About every week, 70 clients of the North Dakota Indian Business Development Center receive a list of procurement possibilities. These clients, Indian-owned construction companies, suppliers and other businesses, are informed of upcoming projects by state, federal and local governments, as well as by tribal and other organizations.
If one of the businesses is interested in a particular project, they can notify the Development Center and the business will receive the plans for the job. "We serve as a plan exchange," says Barbara Manson, procurement specialist for the Center. "We do not prepare their bids, we just let them know of as many job possibilities as we can."
One of the Center's clients, June K. Parisien-Randall, president of P-R Co. Inc, a Grand Forks interior supply store, says that although she is often aware of projects that are of special interest to her business—even without the Center's procurement lists—she still appreciates receiving them regularly and checking them for leads.
Manson does her work in the basement of a non-descript brick building on the campus of the United Tribes Technical College (UTTC), just south of Bismarck, N.D. The Center, which opened in 1980, is a non-profit agency funded by the Minority Business Development Agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce, and is also a grantee of the UTTC.
The Center's clients mainly operate in North Dakota, although a few come from neighboring states. The Center originally had a satellite office in Montana, but the office was quickly lost due to funding cuts, Manson says. Later this year, pending funding approval in August by the Commerce Department, the Center will begin extending its services into South Dakota through an outreach program from its North Dakota office. South Dakota currently does not have such a business-aid type office, Manson says, and the Center's services will likely be welcome.
Those services include, in addition to procurement notices, business seminars on matters such as bookkeeping, taxes, management and marketing; helping to identify financial assistance, lines of credit and bonding services; general business counseling, especially for start-ups; and assistance in developing business plans.
Two of the main issues for Indian businesses, both new and existing, Manson says, are credit availability and management skills. Manson, who joined the Development Center four years ago, says lending patterns have changed. "When I came on, banks were willing to take more risks, now, they seem less willing," she says. The reason for banks' reluctance, she says, has more to do with general business trends than with any increased bias toward Indian-owned businesses. If the Development Center believes in a new business, she says they will take the idea before as many banks as possible until the business is funded.
While capital is important to a new Indian-owned business—including tribally run operations—proven managerial skills of the owners are just as crucial, according to Manson. "The number one reason why banks turn down reservation business plans is a lack of management skills," she says, regardless of the amount of capital.
"We have people who come in here with a good idea, but with no idea how to implement it," she says. That's where training comes in, and Manson says tribal colleges—including the United Tribes Technical College—are placing more emphasis on business management, especially courses on entrepreneurism. [Other sources for the articles in this issue of the fedgazette also say that tribal governments and colleges are placing more emphasis on entrepreneurism.]
"I don't see tribal governments getting away from running their own businesses," Manson says. "I can see entrepreneurial programs being very successful on reservations—both for individuals and tribal businesses."