Governor Richard Luarkie vividly remembers his grandmother repeating these words to him as a child, and the principle still guides and drives him today in his role as the leader of the Pueblo of Laguna:
“Chase perfection. You will never catch it. But in its pursuit, you will be doing your best.”
The Pueblo of Laguna has always had an entrepreneurial approach and spirit as a government, but its advancements in sustainability and diversification are of particular note under Luarkie’s leadership.
“As a tribe, in order to be successful economically, we cannot have a dependency or entitlement mindset,” he says. “We have to have a mindset of innovation, of inspiration, of motivation and dedication to the challenge that lies ahead. We must demonstrate the ability to work together for the benefit of the greater whole, and we have to be able to find economic opportunities that will create a return for the tribe, and for anyone with whom we choose to partner.”
Leaders of the Laguna Pueblo learned early on that they needed to work togetherto create a sustainable, economically diverse society. In the early 1980s, the closing of the Anaconda Uranium Mine, one of the largest open-pit mines in world at the time, took the Pueblo from almost full employment to nearly 72 percent unemployment in a very short time span. To combat the shock of the mine’s closing, the pueblo launched Laguna Industries in 1984, a strategic move that quickly evolved to become one of the largest Native American defense contractors in the United States.
In later years, the financial settlement the tribe received after the closing of the mine was invested to form the Laguna Construction Company, another entity which would grow to become a significant federal contractor. With these job-creating tools and experiences at their disposal, despite the passing of IGRA in the late 1980s, Laguna did not enter the gaming industry until the mid-to-late 1990s, making them one of the youngest gaming tribes in New Mexico.
Luarkie says Laguna’s business model allows for a unique separation between tribal government and business. The tribe owns its economic enterprises as shareholder, and has structured them as Section 17 federal corporations, delegating power to the board of directors to run the business, make key business decisions, develop strategy and manage financial performance.
“At Laguna, we all appreciate the importance of economic diversification and revenue creation,” Luarkie explains. “One of the most recent businesses we have created is Eagle Holdings—a company that is run by Laguna Development Corporation (LDC), a limited partnership agreement between the Pueblo and LDC.”
This new endeavor has empowered Eagle Holdings with up to $45 million of non-gaming dollars for investing, acquisition, etc., thus giving LDC the tools to diversify the Pueblo’s economy and generate more revenue. The goal is to diversify the investment portfolio and economic strategy for current Pueblo members and future generations.
“When I look at economic development and business diversification, the biggest competition is not the next consultant firm or company. The biggest competition is mindset—mindset of that client that we are trying to help get to that next level, even our own mindset—that we as a team need to do it differently.”
Indeed, it is in the team effort that the governor gives the greatest accolades. He credits several key people that have helped the pueblo structure opportunities including their investment advisors, Ulrich Consulting Group, David Martinez, the tribal treasurer, Leger Law and Strategy, and importantly, the entire Laguna Development Corporation team.