GRAND RAPIDS — Joining Waséyabek Development Co. LLC represents a merging of Erika Weiss’ professional experience in business and tribal law, and offers an opportunity to explore a long-held interest in non-gaming economic development.
Weiss, 32, recently announced her new position as associate attorney at Grand Rapids-based Waséyabek, the non-gaming economic development arm of the Nottawaseppi Huron Band of Potawatomi.
The hire marks an expansion of Waséyabek’s legal team, which is anchored by in-house counsel and longtime tribal attorney Bill Brooks, as the organization sets aggressive growth targets over the coming years.
“Waséyabek is obviously a leader in tribal economic development, and it was a perfect opportunity to do what I’ve always wanted to do,” Weiss told MiBiz. “(Brooks) is one of the top tribal attorneys in the state of Michigan. To work closely and learn from him in such a great environment and company, and play a small role in the footprint (Waséyabek) is leaving to not only NHBP but Indian Country as a whole, was very appealing to me.”
Weiss joins Waséyabek from Barnes & Thornburg LLP, a major law firm with offices across the country, where she spent five years as an associate attorney specializing in tribal law. Weiss also spent nearly three years as an associate with Rosette LLP, a majority Native-owned law firm.
A graduate of Lansing-based Cooley Law School, Weiss is a descendent of the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians and was born and raised in West Michigan.
Weiss said she plans to lean on her deep experience in tribal and business law while in the new position at Waséyabek.
“Waséyabek is a leader in economic development in Indian Country. They’re really starting to do some great, sophisticated things,” Weiss said.
Indeed, Waséyabek executives have recently set a five-year strategy that aims to grow annual revenue from $80 million to $275 million through 2028, as MiBiz recently reported. As well, Waséyabek has grown its staff from three employees to about 20 people over the past seven years under President and CEO Deidra Mitchell.
“We’re growing quickly,” said Mitchell, noting that Waséyabek’s legal needs have expanded to involve more mergers and acquisitions as well as federal contracting. “We’re really happy to have (Weiss) on board.”
In addition to its staff and annual revenue, Waséyabek’s business portfolio also has grown exponentially in recent years. The organization now owns 29 business entities, including a real estate portfolio with eight properties, multiple West Michigan manufacturers, and a federal contracting company that provides facilities support and professional services. Those entities combined employ more than 400 people.
Weiss called working on Waséyabek’s legal team alongside Brooks “a career-changing opportunity, that’s for sure, and one I don’t think comes around for people very often. I think anything that’s happened in the state from a tribal standpoint has his stamp on it in some way, shape or form. I really count myself extremely lucky to learn from him and see, from a legal aspect, the way he navigates working in Indian Country.”
Weiss said she looks forward to working on issues that will directly affect tribal members and create opportunity via Waséyabek’s business portfolio.
“Waséyabek already is having such an impact on Indian Country and will do so as it grows and expands,” Weiss said. “It’s really meaningful to me to be involved in an organization that’s having such an impact.”