By Brenda Beveridge
For more than 50 years the National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development or The National Center has provided support and guidance to American Indian, Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian-owned businesses of all sizes — from startups to large, established businesses. “We are on top of the business trends occurring across the country, helping our clients stay ahead of the curve. And we are a strong advocate for Native businesses in our nation’s capital,” said Chris James, president and CEO, The National Center.
The National Center has seven offices across the United States. Its Procurement Technical Assistance Center has helped more than 1,100 clients acquire more than $4 billion in contracts over the last 20-plus years.
The National Center has strong relationships with both federal agencies and large companies. One of the organization’s primary missions is to increase the number of Native-owned businesses in private and government procurement.
For instance, at the Reservation Economic Summit, or RES, — the largest and longest-running Native American business event in the nation — The National Center hosts the Buy Native Procurement Matchmaking Expo. It is designed to connect Native-owned companies with supply chains, which are critical to their success.
“One of the primary ways we help businesses is to make sure they have dotted all of the i’s and crossed all of the t’s when it comes to certification,” James said. “We do this through our Procurement Technical Assistance Centers, as well as our programming held throughout the year. In fact, our clients have won more than $4 billion in contracts in the last 20-plus years. And beyond training, we serve as a connector among businesses, facilitating the beginning of what we hope is a lasting business relationship.”
The theme for this year’s RES — which takes place May 23–26 at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas, Nevada — is “BE THE CHANGE,” an acknowledgement that the Native community has input in shaping the change around them. The organization is projecting over 3,000 attendees.
“Change has been a constant for all of us over the last two-plus years, but change doesn’t always have to be a negative. Changes can make us stronger, more resilient and ready to face any unforeseen challenge that lies ahead. But to make change a positive, you have to embrace it and constantly work to overcome it,” James said.
The National Center had to adapt to many changes over the past few years. Regarding the impact of COVID-19, he said, “As was the case with most organizations and businesses, it was a challenge. We had to quickly shift to a virtual world — both for internal and external purposes. We shifted our one-day business training program — the Native Edge Institutes — to a virtual format and didn’t miss a bit. In fact, we’ve kept the virtual option even as we’ve gone back to hosting in-person events. Through a combination of luck and planning, we haven’t had to cancel RES for the last two years and managed to host the summits safely.”
The summits are a valuable component of the National Center’s efforts to assist Native-owned businesses, but the National Center found itself looking to do even more.
James said COVID-19 was challenging for Indian Country. So, The National Centered partnered with the Center for Indian Country Development at the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis to conduct a survey of tribes and Native-owned businesses to better understand how they were affected by the pandemic. It was conducted over the summer of 2020.
“The results were alarming,” he said. Nearly 70% of respondents reported at least a 20% loss in revenue, and more than 40% had laid off employees.
“While things have improved, there’s still work to be done,” James said.
He said every business is different with unique needs and in different places on their journeys. They serve different markets, offer unique products or services and have varying goals.
“While we develop materials, trainings and other programming that can be helpful to virtually any business, we never lose sight of the fact that each business is unique. That’s why our staff are as hands-on and individualized as possible when working with clients,” James said.
Many National Center members have benefited from services through the Native American 40 Under 40 awards program, business plan competitions for youth and much more.
Regarding the reach and influence of the National Center, James said, “It’s important not just for CEOs of Native-owned businesses or tribal economic development leaders to be involved with the National Center. For CEOs and executives at non-Native-owned companies, the National Center is a wonderful way to meet potential employees and suppliers — and even future partners. Companies committed to equity and diversity should partner with the National Center or make sure to have a large presence at events like RES.”
The broader organizational focus for The National Center in 2022 is something James and his team are excited about.
“We were the first and only Native organization selected by the Minority Business Development Agency — a government agency within the Department of Commerce — to run one of its Export Centers. The Arizona MBDA Export Center, which is run out of our Mesa, Arizona, office, is designed to help minority-owned businesses — not just Native-owned businesses — expand their markets beyond our borders,” he said. “We’re also continuing to capitalize our community development financial institution [or CDFI], which we’re calling Native Edge Finance. Once ready, our assistance will go beyond training and enter into direct financial support to help businesses reach their goals.”
James said the outlook is bright for The National Center, its clients and the businesses it serves — and for American Indian, Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian supplier diversity.
“More and more, businesses are recognizing the importance of having a workforce and a supply chain that looks like America. There are many, many qualified Native-owned companies that can help them meet their goals,” he said. “Our role at The National Center — both now and for the foreseeable future — is to facilitate those conversations that lead to contracts and business relationships, whether for a small, one-time order or multiyear, multimillion-dollar contracts.”
To learn more about the National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development, visit ncaied.org.
Brenda Beveridge National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development The National Center American Indian-owned businesses Native Hawaiian-owned businesses Alaska Native-owned businesses Native businesses Chris James Procurement Technical Assistance Center Reservation Economic Summit RES Buy Native Procurement Matchmaking Expo Caesar’s Palace Las Vegas Nevada Native Edge Institutes Indian Country Center for Indian Country Development Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis Minority Business Development Agency Export Centers Arizona MBDA Export Center Mesa Arizona CDFI Native Edge Finance