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Speeches & Op-Eds

Remarks at the National Congress of the American Indians (NCAI)

Speech Date: 
Wednesday, March 7, 2012
Speech Location: 
Washington, DC
As Prepared For: 
Karen Mills, SBA Administrator

Thank you for that kind introduction -- and for the opportunity to address your Executive Council Winter Session.

Each of you in this room plays a vital role in ensuring that your communities are strong and successful. 

And a key part of that success—we know—is ensuring economic opportunity for your local businesses and entrepreneurs.

There are approximately 240,000 Native American-owned small businesses in the U.S today.

These businesses are critical to strengthening our economy, our communities and our middle class.

So my message today is simple:

I want more Native American-owned small businesses to have the tools and resources they need to grow and succeed.

I want to make certain that the men and women in your tribes – in your council and your communities – understand that they have a partner – and an ally – at the SBA and across the Obama Administration.

In his State of Indian Nations address earlier this year, NCAI President Jefferson Keel talked about an America where….“tribes are on the forefront of new technology – high-tech manufacturing, telemedicine, clean energy.”

We want to help you make that vision a reality.

And let me tell you: President Obama gets this.

He understands small businesses.

He understands the power of entrepreneurship -- and the potential it has to transform communities. 

He understands the importance of advanced manufacturing and clean energy.

As head of the SBA, my goal is to ensure that we are laser focused on creating a climate where more members of your communities are starting businesses or growing existing ones.

So how are we able to do this?

Three ways: Access to capital, contracting and counseling (or the three Cs as we like to call them.)

Our Associate Administrator of Native American Affairs, Chris James, has been working with many of you to make sure small business owners in your communities have the capital they need to grow.

2011 was a record year for the SBA in this regard. We provided more loan guarantees than ever before.

In fact, we backed over $30 billion in lending to small businesses – and that included more than $150 million to more than 500 Native American-owned businesses.

And we are looking for ways to build on that in 2012.

Let me give you a few examples.

Last week, we hosted a “Capital Access Roundtable” with the Departments of Agriculture and Interior in Las Vegas.

150 tribal economic development specialist, tribal leadership and American Indian small business owners participated in the event.

We discussed making access to our federal programs easier -- and how we can more effectively approach business development in reservation communities.

To build on these efforts, our staff met earlier this week with the Native CDFI Network.

We want to make sure your communities are leveraging our capital access programs, including Community Advantage and our Microloan Program.

Another area we are focused on is contracting.

We’re providing more opportunities to tap into the $100 billion in contracts that go to small firms every year. 

Through our 8(a) program, 300 American Indian, Native Alaskan and Native Hawaiian firms received more than $6 billion in contracts last year.

And finally we are focused on counseling.

We know that access to capital and contracting are only part of the small business equation.

That’s why counseling and training are key to giving business owners the skills they need to be successful.

Over the past two years, we’ve trained more than 200 Native American entrepreneurs through our Emerging Leaders program….with 125 more small business owners graduating this year across the country.

These are business leaders from the Navajo Nation…the Crow Nation…and the Ho-Chunk Nation…and many other tribal communities across the country. 

We also counseled and trained over 12,400 Native Americans through our Small Business Development Centers, Women’s Business Centers, and SCORE program.

And we recently launched our Native American Small Business Primer, a new online business course to help entrepreneurs.

This is just one of many online tutorials we offer -- I urge you to check them out at SBA.gov.

And we are just getting started.

Over the coming months, SBA’s Office of Native American Affairs will embark on an eight-reservation tour hosting workshops on everything from starting a business, bookkeeping and using social media. 

Our goal is be your partner in assisting entrepreneurs and small business owners in your tribes.

Let me tell you about one of those entrepreneurs.

His name is Ken Novotny.

He is a member of the Delaware Tribe of Oklahoma.

Ken recently was a panelist at SBA’s Young Entrepreneurs Summit in Oklahoma.

In 2002, Ken started CSI, a defense contracting business that provides IT services such as cyber security, data center consolidation and engineering services.

As Ken’s business took root, he realized he needed new tools and a better understanding of the marketplace. 

Ken began working with SBA’s Small Business Development Center in Midwest City, Oklahoma. 

We helped refine his business plan and file the appropriate paperwork to qualify for SBA’s Small Disadvantaged Business and HUBZone programs.

From there, Ken worked with us to become a subcontractor and then a federal contractor.

Working with the SBA…and utilizing a wide range of our programs…Ken’s company has grown from two employees and $64,000 in revenue to 120 employees and more than $8 million in sales.

I want to be able to tell more stories like Ken’s.

In fact, I told Ken’s story in my video introduction at the recent Reservation Economic Summit.

It may have been a little bit of a surprise to Ken who was in that audience that day.

But it’s stories like Ken’s that inspire me.

It’s why I am so bullish on small businesses.

It’s why I am so optimistic about what is possible if we work together….nation to nation…government to government.

Because together we can create good-paying, secure jobs.

Together, we can lift more families to the middle class.

Together, we can ensure that more entrepreneurs—like Ken—can reach for and achieve their dreams of starting their own businesses.

Together, we can ensure an economy that is built to last.

So if I have one ask of you today:

It’s that you go back to your council and your communities and tell them that the SBA wants to be a partner and a resource.

We want to work with more of your small businesses and your entrepreneurs.

And that we have the tools they need to succeed.

 

Thank you.