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Easatern

Lumbees bet on recognition 

The Lumbee Indians of Robeson and surrounding counties have repeatedly failed to win real federal recognition for more than a century, but this time they like their odds. For one thing, they’re pitching it as a $500 million-a-year boost for a poor region. More important, though, they’re defusing an issue that has cast suspicion on their efforts for more than two decades. “This has never been about gambling,” tribal spokesman Alex Baker says. “So we just said, ‘Look, we’ll give that up and write a prohibition into the legislation.’”

Result? Tribal Chairman Purnell Swett smells victory. “We’re closer to getting this passed than we have been in years.” Some say it’s unlikely to pass before year-end, but a spokeswoman for Republican Sen. Richard Burr says he’ll resubmit it in 2011, if necessary.

North Carolina has recognized the tribe, which claims about 55,000 members, since the late 1800s, and Congress in 1956 recognized them as Indians but refused to grant full tribal status. After passage of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988, scores of tribes cashed in, including the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians in western North Carolina, where a casino that opened in 1997 has generated more than $2.1 billion.

Part of the Lumbees’ problem is that politicians are reluctant to cast what might seem like a vote for gambling. Another, congressional staffers say, is that other tribes and representatives from their states have lobbied to keep the Lumbees out of the Indian bloc, assuming they would shrink each tribe’s share of federal dollars and build a competing casino near heavily traveled Interstate 95.

Full recognition would bring the Lumbees an estimated $200 million a year in federal payments, and Baker says the total economic impact, as the money passes through local merchants and businesses, is about $500 million. That’s why the Lumbees are willing to give up gambling. “We began seeking recognition in 1888, and Indian gaming didn’t come along until 1988 — 100 years later,” Baker says. “Our grandfathers began seeking recognition for the sole purpose of gaining education funds and other subsidies that would improve lives of our tribe. That remains our goal.”

No sleeping at meetings

Wilmington plans to open its riverside convention center this month, but the hotel that’s supposed to go with it still needs a developer. In September, the city said John Q. Hammons Hotels & Resorts, the only company that had made a viable pitch before the city’s deadline last January, was backing out of the project because it has other obligations and couldn’t get the financing. The Springfield, Mo.-based company had proposed a 14-story, 250-room Embassy Suites, with a full-service restaurant and lounge, top-floor meeting rooms, pool and other amenities. The convention center, which boasts 30,000 square feet of exhibit space, is booking events, but as of Oct. 1, only 25 had been scheduled for next year. City officials were to discuss how to move forward on the hotel at a meeting Oct. 29.

 

HALIFAX — Raleigh-based Empire Foods plans to open a factory here by June to make packaged fruits and vegetables that don’t need refrigeration. The plant, which will employ about 200 within five years, will use technology developed at N.C. State University.

GOLDSBOROMaxwell Farms agreed to pay $175 million for Virginia-based Smithfield Foods’ 49% stake in Garner-based Butterball, giving it 100% of the turkey producer. It also struck a deal to sell half of Butterball to Seaboard of Shawnee Mission, Kan., for $177.5 million.

WILMINGTON — British drug maker GlaxoSmithKline, which has its North American headquarters in Research Triangle Park, picked Pharmaceutical Product Development as one of two companies to handle clinical trials for drugs it is developing. Before deciding to cut costs in June, it worked with 30 contract-research organizations.

KENANSVILLE — Greenville-based University Health Systems of Eastern North Carolina will operate Duplin General Hospital under a lease with Duplin County. Duplin General has 101 beds and 401 employees. UHS also operates seven other hospitals.

FAYETTEVILLE — Owners of 23 Internet-sweepstakes cafes asked a court to strike down city fees on the businesses. An ordinance passed in July charges $2,000 per sweepstakes location and $2,500 per computer terminal, even though a new state law requires the cafes to close by Dec. 1.

RAEFORD — State regulators approved two hospitals for Hoke County. Fayetteville-based Cape Fear Valley Health System plans to build a 50-bed one for $92 million near here. It would open in late 2013. FirstHealth of the Carolinas, based in Pinehurst, intends to open a $34.1 million, 12-bed hospital in the city a year earlier.

CASTLE HAYNE — Virginia-based Titan America hired Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice to represent it in the environmental-permitting process for the cement plant it wants to build here. The Winston-Salem-based law firm replaced McGuireWoods Consulting in Raleigh.