WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.), vice chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, and former committee chairs Senators Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) introduced the Native American Business Incubators Program Act, legislation to help launch small businesses and encourage job creation in Indian Country.
Their bill, S. 607, creates a competitive grant program to establish and fund business incubators that will assist in cultivating Native American-owned small businesses. The incubators will serve as a much-needed resource in Indian Country, where entrepreneurs often face start-up challenges such as difficulty accessing business loans, federal restrictions on leasing and other activities on Tribal land, and proximity to cities since many Tribes are located in highly rural areas.
“Small businesses are the engines of economic growth – and when Native American small businesses succeed, they expand opportunity across Indian Country. As the vice chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee and senator for New Mexico, I am committed to finding new and creative ways to support entrepreneurs and help create jobs in Indian Country,” Udall said. “Our bill will provide essential tools that will empower Native American business owners to develop an effective business plan, cut through red tape, and gain access to the capital they need to thrive.”
“Folks in Indian Country face unique obstacles when they take their business from the drawing board to a storefront in their communities,” Tester said. “By providing Native American entrepreneurs with the space, networking, and resources to start a business, they can launch their careers and hire folks locally.”
“It’s critical we provide tools and training to help Native American entrepreneurs thrive and strengthen the communities around them,” Cantwell said. “The Tribal business incubator program will help Northwest Tribes, who are often in isolated regions of our state, build skills and expertise that can help create jobs in our rural communities.”
Udall, Tester and Cantwell’s bill will create an annual $5 million competitive grant initiative within the Interior Department’s Office of Indian Energy and Economic Development to establish or maintain business incubators that serve Native American communities.
“The Native Incubators Program Act is a great step towards true home-grown economic development in Indian Country. The creation of incubators at Tribal colleges will help foster economic development and entrepreneurship on the Navajo Nation,” Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye said.
“The National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development strongly supports the recent revisions and reintroduction of the Native American Business Incubators Program Act. This important legislation responds to our request for robust development policies tailored to Indian Country’s unique sovereign and business characteristics and capabilities, and to incubating businesses and assisting them with access to capital. We applaud Vice Chairman Tom Udall and cosponsors, Senators Jon Tester, and Maria Cantwell, for working tirelessly to address our concerns and take steps to create economic opportunities for Indian Country,” said Chris James, President & CEO of the National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development (NCAIED).
“NCAI is pleased that the Native American Business Incubators bill has been introduced. This legislation provides opportunities for job creation and economic development that will aid Tribal governments in bringing important economic growth to Tribal communities. NCAI looks forward to working with the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs and this Congress to enact this legislation,” said Jacqueline Pata, Executive Director of the National Congress of American Indians.
Tribal business incubators will create a one-stop shop for Native American entrepreneurs to access workspace, a collaborative environment, individualized business skills training, and opportunities to build professional networks. The Tribal incubators will promote economic growth by assisting Native American entrepreneurs in navigating the regulatory complexities of Indian Country.
Eligible grant applicants include Tribes, institutions of higher education, Tribal colleges and universities, and non-profit organizations. To be considered for a grant, eligible applicants must submit a comprehensive three-year plan, provide a site description of a physical workspace, offer business skills training and education, and meet other specific requirements. The bill gives priority to business incubators sited in or near the reservation community the applicant intends to serve.