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Indian Country Leaders Discuss Economic Development at White House Roundtable

The White House Rural Council, established in June by the Obama Administration, is hosting the White House Native American Business Leaders Roundtable Discussion, with tribal business leaders to discuss and seek guidance for bolstering economic development.
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Updated August 5, 2011

On June 9, 2011, the White House announced the establishment of the White House Rural Council to address the challenges facing rural communities along with economic potential.

“Strong rural communities are key to a stronger America,” President Barack Obama said when signing the executive order establishing the Council. “That’s why I’ve established the White House Rural Council to make sure we’re working across government to strengthen rural communities and promote economic growth.”

The Council hosted a meeting on August 4 with a select group of American Indian leaders titled the White House Native American Business Leaders Roundtable Discussion in hopes of generating ideas on ways to bolster economic development, while seeking guidance from tribal business leaders with expertise in economic development and job training.

“Throughout the country there is an exodus of jobs from companies that were given huge tax incentives from states, counties or other municipalities to come to a region, provide jobs and skills training, or to stay in a region,” said Ray Halbritter, Oneida Nation Representative and CEO of Nation Enterprises, who will be in attendance at the roundtable. “Many of these companies later shut down or relocated to another state where the tax incentives were more favorable or to another country all together in search of lower cost labor.”

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According to a United States Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service briefing 16.6 percent of the population, or nearly 8.1 million people, living in nonmetropolitan (nonmetro) areas were poor in 2009. This poverty rate is significantly higher than the 2008 poverty rate (15.1 percent).

“Indian nations though are not going anywhere. As Native people, we are loyal to our homelands that were cultivated by our ancestors. We have a responsibility to do what's in the best interest of our communities. That fundamental distinction is what makes Indian nations such a critical part of the rural economic development all over this country.” He added, “Indian nations bring stability, and that stability and access to capital can be harnessed for real long-term, positive economic development if opportunities are made or expanded upon, including access to capital and job training.”

“Rural America makes significant contributions to the security, prosperity, and economic strength of our country,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack when the Council was established.

According to a press release, the Oneida Indian Nation, Verona, New York, has created more than 4,500 jobs and is one of the top five employers in the 16 counties of greater Central New York. The Nation trains thousands of employees every year in such areas as hotel management, golf and grounds management, culinary skills and guest service. Last year, the Nation’s payroll topped $126 million and more than $285 million was spent for goods and services, primarily with local and regional businesses.

Some of those in attendance were senior policy advisors from across the Obama Administration, including the Domestic Policy Council, National Economic Council, Office of Management and Budget, Council of Economic Advisors, and several Cabinet Departments.

"It was a productive discussion, and we look forward to continuing the dialogue," said Shin Inouye, a spokesman for the White House, at the conclusion of the session. He did not share specifics on the White House's next steps as a result of the meeting.