By Amy Neff Roth, Utica Observer-Dispatch
Published April 24, 2016
When he sees lots of cowboy hats in the line at Nicky Doodles in Verona, owner Tim Twomey knows that Turning Stone Resort Casino just down the road must be hosting a country-western concert.
“I think we get a fair amount of business from them,” he said. “It’s hard to know for sure. I know a lot of the Turning Stone employees come here for lunch. … Whenever there are events, like if they have a big concert, that’s a big draw. We definitely see people.”
“I think the more (Turning Stone) grow(s), the better it is for this immediate area,” Twomey said.
Before economic revitalization became a buzz phrase on the tongue of every local politician, before talk of the Marcy nanocenter sent local economic optimism soaring, there was Turning Stone, which opened in 1993 with promises of jobs and prosperity.
More than two decades later, Oneida Nation Enterprises has become Oneida County’s largest private employer and the economic ties between Turning Stone and the community surrounding it have grown.
Oneida County Executive Anthony Picente said he remembers dark days when some of the area’s biggest employers were closing or moving out. But Turning Stone offered new jobs and kept residents in the area, he said.
“When I talk about Turning Stone, I tend to wonder what this area would have looked like after Griffiss (Air Force Base) and Lockheed Martin … and a lot of those places (closed),” Picente said.
Since the 2013 settlement among the state, Oneida and Madison counties and the Oneida Indian Nation, the fortunes of the casino resort and the county have become even more tightly entwined, with Oneida County now receiving a portion of the Oneidas’ slot machine revenues — which it shares with some nearby municipalities.
Oneida Nation Enterprises employs more than 4,600 people and spent $40.8 million in Oneida County last year, giving business to 316 county vendors, according to its 2015 annual report.
Turning Stone serves Saranac beer, Utica Bread baked goods and Utica Coffee Roasting coffee in some of its restaurants, books local bands to perform in The Gig nightclub, and hires local construction workers for its many expansions, including plans to break ground later this year on a luxury brand outlet mall.
“The Oneida Nation’s deep connection to Central New York is a sacred bond with a sense of place,” said Ray Halbritter, CEO of Oneida Nation Enterprises and nation representative. “This is our eternal home and, even beyond the obvious business benefits of buying local, we have an abiding interest in continuing to invest right here in this community. … We understand that the better this community does, the better it is for everyone here and we intend to continue targeting out investments and sourcing our need right here in Central New York.”
Representatives of the Oneida Indian Nation also emphasize its relationships with the surrounding community and forging partnerships over the years.
They talk about the local foods they serve at the resort; contracts with local companies, such as for an information technology project; and their collaboration with the Utica Comets and the county on the 2015 AHL All-Star Classic.
“Over the course of many decades, the Oneida Indian Nation has worked to develop a constructive relationship with neighboring communities, understanding that the success of the region relies on a spirit of collaboration and mutual respect,” Halbritter said. “While the nation is a sovereign entity, it deeply values its partnerships with regional stakeholders.”