There’s no shortage of money available for Native businesses wishing to break into global markets – all that’s left is for Indian Country to go get it.
Speaking at a breakout session on global enterprise Wednesday afternoon, NCAIED President and CEO Gary Davis said he consistently meets with corporations “who want to give hundreds of millions of dollars to Indian Country, but they can’t find us because we’re focused on little pots of opportunity. The potential for us is limitless.”
Davis and three other panel members – attorney and book author Robert Miller, Minority Business Development Agency Director David Hinson and International Business Consultant Robert Shade – emphasized that the world is largely untapped by indigenous people when it comes to trade.
Hinson, whose agency falls within the U.S. Department of Commerce, opened his remarks by noting that $700 million in Australian contract opportunities rest on his desk in Washington, awaiting his return. Many of those contracts represent opportunities for Native American businesses to connect with aboriginal Australian enterprises, he said.
“When you think about the world, you have to think about the fact that 95 percent of the world’s consumers live outside the United States. Eighty percent of the buying power is outside of the United States,” he said
Hinson touted federal government programs that can facilitate access to world markets, as well as assist United States entrepreneurs in reducing long-distance business risks.
Miller is an Attorney, a Law Professor at Arizona State University and Author of the 2012 book “Reservation Capitalism: Economic Development in Indian Country.”
He introduced a simple economic principle called the multiplier effect, which means the number of times a dollar made in a community circulates in that community.
“What I’ve mostly focused on is keeping it in the American Indian community,” Miller said of his work to this point. “My passion is for American Indian tribes to work together.”
But partly because of his recent association with Davis at the NCAIED, he said, “I’ve been expanding my thinking: we need to keep our money in our global indigenous community.”
Miller said the same parameters that guide domestic indigenous trade can guide it on a global scale. For starters, he said, “politics has to be separated from business decisions.” Miller cited studies by the Harvard Project for American Indian Development showing that when tribes do that successfully, “the possibility of profitability goes up 400 percent.” In practice, that means a tribal government establishes its businesses and their organization, but then hands the reins to an independent board. Another asset for entrepreneurial tribes is an autonomous court system. When a tribe has an impartial dispute resolution system, he says, there is on average five percent higher employment on the reservation.
There’s no need for indigenous people to re-invent the wheel to heed the global call; some tribes have already done so.
Miller pointed out that the Mississippi Choctaw Tribe owns manufacturing plants in Mexico. The Coushatta Tribe in Louisiana enjoys an established trade partnership with Israel. Florida’s Seminole Tribe famously bought the Hard Rock Cafe chain, and now controls 124 cafes worldwide.
And panel member Robert Shade, in his role as Director of the Blood Tribe Agricultural Project, has forged international trade arrangements for a variety of agricultural goods, from foraging products to natural beef and greenhouse produce. He said numerous emerging markets would make prime partners for Native American nations, including the United Arab Emirates, the Middle East, China, Korea, the First Nations of Canada, South America and Mexico.
Several of the panelists pointed out that economic opportunity goes both ways – meaning that tribes can import goods along with exporting them. Hinson noted that on the import side, the federal SelectUSA program stands ready to assist foreign companies trying to locate in the United States.
“What Indian Country needs to do is to engage the US.. Department of Commerce and say, ‘Look, we have a unique economic opportunity to have these companies locate in Indian Country.”
As for the export side, the sky’s the limit.
“This is very much about willingness, and commitment, and having the vision to dream a bigger dream,” Hinson said. “There is no product in Indian Country that cannot be sold in billions someplace in the world.”