Indian Businesses in Oklahoma Poised for Success

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Many of Oklahoma's Native American tribes have risen to economic prominence in the state, but plenty of Indian entrepreneurs are poised to follow the same trajectory.

A focus of this week's Indian Country Business Summit in Norman was connecting Native American business owners and potential entrepreneurs with the resources they need to get started or grow.

Native American entrepreneurs have the persistence and integrity to run a business, said Paul Bickford, state board president for the American Indian Chamber of Commerce in Oklahoma. But they often need the educational and financial resources to get started.

"For a lot of private Indian businesses, the resources are scarce," Bickford said. "There's not collateral to go to the bank and secure the operating capital that you need. We need to be taking more advantage of the SBA loan programs and the BIA guaranteed loan programs. It's an educational process."

Indians also are hampered by geography - living in remote locations, sometimes without Internet access, Bickford said.

"We're so cognizant of the major tribes in Oklahoma - the ones that are near metropolitan areas and everything looks healthy," he said. "But you don't have to get very far outside of Tulsa or Oklahoma to find tribal entities that are scarcely populated and they have scarce natural resources. They don't have the access to people, so their gaming operations are not as productive as others. The only way we can fix that is to provide better infrastructure with roads. And wireless broadband is very important. Today you cannot run a business without the Internet."

But Indian-owned businesses, and those that contract with them, have attractive federal incentives. A prime contractor can secure a 5-percent incentive on subcontracts if it does work with an Indian- owned business, Bickford said. That incentive is unique to Indian tribes, he said.

"Sometimes on a project, 5 percent is a good profit. So you get double your profit by working with a Native-owned company," he said.

Indian-owned businesses also continue to find success with the U.S. Department of Defense. The Tribal Government Institute, through its Procurement Technical Assistance Program, has helped its clients acquire government contracts worth $375 million to date.

Bickford said he's also hopeful for continued conversations with the state to create a central registry of Indian-owned businesses. Oklahoma has no such list, he said, nor does the National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development, although that group is working on one.

Bickford said his chamber has 700 members, although he knows there are many more Indian-owned businesses in the state. …