Woodstone Builders Inc.

The economic downturn has been difficult on contractors across the nation working in nearly every building sector. Even though Woodstone Builders Inc. excels on a number of projects ranging from multifamily residential to light manufacturing, its decision to target a unique niche has enabled it to grow and prosper during the recession.

The Bloomington, Minn.-based company has earned a reputation among Native American communities in Minnesota, Wisconsin, South Dakota, Montana, Washington and Idaho for the quality it puts into tribal development projects such as resort casinos, says Doug Niesen, vice president and co-owner. Despite the economic downturn, such tribal development projects actually are thriving, he explains.

“Gaming has suffered, there is no doubt about it,” Niesen notes. “If you look at Las Vegas, that’s probably one of the hardest-hit places in the country, if not the world. But when you look at tribal gaming, it’s very regional and very rural.

“At the height of the recession, most tribal gaming facilities were only down 15 percent from where they were at their peak,” he remarks. “Some were doing better than ever because they were catching the traffic no longer going to Las Vegas. People still gamble in a poor economy. But Las Vegas relies on critical mass – getting a lot of people in one spot. Regional tribal gaming does not, but they still have to make their gaming facilities more appealing. We’ve been fortunate to be the contractor to do some of that.”

Meeting Unique Needs

In October 2010, Woodstone Builders broke ground on the $25 million Legendary Waters Resort Casino for the Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa in Bayfield, Wis. The project includes a 70,000-square-foot, three-story hotel resort on the banks of Lake Superior with an indoor/outdoor pool, lounges, a full-service restaurant and café, retail spaces, an entertainment facility for shows, a convention center and a campground. The project is slated to be completed in August 2011.

Constructing a full-scale resort in 10 months has been Woodstone’s biggest challenge, Niesen says, but it is doable. “We set up a master schedule at the beginning, and we have touch points to make sure our construction process is being adhered to,” he states. “We’re in good shape, but what’s hard with gaming development projects is that a casino is nearly as complicated as a hospital. We need certain things at certain times in order to keep the train moving on the tracks.”

He says the company has an excellent relationship with the members of the Red Cliff tribe because it understands the unique needs of the tribal community. “When you’re working with tribes, economic development is a huge part of a project,” Niesen notes. “Tribes want you to employ their people and their local tribal tradespersons.

“We have a very detailed compliance program where we sit down with subs and set a goal for how much labor can go back to the tribal workers,” he continues. “We like to bring people from the tribe right onto the Woodstone team in administrative roles as well as trade roles. The object is to have people that understand the entire construction development process rather than just doing work in the field. In fact, we have two people from Red Cliff on the Woodstone payroll.”

Building Relationships

The Crow tribe enlisted Woodstone to build the first piece of a phased project that will consist of a gaming floor with 200 machines, as well as a retail area and sit-down restaurant at Apsáalooke Nights Casino in Hardin, Mont. The $2.5 million project broke ground in August 2010 and was completed in February 2011. “We hadn’t worked with them before, but we established relationships where we’ll be friends for life after this project,” Niesen says.

Establishing close-knit relationships with the tribal communities sets Woodstone apart from other contractors, he says. When the Red Lake Nation awarded the company a $25 million contract to build the Seven Clans Casino in Red Lake, Minn. – which included a 40-room hotel, gaming floor, entertainment center, retail facilities and a swimming pool in the shape of Red Lake – Woodstone showed its appreciation by completing the project in seven months.

A few months after the project was started in April 2009, Niesen was vacationing with his family when he came across a giant steel eagle sitting on a post. “We were able to buy that eagle and fit it into the casino project for the Red Lake tribe, and it just meant the world to the tribe.”

 The company also held a fundraiser and bought more than 100 bicycles to give to local children. “We just try to get involved in the community as much as we can,” Niesen says. “To me, that’s how relationships are developed. Building buildings is easy, but what counts in life is building relationships.”

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