The Indian tribe that owns Mystic Lake and Little Six casinos is buying a stake in a national engineering services firm with nine offices, including the headquarters in Minneapolis.
The Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community (SMSC) acquired 47% of Windward Engineers & Consultants, marking the first time the tribe has co-owned an engineering firm, tribal officials announced Monday.
The deal, which was in the making for two years, closed Jan. 1. The tribe would not disclose financials but confirmed the Windward Engineers investment exceeds $1 million.
With the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux's involvement, the company will be designated as a federally certified Minority Business Enterprise.
Other equity partners include the Minneapolis-based architecture and design firm Nelson Worldwide (47%) and Turtle Mountain Chippewa member Jason Booth (6%). Booth and John "Ozzie" Nelson Jr. reached out to the tribe more than a year ago to see if a partnership was possible.
Windward Engineers generates about $10 million a year in revenue and employs 65 people in Minneapolis, Texas, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Maryland, Georgia and Washington.
The company provides design and building services, mechanical, electrical and plumbing, fire protection and code safety consulting, as well as life-cycle cost-analysis, lighting design, sustainability and COVID workplace safety consulting.
Buying a chunk of Windward Engineers will "further diversify our economy and benefit the entire region and communities across the country," said SMSC Chairman Keith B. Anderson. In addition, "this new ownership group will allow Windward to offer clients engineering and real estate consulting services that help them achieve their diversity goals and broaden capital spending opportunities within their supply chains."
Windward, previously named Brinjac Engineering, has worked large projects for a host of clients, including the AT&T Tower in Minneapolis, the PEMA headquarters in Philadelphia, and the Pennsylvania State Capitol building.
The investment in an engineering-services company marks a significant departure from the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux's traditional medley of hospitality, retail and service businesses.
SMSC is perhaps best known for owning Mystic Lake Casino, Little Six Casino, the J.W. Marriott Hotel at the Mall of America, the SMSC Organics Recycling Facility in Shakopee, plus the Dakotah! Sport and Fitness, the Dakotah Meadows RV Park and Dakotah Meadows Mini Storage in Prior Lake.
Going forward, Ozzie Nelson, CEO of the 800-employee Nelson Worldwide, will help Windward scout future contracts both locally and nationally. Nelson, who bought the Pennsylvania-based Brinjac Engineering firm in 2013, said he is excited to have new partners.
"Now that we are working with the SMSC, we will have an enhanced ability to work with Native communities and open career opportunities to a wider share of our country's talented, young and diverse engineers," Nelson said.
If successful, Windward will expand its customer base and double or even triple employment, SMSC Secretary/Treasurer Rebecca Crooks-Stratton told the Star Tribune. The goal is to work with other tribes and with private sector businesses seeking to include certified Minority Business Enterprises on construction and design projects, she said.
The tribe expects Windward to cater to clients with existing buildings and to those who are constructing hotels, offices, retail stores, gaming establishments, and other projects. SMSC's ownership stake means it can offer engineering jobs and skills training to tribal members for the first time, while also diversifying the tribe's income streams.
"This is exciting," Crooks-Stratton said. "For SMSC, one of the most important pieces of this investment is it really [helps] our need to diversify. As a tribal government, we don't levy taxes in the same way as traditional governments, so this really gives us an opportunity to diversify that revenue stream and to be able to provide services for our members."
Booth said the new partners' approach should benefit more than the tribe. "Corporate America and Indian Country both seek experienced, scalable partners to help them achieve their business goals," he said. "We will seek certifying agency designations that will be a real asset to corporations and agencies seeking capable MBE partners."
Dee DePass • 612-673-7725