Native American economic development is critical for tribes seeking to effect a positive long-term impact on their communities. Federal 8(a) programs have been a great resource for Native American owned business, but tribal communities have evolved with an increasing focus on sustainable strategic economic development.
Tribal nations not only focus on the importance of cultural preservation and protected lands, but aspire to overcome big challenges facing their communities. From poverty to limited access to high-quality education, minimal healthcare resources, and inadequate workforce development, tribes work to solve these problems through economic growth. Tribes that thrive economically can better support funding for education, housing, and a multitude of crucial basic services.
Some tribal nations have excelled in the face of these challenges. Tribal economies have had a profound economic impact by growing Native American enterprises, increasing revenue, and acquiring operating companies. Prosperous tribes have also developed strong internal and external business partnerships.
The report “Securing Our Futures” by the National Congress of American Indians highlights positive and significant economic impact:
- In Oklahoma, 38 tribal nations produce a $10.8 billion impact through 87,000 jobs every year.
- $3.5 billion of Washington state’s GSP comes from American Indian reservations activity.
- Minnesota tribal nations contribute $2.75 billion through jobs and household income.
The report “Growing Economies in Indian Country: Taking Stock of Progress and Partnerships” by The Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System identified challenges and recommendations for tribal nations. The report was based on the input of 600 participants, which included 100 tribal representatives representing 63 tribes.
The Fed found that there were common constraints to economic development and growth for tribes. Constraints included capital deficiencies, regulations on restricted land use, underdeveloped infrastructure, and insufficient research data. Other limitations for tribal nations included low capacity and lack of collaboration between regions. Such limitations could have the effect of decreasing confidence among lenders and investors, and in turn make it tougher for tribal nations to establish financial security, capitalize on new opportunities, or conduct private sector investing.
Interim Executives Help Tribal Nations Develop Economic Development Plans
Untying these constraints while resolving unique Native American community challenges is no easy feat. Some tribal communities and governments do not have the capacity or expertise to develop a comprehensive financial plan, establish management systems, conduct due diligence, or strategically drive growth. But with the right expertise or mentor, tribes are empowered to ensure revenue is stable and grows over time. An interim executive or interim CFO can create and execute a strategic plan that addresses both the unique and complex nature of tribal governance while boosting economic development.
An interim executive is not the same thing as a full-time employee. There are no long-term contracts or additions to permanent overhead costs. The risk is low for tribes engaging a leader to assess what is working and what isn’t, while identifying untapped areas of opportunity and creating an action plan to capture the best alternatives. This assessment period allows everyone to see if there is chemistry and cultural fit within the organization, and ensure tribal leadership and the executive are aligned in strategy, planning and proposed implementation.
As tribes thrive and provide more resources for their communities, they can suffer from growing pains. For some tribes they do not have the experience to deal with complex growth. For example, tribal nations that manage a portfolio are faced with increased complexity as their portfolio expands and becomes more diverse.
Miami Nation Enterprises (MNE), the economic division and holding company of the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma, is one such example. With 17 portfolio companies ranging from construction and furniture manufacturing, to ambulance services and casinos, MNE is essential in supporting their community with funds for education, insurance benefits for elders, and additional indispensable services. The Council came to InterimExecs when they realized they needed a great CEO to assess their portfolio of companies and develop an action plan to improve revenue streams and create new, powerful opportunities for the tribe.
“I actually believe interim is a really great resource for other tribal leaders if they find themselves in a position where they have all these businesses and they don’t have someone to take the reins,” said Chief Doug Lankford of the Miami Tribe.
To sustain financial growth and security, it is imperative that the tribe’s numerous stakeholders are reassured, legal infrastructure is in place, governance is stable, proper policies are developed, and collaboration between Native American small businesses is strong. For MNE, an interim CEO with a background in private equity funds and driving business growth across a range of portfolio companies developed and implemented a long-term strategic plan that is sustainable.
An Interim CEO Helps Regional Collaboration Between Tribes While Forming Strategic Partnerships
Interim executives also bring years of experience and wisdom that can help cultivate strong tribal regional collaboration and forge new partnerships between tribes and other entities. InterimExecs matched an Alaska Native Corporation with an Interim CEO who is forging relationships with organizations that can focus on 8(a) business development and other federal programs and opportunities. Through strategic collaboration on Native American business grants, fund development, business partnerships, and marketing programs, Native American companies and tribes are well-positioned for economic prosperity, and overall support of the tribe and community.
Tribal governments and their communities must maneuver through unique challenges to economic development, but a seasoned interim executive can strategically roadmap a path to success, and execute with speed. Whether an interim CEO improves profitability, an interim CFO establishes best financial practices, or an interim COO drives operational excellence, tribes benefit by becoming more economically stable for the long haul with the confidence that their cultural heritage and Native American communities will benefit today and for future generations.