of the unique issues facing rural America. The President took the time and was gracious enough to introduce himself to everyone at the meeting. All and all, not my typical Wednesday afternoon.

I run a company called Ho-Chunk, Inc. located on an Indian reservation in Winnebago, Nebraska. The company is owned by the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska and our mission to create job opportunities for our tribal members and to help our tribe become economically self-sufficient. After 15 years of efforts we have companies involved in retail, government contracting, distribution, construction, housing and various internet companies. We do work in three other foreign countries. We started with 1 employee and now have 1400. Our revenues have grown from zero to close to $200 million a year, all in a rural Nebraska town of 1500 people.

In 1991, the tribe had an unemployment rate of approximately 60 percent. Now we have more jobs than working age people in our community. We are proud of our accomplishments economically, but social and educational development are just as important to our tribe. In 2000, Ho-Chunk, Inc. started a non-profit corporation called the Ho-Chunk Community Development Corporation. The non-profit's mission was to help make our community a better place and to provide supplemental capital to build the infrastructure in our community to help it grow. To date, our non-profit has raised over $23 million for our community.

In partnership with the Winnebago Tribe, Ho-Chunk, Inc. and the Ho-Chunk Community Development Corporation, we decided to build an entirely new town, called the Ho-Chunk Village. It is a 40 acre, new urbanism style community that is designed to be a walkable healthy community where you can own your own home, shop, and work all in the same place. In the past few years, we developed 32 rental units and another 20 single family homes. We have also attracted tribal companies, a national retailer, and several entrepreneurs to locate in our new village creating over 100 new jobs.

Recently the Winnebago Tribe allocated $1 million in dividends from Ho-Chunk, Inc. to boost funding in our tribal member down payment assistance fund. Now a tribal member who wants to build a new home on our reservation can receive up to $65,000 in down payment assistance. We truly are working on creating jobs, homes and more importantly pride in our rural community and I want to thank the White House and the USDA for allowing us to share a little piece of our story.

Lance Morgan is an enrolled member of the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska and President, CEO, and co-founder of Ho-Chunk, Inc., the award-winning economic development corporation owned by the Winnebago Tribe.