Group of local businessmen envision industrial park,construction company, housing development
For as long as Henry James can remember, bringing economic opportunities to Lummi Nation has been his dream and his namesake.
James, a Lummi tribal member, and his wife, Flor, along with several Bellingham businessmen, have been quietly planning a 65-acre private economic development project called SuKadem since last fall.
The five-pronged project, if it comes to fruition, would be located on James’ land along Haxton Way on Lummi Nation.
The five components of the project include a construction company, a commercial industrial park, a financial institution, a housing development and a nonprofit foundation.
The project aims to create successful people and businesses through private economic development, primarily for, but not limited to, Lummi Nation members, said project director Doug Robertson.
Still in its conceptual phase, the project organizers don’t know yet where its funding would come from, but they imagine it will come from a mix of government contracts, grants, investor capital and donations, and will be different for each component. They also are unsure of the size of the facilities to house the different components other than that they would be “big.” So far, James has funded most of the planning efforts.
The following describe the five components of the project:
• The 45-acre industrial park, called ChaChoosen Center, would be designed to attract businesses and industries that pay fair wages, are environmentally and culturally sensitive, offer employee ownership, have an alcohol and substance abuse policy and have a plan for community service. The park would feature a business incubator that would be a center for startup companies, said one of the project organizers, Rich Emerson, who is also the current chair of Bellingham’s SCORE chapter.
• The construction company, SuKadem Construction Co., is currently owned and operated by James out of his home, but would potentially locate to the industrial park. James plans on turning it into a multi-million dollar company by 2010.
• ChaChoosen Village would be a 20-acre residential development that would feature affordable workforce housing near ChaChoosen Center. Robertson noted that 50 percent of Lummi members currently live off the reservation, and this development would provide needed housing for people who could service the industrial park and other professional businesses.
The development would include a combination of single-family homes, townhouses and condos constructed by SuKadem Construction. Project organizers have been working with local architect John Armistead and 2020 Engineering on the plans for the development, and will likely work on plans for the industrial park eventually.
• SuKadem Financial would be a financial services firm initially involved in financial education and obtaining mortgage loans for people interested in purchasing improved lots and homes offered by James and SuKadem Construction in the ChaChoosen Village and eventually for other homes as well.
Eventually, as a bank or credit union, it would expand to offer commercial lending, equipment lending and leasing, and facility lending and leasing on the reservation and globally, said Michael Lozar, SuKadem Financial project manager. It would offer checking and savings accounts, and personal loans, with a long-term goal of offering an array of personal financial services, including investments, insurance, escrow, tax planning and legal advice.
• The SuKadem Foundation would be a 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to providing education and training for Lummi tribal members and Whatcom County residents, as well as for employees and businesses that locate in ChaChoosen Center. The foundation currently has an eight-member board, which would eventually grow to 20 members, and is expected to raise $7.5 million by 2010. The foundation’s education and training programs would support the business incubator, develop and support a business resource center, build business opportunities for aspiring business owners and entrepreneurs, and ensure Lummi cultural strength and longevity.
The idea for the project is an outgrowth from James’s construction company, which he started three years ago.
James began seriously discussing the idea with Robertson last fall when he was helping him with project management of his construction company, but James said the idea has always been in the back of his mind.
SuKadem is James’ Native American name passed down from his ancestors, and its meaning guides the focus of the project, he said. The name embodies ideals of responsibility, honesty, integrity, cooperation and empowerment.
“It means I have to do good deeds,” he said. “That’s compelling, to say the least.”
James, who was born and raised in Lummi Nation, where he raised 12 children with Flor, a native of Panama, said the project has always been one of his goals.
“I always wanted to do something that would have meaning, to give people an opportunity to raise themselves up from poverty,” he said.
Flor said she originally had the idea to locate the project on their land, as they were “land rich but cash poor.” She said she especially appreciates the fact that all different cultures and colors of people are working on the project together.
Emerson, Robertson and Lozar, who are connected through the Bellingham Presbyterian Church and with the church’s men’s ministry, have helped James work on the Lummi Cedar Project, a Lummi youth leadership development program.
None of the men, aside from James, intend on investing personally in the project, but are working as consultants.
The SuKadem group has been in discussion with Lummi officials and has received some small preliminary financial loans for operating capital from Key Bank, Emerson said.
“This is something that, if successful, can be a model for other tribal nations all over the world,” Emerson said.
Neither the Lummi Indian Business Council chairwoman nor the Lummi Nation planning director were available to comment on this story at press time.