TIMBER LAKE, SD -
A Cheyenne River Sioux Tribal member who is facing lawsuits that claim his businesses are offering loans that exceed maximum rates says his company is honest and helping people find work.
Western Sky is running national TV ads and is one of the companies owned by tribal member Martin Webb. The companies offer high-interest installment loans over the internet.
As some argue the ethics or legality of the loans, Webb says his business undoubtedly provides jobs in a place starving for them.
"So anything we can do to continue to grow, continue to employ people is something we're going to strive to achieve," Webb said.
The company currently employs around 100 people and plans to bump that up to 170 within a month. Webb says he has a long list of applicants waiting to fill those spots.
Corey Lawrence has been working about two years for one of Webb’s companies. She says it's made her more responsible. She used to drink a lot and rely on her family to provide for her and her kids.
"So I kind of grew dependent on them,” Lawrence said. “And now that I'm not, it kind of made me feel better about myself. It made me feel confident again."
Opponents of Webb's business aren't arguing the need for jobs on the Cheyenne River Reservation. Still, the tribe has received both positive and negative feedback about Western Sky.
Tribal leaders aren’t taking a specific stance on the business. But the chairman’s office is saying, given the estimated 80 percent unemployment rate across the reservation, it is always happy to see more jobs come.
But Four Bands Community Fund based in Eagle Butte is taking a stance against the companies. It’s a non-profit working to increase economic opportunities on the reservation and says it wants to see workers earning a pay check for more ethical work. It argues the high-interest loans cause people to pile up dept.
Webb argues the loans can save people money if used in the right situation. He also asks where his employees would work if his companies closed.
Webb started the business in 2008. In addition to two buildings in Timber Lake, it's now expanded to a third site in Eagle Butte.
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