Story Published: LAS VEGAS
The new American economy and the unique opportunities it holds for the American Indian business world is the focus of RES 2010. The annual business conference, hosted by the National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development, takes place at the Las Vegas Hilton Feb. 21 – 24.
Hundreds of Indian entrepreneurs are scheduled to attend. “We’ve made it through a challenging economic year to see development and growth in a wide variety of areas,” said Margo Gray-Proctor, the Osage chairwoman of NCAIED and president of Horizon Engineering Services Co. “We’ve learned that we could go down the sink in a swirl, or we could do something that no one else has done as we turn around. And we’re doing it.” Even given the economic downturn, Gray-Proctor said this is the largest RES to date – a feat she and her executive committee accomplished by trimming budgets, working long hours, and networking to the max. Approximately 480 tribes are expected to be represented.
Some areas of success will be uniquely featured at the meeting, which includes sessions on topics ranging from Native American entertainment ventures to the increasing power of social media to the growing global importance of international trade. “The thing is you’ve got to try something new. That’s business. Business is risk,” Gray-Proctor said. “We’ve got to be willing to try new things.” Beyond highlighting areas of new growth, the business leader said now is the time to really examine the potential of contracting for a variety of Native business owners, adding that it’s crucial for federal and tribal procurement people to make contact at RES. “When we all start pulling resources, people and contracts together, we’re going to make Indian communities stronger.” Plus, it’s a time to focus on the effectiveness of the federal stimulus money of 2009. One session is scheduled to highlight how tribes successfully leveraged their existing assets and how other Native enterprises, tribes and businesses can get a share. Gray-Proctor said some Indian business leaders expect more stimulus funds to flow, so they want to know what worked about the first round and what can be improved.
The U.S. government sees potential at RES 2010, sending White House official Jodi Gillette, Interior’s Del Laverdure and Bob Middleton, and other federal staffers to attend the meeting and interact with Indian business people. The top federal speaker is scheduled to be one of President Barack Obama’s Cabinet members, Commerce Secretary Gary Locke. Don Chapman, Locke’s Mohegan senior advisor on Native American affairs, noted that NCAIED has a longstanding relationship with the Department of Commerce, but said the agency is entering a new era of cooperation. “We will soon launch a Commerce Department Native American Affairs Web page that will help collect feedback from Indian country and further develop relationships with Native American tribes,” Chapman said in preparation to attend RES 2010. “And we are also holding listening sessions across the country as we develop and plan to implement a tribal consultation policy.
“[W]e look forward to participating in the Reservation Economic Summit (RES 2010), a premier networking and economic development event, as we continue our communication with Indian country and address important issues.” Tribal officials are also excited. Bill Anoatubby, Chickasaw Nation governor, said the gathering is important because it provides big potential for enhancing economic development in Indian country. “It offers a unique opportunity for tribal business people to network with government agency representatives and corporate leaders. This is a one of a kind opportunity for these individuals to make connections which can provide incredible benefits to everyone concerned.”
The Chickasaw Nation is a presenting sponsor of this year’s event, along with Interior’s Office of Indian Energy and Economic Development. Karlene Hunter, an Oglala Sioux businesswoman who owns a successful nutrition-focused company on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, said the networking potential of RES is hard to beat. She’s helped organize this year’s event, and noted the importance of Indian women taking a lead in a variety of economic fields. “Our women’s sessions have quite a few of us female business owners sharing our experiences. It’s hard to start a business anywhere, and it’s especially tough in Indian country. Our Native women need to be prepared.” Hunter said in past years after RES, she’s done follow-up with curious company owners who call to ask her about specific hurdles and how she overcame them. “It’s important to share your wisdom if you have it. It makes us all stronger.” Beyond its unique learning and networking opportunities, Gray-Proctor said RES 2010 will honor several businesses and individuals who have led the way in a variety of fields thus far. “We’re all about honoring the vision. The power of Indian country is us.”