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Last Thursday, Senators Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), and Tom Udall (D-N.M.) introduced legislation to help launch businesses and create more jobs in Indian Country.

Tribal Incubator Bill to Foster Entrepreneurship, Close the Employment Gap in Native Communities


A new bill to establish and fund business incubators in Indian country was introduced Thursday. The goal is to help start-up and cultivate Native-owned small businesses that will create more jobs and support their surrounding communities.

The Native American Business Incubators Program Act was introduced on Thursday by senators Jon Tester (D-Montana), Maria Cantwell (D-Washington), and Tom Udall (D-New Mexico).

“Starting a business is a challenge anywhere, but folks in Indian country face even more obstacles when they try and get a business off of the ground,” Tester said. “This bill will provide critical tools to Native American entrepreneurs so they can strengthen tribal economies and hire folks in their communities.”

Businesses often struggle in Native American communities because entrepreneurs must deal with regulatory uncertainty, remoteness, and difficulty accessing capital. Cantwell added that many of the tribes in Washington State are in isolated locations. “This incubator program helps them build skills and expertise that can help create jobs in our rural communities. This bill helps provide tools and training to help Native American-owned businesses thrive and strengthen the communities around them.”

Tribal business incubators will create a one-stop-shop for Native entrepreneurs so they can get assistance developing a business plan navigating federal, tribal and state regulations; and attracting outside investment. The incubators will also provide entrepreneurs a connected workspace and professional networking opportunities.

"Small businesses create jobs and opportunity and empower people to shape their own future, and that's why I'm doing all I can to support New Mexico's entrepreneurs, especially in Indian country," Udall said. "This bill will help Native American business owners navigate obstacles, cut through red tape, and get access to start-up funding. These important tools will help promising entrepreneurs get off on the right foot so they can launch their businesses — and stay in business."

Tester, Cantwell, and Udall’s bill will create an annual $5 million competitive grant initiative within the Interior Department to establish or maintain business incubators that serve Native American communities.

"The economic contributions of tribal businesses and enterprises have proven positive impacts to tribes, their surrounding communities, states, and the national economy. NCAI applauds the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs for introducing the Native American Business Incubators Bill, which will become a vital tool for tribal businesses and entrepreneurs to spur job creation and economic growth in our communities and elsewhere," said Jacqueline Pata, executive director of the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI).

Gary Davis, president and CEO of the National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development, expressed immense support for the new bill. “We endorse and welcome the introduction of this important legislation that responds favorably to many requests over the years for Congress to create a business development program tailored specifically to Indian country’s unique sovereign and business characteristics and capabilities, and focused on incubation and access to capital challenges,” he said.

To be considered for a grant, the applicant must serve one or more tribal communities, submit a three-year plan, provide a physical workspace, offer business skills training and education, and meet other specific requirements. Tribes, Tribal Colleges or Universities, and non-profit organizations are eligible to operate a business incubator. The Native American Business Incubators Program Act will also provide oversight to business incubators and ensure they are delivering on their commitment to Native American entrepreneurs.

According to the NCAI, 39 percent of Native Americans living on reservations are in poverty and the unemployment rate is 19 percent—more than three times the national average.  Additionally, almost half of working age Native Americans living on reservations in certain states said there is a lack of jobs in their community.

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