Business development is viewed as a linchpin for the overall well-being of many communities—a generator of economic development, jobs, and a tax base to pay for citizen services.
Among ethnic communities in the United States, business development may be no more important than in the Native American world, where economic, social, and spiritual influences are interconnected.
In recent years, Native Americans, including those on protected tribal lands, have made investments in ventures such as hotels, golf courses, manufacturing, entertainment venues, solar and wind technology, and tourism and hospitality to improve economic conditions, and that business activity is expected to increase going forward.
According to statistics from the Bureau of Indian Affairs of the United States Department of the Interior, a greater percentage of Native Americans, including Alaska Natives, suffer unemployment at rates higher than those of any other U.S. ethnic group. And poverty rates for Native Americans are nearly 15 percentage points higher than the poverty rate for the total U.S. population.
Given this backdrop, many leaders serving Native American communities, along with federal government agencies and advocacy groups, point to business development as a means for providing a boost to these communities and their citizens and offer numerous resources to help Native Americans on the path to business ownership.
The Bureau of Indian Affairs, for instance, offers services that link tribal and Native American–owned businesses with federal and private-sector procurement opportunities. The Bureau of Indian Affairs also assists owners with building legal infrastructures for businesses and equipping tribal business leaders and economic development managers with knowledge needed to achieve commercial and economic success.
One useful publication is the bureau’s Tribal Business Structure Handbook, which offers a step-by-step process for building Native American–based business enterprises.
In addition to the Bureau of Indian Affairs, other government resources for Native American business-building include:
- The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA): Through its Office of Native American Affairs, the SBA operates a number of programs to boost Native American small businesses. One resource targeted to Native American businesses is the SBA’s 8(a) program, which helps socially and economically disadvantaged firms grow their businesses through direct counseling, training and management, and technical guidance. The program also provides access to government contracting opportunities and financial assistance.
- The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Development: This federal agency also provides resources to American Indians and Alaska Natives with a portfolio of loan programs and other services as a means for creating economic development and jobs in Native American communities.
In addition to well-established federally based resources, there are many organizations in the private sector that provide services directed to Native American business ownership. Some are:
- National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development (NCAIED): This non-profit organization is committed to helping Native Americans advance in entrepreneurship, providing training, advocacy, business development, and other resources. The NCAIED’s Native Edge program, for instance, is an online portal that provides business owners and entrepreneurs with tools and resources to grow business opportunities and expand their customer bases.
- The American Indian Business Association (AIBA): This service organization at the University of New Mexico has a goal of providing firsthand experiences to Native American business owners through networking, conferences, and internship opportunities. The organization also works with Native American students to enhance their academic and professional pursuits.
- The National Congress of American Indians (NCAI): Founded in 1944, this organization is a preeminent group representing American Indians and Alaska Natives in a broad range of activities of tribal governments and communities, including business and economic development.
Resources directed to Native American businesses are in abundance. Does your organization offer any resources that seek to serve Native American business development? If so, please email us; we’d be happy to include you on our list.