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Construction Boom at Expo ’15; Halbritter Keynote Speaker

Do you know what the hottest emerging industry is for Native Americans? The answer might surprise you.

“Construction,” said Tracy Stanhoff, president of the American Indian Chamber of Commerce of California (AICCC). “There is a renaissance, a rebirth on construction. A lot of major corporations that we work with have been telling us for the last few years, ‘We need Indian construction companies.’ We’ve gone back to construction because infrastructure in this country is falling apart.”

Case in point: During the AICCC’s recent EXPO ’15 in Rancho Mirage, Calif., the Tex Wash Bridge on Interstate 10 crumbled and collapsed, stopping some attendees in their tracks. “We had kids coming to the Youth Expo from Arizona and the Colorado River areas who couldn’t come,” said a disappointed Stanhoff.

One businesswoman who has made it to nearly all 12 AICCC expos is Leigh Ann Anderson, chief executive officer for S.C. Anderson, Inc., a general contracting and construction management company in Bakersfield that generates nearly $200 million in annual revenue. Anderson, a Potawatomi, agrees with Stanhoff—that the construction business is on fire right now. “We have been extremely busy for the last two years, especially with our education clients.” Anderson’s company is currently building a $60 million high school in Los Angeles, and they have built or remodeled most of the high schools in Bakersfield, as well.

EXPO ’15 was a three-day conference on July 19-21 at the Agua Caliente Resort in Southern California, facilitated by the AICCC and the American Indian Chamber Education Fund—Procurement Technical Assistance Center (AICEF—PTAC). This annual expo attracted nearly 200 Native American business owners and tribal enterprises from across the country.

“We are trying to create economic self-sufficiency through business ownership, and that is the spirit of the conference,” said Stanhoff, former tribal chairwoman of the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation who owns AD PRO, a well-established advertising, graphics and promotion firm in Huntington Beach. “We are a chamber that promotes ‘buy Indian, by Indian, for Indian. We believe a lot of ills in our society will be fixed through business ownership because we will be able to solve a lot of our own problems—lack of education, bad health care, bad infrastructure—through profits that our businesses make,’” she told ICTMN.

Highlights of EXPO ‘15 included one-on-one mentoring sessions; matching Native businesses with high-profile corporations, such as Toyota, AT&T, Boeing, Verizon, Disneyland Resort, Comcast-NBCUniversal, Southern California Edison and the Department of the Interior, to name a few big guns; a lifetime achievement award presented to Steven Stallings for his work with Indian Country economic development; and of course, the “famous” Youth Expo.

“This year, the Disneyland Resort partnered with us in a youth hack-a-thon, where about 175 kids teamed up to develop avatars on computers,” Stanhoff said. The winning entrepreneurs won two tickets each to Disneyland.

Stanhoff said one of the most memorable moments of EXPO ’15 was the inspiring keynote address, delivered by Ray Halbritter, Oneida Indian Nation Representative, CEO of Oneida Nation Enterprises, and publisher of ICTMN. Halbritter emphasized the importance of unifying leadership, business opportunities and education in Indian country.

“As we begin to realize the dreams of our ancestors—dreams of prosperity, self-sufficiency and a better life for our children—we must look for ways to strengthen each other,” he said, addressing both adult and young entrepreneurs. “We must always remember that our most valuable tool in preserving our way of life is our commitment to each other. As we have learned so many times before, our greatest strength comes not from the scraps that others may grant us, but from our own inner strength and solidarity as Native peoples. Using that strength to secure prosperity and equality for future generations is our most sacred responsibility, and with our ancient heritage, it is one that Native Americans innately understand.”

Lynn Armitage is a contributing business writer and an enrolled member of the Oneida Tribe of Indians of Wisconsin.