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Construction is underway on a $26 million Arrowhead Mountain Spring Water bottling plant on California's Morongo Indian Reservation. Federal, state and local officials will get a preview of the economic scope and future potential of this new economic venture this Friday at noon.
The venture will allow the Morongo tribe to diversify its economy beyond gaming through the sale of spring water to Arrowhead Mountain Spring Water, a subsidiary of The Perrier Group of America. Perrier is the nation's largest water bottler and its Arrowhead label, the leading seller in the West, is distributed throughout California, Arizona, Nevada, the Rockies and the Pacific Northwest.
With the advent of tribal gaming, the Morongo tribe made an important strategic decision to utilize gaming revenue as a catalyst to establish a new diversified tribal economy one reliant on many avenues of income not just a single source," explained Morongo tribal chairman Maurice Lyons. "This latest venture is our next phase of that strategy."
Current plans call for the bottling facility to operate two production lines initially, then expand to four lines and eventually to 10. When fully built, it will be the largest water bottling plant in the United States, employing an estimated 260 workers and creating another 1,800 jobs throughout the economy of the Inland Empire.
"So far as we know, this is the first venture of its kind in California or the nation," said Peter Rittenhouse, head of western regional operations for Perrier. "This is not just a real estate transaction or sale of resources. We are a partnership between the sovereign Morongo Band of Mission Indians and America's largest and most experienced water bottler."
"Three important entities benefit from this venture: Arrowhead obtains access to a source of highest quality natural spring water; second, Morongo gains the expertise of the country's most successful bottler of spring water in a project that will make efficient use of our natural resources and broaden our tribal economy and; third, the local community and regional economy benefit from significant job creation," said Lyons.
According to Morongo tribal and Arrowhead officials, development of the plant will create an estimated 260 local jobs directly and add another 1,800 indirect jobs to the regional economy. The facility, which is slated for a summer opening, will occupy approximately 383,000 square feet at its opening and may be expanded in the future.
"Whenever possible, the Morongo Band of Mission Indians and Arrowhead have established policies to hire and purchase locally," said Lyons.
State and local civic and business leaders view this latest undertaking as a major boon to the region. "Diversification will be the key to the tribes' continued economic success," said California Lieutenant Governor Cruz Bustamante. "The foresight of the leadership of the Morongo Indian tribe should be applauded."
Noted Inland Empire economist Dr. John Husing commented, "With the Pass Area's population starting to accelerate, there is an urgent need for job development in the region. The new Arrowhead bottling plant being developed by the Morongo Band of Mission Indians and The Perrier Group marks an excellent start to this process."
"The Morongo Arrowhead project is a major step forward for economic development in the community of Cabazon as well as surrounding communities," said Riverside County Third District Supervisor Jim Venable.
"It will be a great addition to the whole Pass area," said Banning Chamber of Commerce executive director Sue Palmer.
With its diversification into non-gaming businesses, the Morongo tribe has become the largest private sector employer in the Pass Area and is a major contributor to the regional economy.
The Morongo tribe currently employs more than 1,500 people and has an annual payroll that exceeds $25 million. The tribe generates millions more in payroll taxes, unemployment benefits, employee benefits and health programs. More than two-thirds of the Morongo workforce is comprised of residents from the Riverside, San Bernardino, Pass Area and desert cities.
The water bottling plant is the most recent of many successful ventures for the tribe. In 1997, Morongo opened one of the largest Shell gasoline stations in the country. Then in January 1999, it was joined by an A&W drive-in restaurant nearly twice the size of the Chicago-based prototype. The restaurant has gone on to become one of the most successful A&W franchises. In July 1999, Morongo opened the first Coco's restaurant ever owned by an American Indian tribe. The tribe then acquired Hadley Fruit Orchards' three retail stores including the company's mail order and franchise rights.
"Economic diversification is in the cards for Morongo as well as for many California Indian tribes who will increasingly seek economically viable alternatives to help raise living standards for one of the most impoverished ethnic groups in the United States," said Lyons. "We are fortunate to be located in one of the fastest growing counties in California and in the United States."
In 1999, Banning, Beaumont and Calimesa conducted the San Gorgonio Pass Area Workforce and Development and reported the Pass Area is poised on the threshold of unprecedented growth and development.
"Our strategy for non-gaming business development and our commitment to working with local and state government will help ensure future economic stability and financial resources for future generations of our tribal community and for the community at large. In short, economic diversification is a smart bet for tribal governments and a long-term boon to our surrounding neighbors as well," said Lyons.
In the last decade, according to the U.S. Commerce Department's Census Bureau, the number of American Indian-owned businesses increased 93 percent from 52,980 in 1987 to 102,234 in 1992. Receipts for these businesses increased by 115 percent from $3.7 to $8.1 billion. Morongo tribal government officials believe the next census will reflect even more growth.
And the tribe will continue its role as a careful custodian of its natural resources. "Both Morongo and Arrowhead share a commitment to the highest standards in the quality of the projects they undertake. We take a lot of pride in the contributions we have made to the communities where we operate and we are committed to the wise use of natural resources and protecting the environment," said Lyons.
Under the tribe's requirements for protection of its natural resources, there will be no adverse impact to the environment. An environmentally sensitive design for the plant has been developed that conforms to the U.S. Green Building Council's standards for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED).
Mike Franceschetti, the project manager for Arrowhead, pointed out, "Arrowhead and Perrier support the U.S. Green Building Council's commitment to environmentally sustainable design. The bottling facility at Cabazon has been designed to meet the green council's standards for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. These standards encourage sustainable development through techniques that, for example, minimize energy use, reduce surface water runoff, protect natural resources, prevent waste and encourage recycling."
Water quality and the environment will be fully protected under the conditions specified by the tribe. Arrowhead has conducted a thorough environmental analysis to ensure that there will be no adverse effect on the natural springs, nearby water supplies, or the health and vigor of related aquatic systems. This analysis was confirmed by independent reviews conducted by consultants for Morongo. The environmental documents were in turn reviewed by state and local officials and approved by the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
The tribe and Arrowhead will continue to monitor the springs to ensure that there is no adverse impact of any kind.