Economics Special: Chamber sees positive expansion

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. - Alice Sanchez has spent many years watching the membership of the American Indian Chamber of Commerce-New Mexico Inc. grow.

Once a fledgling organization with a few members from the Navaho, Apache and Pueblo nations, the AICC-NM, formed in 1996, has more than tripled its membership in the past nine months. At the last count, the chamber had 306 members.

"And it's still growing," Sanchez said.

Sanchez, chamber director, and Richard Ray Sanchez, her husband and co-director, along with Marvin Ginn, AICC-NM chairman; and John Lewis, also a board member, literally built the chamber from scratch, she said.

"My husband and I painted the chamber offices, scrubbed the floors and shampooed the carpet, and we brought in our own office furniture," said Alice Sanchez, who operates a land development company, Sunset Farms Inc. and SanRay Construction Inc., with her husband.

When a change in leadership occurred in 2002 as Alice Sanchez assumed the position of director, the AICC-NM had about 22 paid members. The organization had no office equipment or furniture. The Sanchezes brought in their computers and built a Web site.

"With no funds, we've had to ask for contributions," she said.

As business owners, the Sanchezes have a vested interest in seeing that the AICC-NM succeeds, she said.

For this reason, the most important perk the chamber can provide its members - Indian, minority and majority - is education, Alice Sanchez said.

With Richard Ray Sanchez's background as a New Mexico commissioner of higher education and his knowledge of state law as a former representative for District 14, the AICC-NM board members made the education of members and prospective members its top goal. Through education, the chamber helps prospective business owners and existing businesses develop business plans that are sound and effective, she said.

"We know it is important to have an education component in the organization," Alice Sanchez said. "Education and business go hand in hand."

The AICC-NM also works with other organizations to attract the interest in its members' enterprises, products and services. In April 2004, the chamber, working with the Native American Business Association of Michigan, will bring chief executive officers of Fortune 500 companies to New Mexico, she said.

"Their interest is to do business with Native American companies," Alice Sanchez said.

Monterey Consultants Inc. of Dayton, Ohio, is a consulting firm for the BIA that recruits American Indians to work for the agency. The president of the company, Gary Munoz thanked the AICC-NM in a letter for support it provided in helping him fill positions in Albuquerque.

While the chamber has recognized an increased interest in American Indian businesses, it has also seen an increased interest in American Indian performers and culture, she said. AICC-NM members have also been asked to participate in the opening ceremony for the movie, "In the Shadow of the Blade," to air on the Public Broadcasting Station Nov. 10. At the ceremony, the AICC-NM will conduct the healing circle. The drum group Red Road Crossing, also an AICC-NM member, will perform the flag, honor and soldier's songs, and Ernie Dog Wolf Lovato, a Vietnam veteran who wrote the flute music for the movie, will play.

"Every Native American entity is a member of our chamber," said Alice Sanchez, who added that the chamber represents all American Indian tribes and reservations in the state. These include the Navajo Nation, the Jicarilla Apache Nation, the Mescalero Apache Nation and the 19 Pueblo nations.

The chamber most recently established Native casting calls and film workshops for Indians interested in acting.

"We're having a lot of movies made here," she said.

Because the AICC-NM supports up and coming American Indian businesses and individuals, it raises scholarship money for the Miss Indian New Mexico pageant winner.

The marketing of American Indian businesses stands out as one of the organization's fundamental goals. Through state and local events such as the 2003 Expo New Mexico State Fair scheduled this month, the AICC-NM promotes members' businesses and solicits membership. Each year, chamber members have booths in the Native American Indian Village section of the fair, and this year, Alice Sanchez will be the opening speaker at the village. On Sept. 10, the chamber sponsored the first annual Native American Business Day at the fair grounds.

Chamber members also participated in the Southwestern Association for Indian Arts' 2003 Santa Fe Indian Market in August, and it also worked with other state agencies and organizations at a Procurement Contracting seminar with South Valley Small Businesses at the National Hispanic Cultural Center Sept. 10.

Aside from marketing and soliciting members, AICC-NM has a long list of other goals. These include teaching sound business principles, helping businesses find fast-track opportunities, offering a mentorship program, providing policies that promote a positive business climate, promoting an "energized tourism industry," offering business networking and recognizing members who have successful businesses, all listed on the chamber's Web site, www.aicc-nm.org.

"We truly live up to our motto, which is a unified voice for the Native American business community," Alice Sanchez said.

While the AICC-NM receives no government funding, it continues to seek grants from a variety of sources to help with economic development. For now, the chamber's funding comes from business membership dues, she said. The chamber's membership includes Native businesses, minority businesses, majority-owned Native American organizations or developed corporations, tribal entities, governments, organizations and individuals interested in entrepreneurship and economic development, she said.

"We're so versatile," Alice Sanchez said. "? Our mission is to encourage, support and promote well-planned, long-term business growth."