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Tribe encourages youth to use windfall to become entrepreneurs

By Colby Dunn • Correspondent 

Since Harrah’s Cherokee Casino opened and started bringing an influx of steady cash to the Eastern Band of Cherokee, it’s been a boost to both the tribe and its more than 13,000 members. Annually, individual members benefit to the tune of several thousand dollars a year, and the Cherokee Enterprise Development Center is hoping they’ll turn that money into much more with their own small businesses. 


The development center offers a range of services to members looking to become entrepreneurs, but it is also eyeing a younger demographic, hoping to convince some younger members to turn their per capita earnings into new businesses. 

Every tribal member has his or her share of the casino earnings held in trust by the tribe until they turn 18. Several years ago, the tribe put in place a financial education system to help young members make good decisions with their windfall, which can be in the tens of thousands range. 

But the development staff wants them to go beyond that, to help diversify the business offerings in Cherokee and simultaneously gain success in their own right. 

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“We’re trying to tell these kids with the money they’ve got coming in when they graduate, you could actually start a business by yourself,” said Gloria Griffin, director of the Cherokee Enterprise Development Center. 

In 2012, the Cherokee Preservation Foundation, in concert with the development center, ran a business competition at Cherokee High School, giving $1,000 to the winner, who proposed an ice cream truck in the Cherokee area.

From there, Griffin said that they’ve offered the same services to students as they do to adult members — credit counseling, marketing, an eight-week crash course in owning your own business — and though the kids haven’t jumped on those opportunities just yet, Griffin and her team are hoping they will, for their own future and for a more diverse, financially successfully Cherokee in the future. 

“There are so many people wanting to go into the same business, like mowing, we had a lot of people wanting to go into mowing. There’s just a lot of people that want to do that and that’s only seasonal,” said Griffin. “And then restaurants are just really hard to get into as a startup. They demand 100 percent of your time and you have to build a reputation. We need to diversify our businesses here on the Qualla boundary.”

Perhaps with encouragement from Griffin and her staff, the next generation of Cherokee will be the ones to make it happen.

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