Ready to put the past behind him and rededicate himself to the tough task of doing business in downtown Niagara Falls, Tuscarora entrepreneur Joe Anderson said he doesn't have a problem with New York levying taxes on brand-name cigarettes brought in and sold on Native American reservations throughout the state.
"I was the only guy on television telling them that they should be taxing," he said. "All the other Indians got mad at me at first."
Anderson, who founded the first Indian-owned, on-reservation cigarette manufacturing plant in the United States back in 1995, has since helped Seneca businessmen and others build factories of their own on reservation land.
"We're industrialists, Native American industrialists, now," he said. "Marlboro puts out a good product, but hey, that's my competition. It's like a few years back when people started buying Japanese cars instead of American."
Typically, a carton of brand-name cigarettes -- Marlboro, Winston, Newport and others -- sells for $55 on the reservations, compared to as much as $90 in a convenience store off the reservation. Anderson sells his own, Native-produced brands for between $14 and $25 a carton in reservation stores he also owns.
"We already outsell the major brands six to one in our stores. I think the cutoff for people is around $55, $60 a carton, and then maybe you'll have a few stragglers who'll go to $75," he said.
"I think that, if they had to pay the state tax on those brands, almost all of them would switch to Indian-made cigarettes."
By making the major brands, "imported" from North Carolina and other big tobacco states, exorbitantly expensive, Anderson said, the state government would be handing New York tribes with their own manufacturing facilities nearly 100 percent of the cigarette business on reservations.
"That's a sustainable business," he said. "And we're all about sustainability for our people."
Still, Anderson recognizes the hypocrisy of politicians debating the cigarette tax issue, and doesn't believe that there is the courage or the will in Albany to do anything about it.
"I just don't think the politicians are strong enough to do it. I think the majors are so powerful that they are going to be here for years and years and years," he said. "It was a bluff, and when I called them out and said the majors shouldn't be here, I didn't hear any more about this cigarette thing. I didn't hear about this Indian tax thing. It used to be all over the paper every week."
While Anderson has made himself a millionaire a thousand times over with his manufacturing plant and sales of cigarettes and gasoline through the reservation stores that he owns, he believes that his biggest success is yet to come.
And, he believes, that success will take place in the city of Niagara Falls, despite the difficulty of doing business here.
"The problem with doing business in Niagara Falls is that Niagara Falls hides under their incompetence," he said. "They try to throw shields up to make it rough for you to do business, because they're incompetent. They couldn't give you sewer lines if they wanted to, they couldn't give you the water pressure if they wanted to, they just don't have the infrastructure. They don't know what's under the ground, they don't even have the maps. They don't know what the hell's going on."
But, like most wealthy men, Anderson is in no big hurry.
"Mike DiCenzo, and he's a great developer, but he wants to make an offer on land we have in Niagara Falls. We have no interest in selling our land. We could care less," he said. "I told him, 'I like taking a stone and throwing it down the road and not hitting nobody.' I said, 'You guys make it all crazy here, I'll have to go to the reservation and just hang loose.'"
|Niagara Falls Reporter||www.niagarafallsreporter.com||March 15, 2011|