Native American entrepreneurs were given valuable information in a workshop designed to guarantee successful business both on and off the reservation. Greyhills High School hosted the “Native Business Opportunity Workshop” sponsored by the Navajo Nation Division of Economic Development, Canyon Forest Village and Northern Arizona University on September 28.
The event, moderated by popular radio personality Selena Manychildren and broadcast by KTNN, was opened with an invocation presented by Council Delegate James Bilagody and welcoming remarks by Tincer T. Nez, Sr., the Program Manager for the Regional Business Development Office (RBDO) in Tuba City.
Terry D. Hudgins, Director of the Resource Management & Environment Affairs office of Canyon Forest Village, took questions from interested business people concerning Native American business opportunities within the proposed gateway development. Included in his presentation were new ways of looking at doing business. “Look at creative partnerships with the Tribe,” Hudgins advised. “Go to Michael Anderson [owner of Southwest Silverstar Enterprise and also a presenter] and propose a partnership with him.”
Canyon Forest Village, Hudgins said, is interested in working with Native Americans. This opportunity is unique at the Grand Canyon, he said. “I haven’t seen anyone from Tusayan come over and offer so much as a garage for a workspace in the past.”
Louise Yellowman, Coconino County Supervisor, stood to agree. “I know of no other entity or business saying there is an opening for Native Americans there.” She said that she was impressed that tribal participation has been actively sought by the developers. “It was a surprise to me,” she exclaimed.
Dolly Lane, Economic Development Specialist with RBDO, spoke about resources available from the Navajo Nation to allow individuals to start their own businesses. The bottom line, according to Lane, is that one needs capital. “You have to have some money.” But, she added, there are loans available through the Division of Economic Development to help potential or existing business people.
The Small Business Loan Program offers collaterized loans in amounts varying from $10,000 to $100,000 for new business and from $10,000 to $150,000 for existing businesses. Applicants must have a good credit history, nor be in violation of the Navajo Nation Procurement Act or other Navajo Nation laws. The RBDO, Lane explained, is available to provide technical assistance with areas such as the business plan, the business site lease and the BIA business grant.
Another loan program available to entrepreneurs is the Micro Enterprise Loan Program, which is available to individuals who are self employed or working from their homes, as well as individuals in small retail or wholesale businesses employing less than five persons. For the first loan made, an individual can receive $2,500. When that loan is paid back, the person is then qualified to receive a $5,000 loan. Finally, upon repayment of that loan, the business person is qualified to receive $7,000. These funds can be used for the purchase of materials, equipment, etc.
Lane also described the Navajo Business Preference Program, whereby businesses which wish to operate on the Navajo Reservation are certified to provide employment of Navajo contractors, subcontractors, plumbers, carpenters, etc. “Companies call our office and want to know how many plumbers or electricians are available in the Tuba City area. We can also provide that information.”
Finally, the RBDO assists individuals in business site leases with business plans, archaeological, utility and road clearances, etc. “For a one acre site, people have spent over $5,000 on those clearances. If a business person has shown to be serious about their venture, we are here to help them,” Lane explained.
Successful business people such as Aresta LaRusso of Deerwater Design in Flagstaff shared their own experiences in starting up a business. LaRusso also expressed her support of the Canyon Forest Village project, explaining that the development’s commitment to area tribes and the environment is what had won her admiration from the beginning. “I have always been concerned about the welfare of my people,” she admitted. When asked whether she had found it easier to open her business off the reservation, she answered that it was. “You just need the first month’s rent, the deposit, and the money to hook up the utilities and you are in business.” But she also recognizes and appreciates efforts by the tribe to simplify the process for people who wish to open businesses on the reservation.
Another question addressed at the workshop is how does one protect and grow his or her business. “Have you ever been ripped off?” asked Mike Halona. He and Toni Nezz were on hand to express the value of pre-paid legal services to reservation businesses. After everyone in the auditorium admitted that they had, Halona explained that 85% of all businesses are not successful in the first year. One reason businesses in general are financially unstable is because they lack support. His company, Halona and Associates, offers solutions to that problem.
“What happens when we are ripped off?” Halona asked. “We usually ignore the situation or try to handle it ourselves.” Prepaid legal services provide businesses with an important ally—a law firm to handle situations from bad checks, incorporation, document and contract review, all the way to trial defense should one’s business be named as a defendant or respondent in a court case. For as little as $75 per month all of these services and more are available to business owners, as well as a website, assistance and Internet tools, and tax assistance, Halona said.
After a full day of important information and networking, the workshop ended with closing remarks by Manychildren followed by a reception and entertainment.