AS PREPARED FOR DELIVERY, FEBRUARY 24, 2010
Thank you for inviting me to this, the 24th Annual Reservation Economic Summit.
I also bring you greetings from President Barack Obama, who has and will continue to be a voice of wisdom and a force of action in helping to expand the partnership between the sovereign nations of this great land and the United States Government.
Yesterday, you heard from Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke who knows first hand the struggles that many Native Americans face, and who is fully committed to bringing the full force of the Department of Commerce to expand economic opportunity in Indian Country.
As Secretary Locke stated, the Department of Commerce can maximize economic opportunity in Indian Country if every Native American is counted.
Being counted in the U.S. Census will cost you nothing and ensures that your communities gain their fair share of resources.
You have also heard from SBA Administrator Karen Mills, whose sound leadership and extraordinary vision is transforming the Small Business Administration (SBA) into an Agency that you can count on for assistance in financing your businesses and building wealth in your communities.
But before I continue, I want to take a moment to give very special thanks:
I want to give thanks to the tribal leaders here today, whose mere presence demonstrates that they embrace the profound truth - that the economic power of Indian Country, can echo not just across sovereign lands, but also around the world.
I give thanks to the Chick-a-saw Nation, who heeded the call for leadership and stepped forward, becoming one of several key sponsors of this critically important conference and to the tribes who raise-up extraordinary leaders like Margo Proctor, David Powless, Derrick Watchman, and Susan Masten, and sent them and others to serve on the Board of Directors of the National Center for American Indian Enterprise.
I give thanks for the tens of thousands of men, women and children who lost their lives on the Trail of Tears, and during the Massacres of Camp Grant, Sand Creek and Wounded Knee.
It is through their sacrifice that Millions of others have learned to never give up, never give in, and to fight for the respect, dignity and economic opportunity that every Native American so richly deserves.
I give thanks for the vision of Tecumseh, the great Shawnee leader who in the 1800’s attempted to organize an alliance of Native Americans. He understood then as we understand today, that individually, we are considered a “special interest” subject to marginalization and disregard.
But united, we are a powerful force that can change the face of business in America and set a new course of economic prosperity and political leadership.
Finally, I give thanks to our ancestors, whose blood runs through our veins, who dreams are burned into our hearts and whose wisdom is manifested in our every success.
Indian country has immense economic power but has yet to achieve its full potential.
The Native American and Alaskan Native business community constitute approximately 200,000 companies, who generate nearly $27 billion in gross receipts. The average gross receipts of the average Native American company is approximately $133,000, only one-third the size of the average business in America whose gross receipts average approximately $391,000.
However, if Indian Country were operating at economic parity, the Native American business community would have 310,000 companies, generating over $121 billion in gross receipts, 4.5 times higher than current levels. More important, Indian Country would employ 763,000 workers, versus the estimated 191,000 workers currently employed.
The Obama administration has been working hard to improve economic opportunities for Indian Country. As Secretary Locke pointed out, we are working to ensure that companies owned by tribes and their members benefit from ARRA Economic Stimulus contracts --- and I might add that the largest number of contracts that have gone to any minority group have gone to Native American owned and operated companies.
In addition, the Secretary is leading other agencies to expand their activity within Indian Country. From the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) who protects the nation’s fisheries to the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) who is creating opportunities to expand broadband capabilities into rural areas, the Department of Commerce continues to be a source of access and opportunity.
The administration is also working hard to get capital flowing to your businesses. With the President’s recent announcement of $30 billion being sent to community banks with a mandate to lend, this difficult lending environment should begin to experience some relief;
The Minority Business Development Agency, my Agency, is working to make our Native-American focused business development centers, more effective in helping you grow your business to size and scale and we are excited about strengthening our partnership.
Finally, the International Trade Administration (ITA) is here to help you export your goods and services around the world. Sovereign nations have unique competitive advantages in exporting, and we look forward to helping you access ITA export opportunities.
The reasons that Indian Country has yet to achieve its full potential are complex.
As someone who grew up having never visited a reservation, let alone lived on one, I do not purport to know all the reasons. And while I can read the history of Native Americans in North America, I am not arrogant enough to think that I can fully understand and appreciate how this history has influenced your life experiences. What I do know is that I --- like you ---am tired of reading about another tribal family torn apart by alcoholism. Or how another young, bright mind has been dimmed by poor education and crystal-meth – or crack cocaine. I--- like you---am tired of hearing story after story about how a native son or daughter died to early because of poor health care---or murder---or suicide.
So I came to you with what I think is part of the solution.
That is to singularly focus on building a stronger, more vibrant business community that will create the economic conditions to increase confidence in a sustainable future. Our contribution to helping you build a stronger business community is through our business development centers and our programs.
Over the past 40 years our centers located in North Carolina---New Mexico---Minnesota---North Dakota---Oklahoma---Arizona---and California --- have worked with approximately 80% of the tribes and assisted over 25,000 Native American businesses, while training over 10,000 tribal members in various aspects of business development.
Our Centers provide a broad range of business development services which include:
- Business Consulting
- Procurement Matching
- Private Equity and Venture Capital sourcing
- Senior Debt and Subordinated Debt sourcing
- Bonding Assistance and Loan Packaging
- And relationship access to Fortune 1000 companies, prime contractors and federal procurement entities.
Last year alone, we achieved $2.91 billion in contracts and financings for Native American and minority-owned businesses.
For example through our California Minority Business Center, we worked with a company called Fort Mojave Construction. We provided them with federal contract identification, marketing and surety bonding assistance. Through our efforts, Fort Mojave Construction was able to obtain $12.9 million in contracts from the US Air Force and US Navy, in addition to $12.9 million in surety bonding.
Another example is Mavid Construction a client of our Arizona Center. We helped facilitate introductions and meetings with prime contractors in addition to providing contracting and bid lead services. Through our efforts, Mavid was able to land more than $6.7 million on new contracts.
Sacred Power Corporation, an Albuquerque-based renewable energy company, came to our New Mexico Center seeking assistance in building their business. Through our loan packaging and relationship development assistance, Sacred Power was able to land a loan of $1.6 million through the ARRA – SBA Loan Program. The loans allowed the company to double revenues and hire an additional 20 employees.
These are just a few of the many success stories we have working with Native American businesses and we want to do more.
But this is what we have done. Let me tell you what we are going to do!
For those of you who desire to work with us, we are going to help you develop and execute growth models that will allow you to grow your businesses faster.
Many of you continue to grow your businesses through tried and true organic growth methods---one contract at a time---one client at a time. This approach, while safe, is also slow in a world moving at break-neck speed.
Our Centers will be charged to help you to understand and execute more rapid growth strategies such as growth through developing joint venture relationships; growth through strategic partnerships; growth by acquiring another company in your industry; growth through mergers; and growth through selling your business ---- YES ---- selling your business so that you have an opportunity to enter into new more lucrative industries. Indian country needs you to grow your businesses faster.
Second, we are going to help those that are interested identify and target new and emerging industries. We believe that that some of the greatest economic potential lies in: clean and efficient energy production; food security; healthcare technology; and green construction.
Third, through President Obama’s National Export Initiative, MBDA is going to help you position your company to export your products and services around the world. Even some of the most basic products can be exported - and global opportunities abound!
For example, by 2020, China is going to complete 97 new airports-97! Someone in this room has a company that can help China build or manage its airports.
In India and Pakistan, approximately 40% of the total food supply is lost to spoilage. Someone in this room could have a solution to food spoilage.
In Africa, there is a need for assistance in managing scarce water supplies. Someone in this room knows a little something about water preservation.
And in every country that I have visited, women enjoy wearing beautifully crafted jewelry. Is there anyone here that wants to export their jewelry?
Indian Country needs companies that will think globally and maximize their export opportunities.
Finally, MBDA is going to help you build stronger relationships with minority groups. Far too often, we think and operate in silos which limit our ability to maximize the power of diversity. Therefore, I am charging MBDA to develop new and creative ways for Indian Country to get more involved with ethnic minorities ---while we will encourage all minorities to learn more about the history, philosophy and economic opportunity in Indian Country.
As a part of this effort, we are hosting a seminar “How to Do Business in Indian Country” at our annual National Med Week Conference held in Washington, D.C. in August. Margo Proctor has decided it will be called MINI-RES and of course, when Margo speaks---we had no choice---but to agree.
We also plan to work with the National Center to develop one or more reverse trade missions to Indian Country where we will seek to bring firms---many of whom will be minority-owned---to meet with you.
These are just a few of the steps that we plan to take to support a stronger minority relationship development.
Now, let’s talk about what we need from you. The biggest thing that we need from you is for tribal nations to take steps to work more closely together. Right now someone may be thinking, “Well, that might be a bit complicated.” Yes, it is challenging and may at times be difficult, but it can be done.
Right now progressive tribal nations can organize themselves to share best business practices with all those nations that are in an earlier stage of development. Tribal Nations can coordinate resources around emerging industries and jointly leverage the activities of the Department of Commerce.
We would be delighted if you did this!
You can agree to establish commercial relationships and rewrite procurement laws so that you are motivated to buy products from each other and therefore create more jobs in Indian Country. You can work together to support the Native American-owned banks and use your combined creativity to develop new and innovative financing solutions
And all 564 federally recognized tribes can work together to develop a defined set of business standards and legal practices so that Indian Country attracts more external capital and more diverse business partners. Many of you have been advocating for stronger inter-tribal economic cooperation for decades. Let us work together to get this done!
Finally, if you are going to work more closely together, you have to join together and engage in the politics of the day. We need your voices to be heard and not just on issues affecting Indian Country but on issues impacting the United States and the world. Indian Country needs you to move towards being a key participant in global opinion and take your rightful position, as a leader, in creating the solutions that will make the world economy a better. During the Presidential Campaign, then Senator Obama often spoke about the “fierce urgency of now” and “that we are who we have been waiting for”.
During my seven-month tenure as head of MBDA, not a day has gone by where I did not consider these words. We are at a unique period in history where we have a chance --- a real chance to change the world --- not just for ourselves, but for generations to come.
Please join MBDA and me in providing the leadership and legacy that our children and grandchildren can be proud of.