$170M Holiday ‘Fulfillment’: Cherokee Nation and Macy’s Create Partnership

Brian Daffron

New York spectators and television viewers from around the world saw the Cherokee National Youth Choir’s float roll by in this year's Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. The moment struck a personal note for Jim Sluzewski, Macy’s senior vice-president of corporate communications and external affairs. Macy's was about to spend more than $170 million to build a 1.3 million-square-foot fulfillment center on the Cherokee Indian Reservation near Tulsa, Oklahoma, to bolster the store's growing online business.

“It was fun and interesting for me as I was sitting in the parade in New York,” said Sluzewski. “I knew this deal was coming up and that an announcement would be coming soon. When the Cherokee Nation float rolled by where I was sitting, it made me smile.”

The "deal" to create the new Macy’s online fulfillment center, to be located near the town of Owasso, Oklahoma within the greater Tulsa area and on Cherokee Nation tribal land, was announced December 17. The new facility will create over 1,500 full-time jobs and over 1000 seasonal positions. At 1.3 million square feet and a cost of $170 million, construction on the center will begin in spring 2014 and will additionally create up to 500 jobs in the initial building phase. With a completion date of April 2015, the center’s sole purpose will be to fill online orders in the central U.S.

“It was time to build a new online fulfillment center to serve customers in the central part of the country,” said Sluzewski.  “We started a search for the ideal location. We started with 150 locations spread across four states and continued to narrow it and narrow it. The site that we ended up with outside of Owasso ended up being the site that we selected.”

Sluzewski said that when the center is fully operational, it will have the capacity to “pick, pack and ship as many as 150,000 packages a day.”

The deal to bring the Macy’s fulfillment center to northeastern Oklahoma was a partnership between Cherokee Nation and officials on the city, county and state levels. Incentives offered to Macy’s included $1.5 million from the state’s economic development fund for employee training and $500,000 from the Cherokee Nation for road construction near the site of the center. According to Sluzewski, this was the first time that Macy’s has worked with a federally recognized tribe at this level.

“Along the way, we worked very closely with Cherokee Nation officials, Chief [Bill John] Baker and his team, as well as the governor, the county commissioners, and the local officials of Owasso and the Chamber of Commerce in Tulsa,” said Sluzewski. “It really is a group effort, but the Nation was very welcoming and helpful to us, which certainly became part of the decision.”

According to Baker, the Cherokee Nation’s involvement began when the Greater Tulsa Chamber of Commerce approached him, as a board member, about the approximately 317,000-member tribe being a partner.

Baker said that, in addition to providing money for road construction, Cherokee Nation also offered their standard business package that included job fairs and employee training.

“I think it speaks volumes to the fact that a major 100-year-old company has seen the value of working with a Native American tribe, and they’ve got the faith in us that we’ll deliver what we’ve talked about,” said Baker. “Truly, if other major corporations ever find out the secret of what tribes bring to the table when doing projects, I think Oklahoma will win a whole lot more of these corporate headquarters, of these distribution centers, the fulfillment centers, and the call centers. It just makes sense to do business in Oklahoma.”