MILWAUKEE BUSINESS JOURNAL / 8 OCTOBER 2014/
Travis Komacheet’s custom native graphics company, Intertribal Visions Unlimited, was having difficulty taking off in Oklahoma’s Native Country.
But all that changed once Komacheet began networking with the National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development. After working to provide graphics for the center, Komacheet’s company developed a niche market creating original multimedia design.
“It’s been blinding speed,” he said. “It took off and it was all word of mouth.”
Intertribal Visions expanded its garage-based business to a 10-person operation working with people all over country. The company is taking advantage of the business opportunities offered at the center’s expanding Reservation Economic Summits, one of which is taking place this week at the Potawatomi Hotel and Casino in Milwaukee.
The Milwaukee summit is the fifth regional event put on by the National Center since 2012, stressing cooperation among tribal and regional business leaders to develop struggling reservation economies throughout the U.S.
“You can’t afford to be competitive in Native Country,” Komacheet said. “You have to depend on each other.”
For Gary Davis, CEO and president of the Mesa, Ariz.-based National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development, the challenge is promoting native-to-native opportunities by opening lines of communication and sharing enterprise ideas. He said his job is growing now that inter-tribal development is gaining momentum.
“These aren’t obstacles, they’re just our work,” Davis said. “If you grow your garden, you’ll have more to till.”
Still, some people — like Kip Ritchie, president and CEO of Greenfire Management Services, a subsidiary of the Potawatomi Business Development Corp., Milwaukee — said cooperation was unexpectedly slow to take root due to the recession and lingering rivalries between tribes.
“From a gaming perspective, tribes are competitive,” Ritchie said. “But other businesses don’t have to be that way. Tribes can collaborate and put money together.”
Ritchie also noted that the summit focused on giving opportunity to regional businesses who already do business with local tribes. Waukesha-based M3 Insurance, which provides insurance to Wisconsin and other Midwest tribes, took the event as a chance to reach deeper into Native Country markets.
Government bodies also got involved. Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett visited the casino for an opening session address Tuesday while tribal leaders are taking part in a listening session with staff from the U.S. Senate Indian Affairs Committee Thursday morning.
Hundreds are expected to attend the Milwaukee event throughout the week, with tribes represented ranging from those in Alaska to Washington, D.C.
“It’s more than building a business,” said Gary Pratl, chairman of the Iowa Tribe of Oklahoma. “They focus on building an economy.”