The Southern Ute Indian Tribe is unique among Native American Indian Tribes. The Tribe aggressively developed its extraordinary natural resource base during the 1980s and 1990s. Tribal Council adopted an official Financial Plan in 1999 that separated its core government from its business enterprises and related investment activities. The Financial Plan provides the Tribe with an economic strategy that insures that a core government and matching finances will exist in perpetuity. The plan optimizes available investment resources to provide for the long-term security of the Tribe and the Tribal Membership.
The cost of the government activities and services is funded by the Tribe’s Permanent Fund. This endowment fund operates separately from the business and investment activities that are managed by the Tribe’s Growth Fund.
The Tribe’s business portfolio originated with the formation of Red Willow Production Company in 1992 and the purchase of Red Cedar Gathering Company in 1994. Red Willow was originally formed to buy back natural gas leases and to upgrade the performance of gas wells on the Reservation. However, Red Willow could not convince local gathering companies to increase their capacity to transport the Tribe’s new volumes of gas to the interstate pipelines. To solve this problem, the Tribe partnered with the Stephens Group in 1994, and purchased Red Cedar to gather, process and transport natural gas from the Reservation.
In accordance with the Financial Plan, the Tribal Council enacted the Growth Fund Implementation Plan to create the Growth Fund in 2000. This plan clearly defines the Growth Fund’s goals and systems of operation, and consolidates the management of the Tribe’s business activities. The Growth Fund’s business portfolio initially contained only Red Willow, Red Cedar and a few small Tribal Organizations: Department of Energy, Utilities Division and the Sky Ute Fairgrounds.
Because the Tribe realized that its energy resources on the Reservation were finite, Tribal Council instructed the Growth Fund to diversify operations off of the Reservation and into other ventures and investments. Since 2001, Red Willow has expanded its operations into nine states and the Gulf of Mexico, and Aka Energy was created to gather and treat natural gas off of the Reservation.
In order to diversify outside of the energy sector, the Tribe established the Tierra Group to manage the Tribe’s real estate portfolio. Later, GF Properties Group was formed and Tierra folded under GF Properties which now manages the Tribe’s commercial/office, apartment, industrial, hotel, mixed-use and master planned communities. GF Private Equity Group was formed to invest in private equity funds and businesses.
The Growth Fund selects and manages its investments with the help of an outstanding investment research and finance team, although each of the operating subsidiaries also pursues investment opportunities within their respective industries. The investment and finance team evaluates strategic growth opportunities and also provides support for mergers, acquisitions and other types of investment and business transactions. Today, the Tribe’s Growth Fund investments have increased significantly in value, measured apart from the value of the Tribe’s land base, water, mineral and timber resources.