ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – Since the Native American Chamber of Commerce was founded in Houston in 1999, membership has grown from mostly local companies to represent 37 states and businesses large and small. What all 847 member businesses have in common is a desire to improve education, commerce and communication among themselves, colleges and the business community.
“We asked people what they wanted,” said Carroll Cocchia, founder and president, and a member of the Blackfoot Nation. “We’re a hands-on chamber, so we do everything in our power to make it happen.”
This year’s annual conference, held May 7 – 8, was called “Celebration of Spirit, Path of the Warrior.” Some 200 members came together in Houston for two days of networking, seminars and celebrations. Texas’ Deputy Secretary of State Coby Shorter gave the opening address.
“During the first day, we invited American Indian businesses and others looking to do business with Native-owned companies to a networking event called the Talking Stick Supplier Diversity Forum,” Cocchia said.
Representatives from large companies like IBM, Marathon Oil and Northrop Grumman sat at each table. In round-robin fashion, the corporation told the table what they were looking for, then passed the talking stick. Everyone related his or her services or product. Then participants switched tables.
“By the end of the day, everyone had networked with everyone else,” Cocchia explained. “In the afternoon, we scheduled one-on-one meetings.”
A vendor trade fair brought companies from as far away as Alaska, Canada and Mexico together to set up booths displaying goods and information on services.
A gala dinner honored two women for their contributions of energy and resources to the chamber: Johnnie B. Booker, global director for supplier diversity for The Coca-Cola Company and Marilyn D. Johnson, vice president, market development, IBM Corporation.
At Coca-Cola, Booker is responsible for developing and implementing initiatives to assure equal contracting opportunities for minority and women-owned businesses. Under Booker’s leadership, the company has consistently exceeded its goals and its supplier diversity profile has grown substantially in actual dollars expended.
Before joining Coca-Cola, Booker was a consultant to a number of national agencies and corporations, including the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation and the Resolution Trust Corporation. While at the RTC, she commissioned the first disparity study by a federal agency and increased contracting fees for minority and women-owned businesses from 18 to more than 48 percent and from three to 26 percent for minority and women-owned law firms.
Johnson leads IBM’s strategy for and marketing to businesses owned or operated by Asians, Blacks, Hispanics, Native Americans and women in the Americas. Her focus also includes women-owned, led and influenced businesses in selected markets around the globe. She has been applauded for her active commitment to mentoring and coaching activities and currently has 16 mentorees.
An executive with extensive management experience in sales and marketing in the information technology industry, Johnson is also a member of the executive boards of the council for Better Business Bureaus, the Asian & Pacific Islander American Scholarship Foundation and the National Council of Negro Women. She has been a featured speaker for numerous professional organizations around the world, and represented IBM and accepted the 2007 Corporate Supporter of Women Entrepreneurs Award in Beijing, China.
The conference featured discussions of important issues facing American Indian peoples today. “DNA testing, Indian health, alternative energy and education were the big topics, as was doing business with federal and state governments, and achieving financial security and responsibility as a business,” Cocchia said.
While the NACC has large companies like Conoco/Phillips and IBM as members, the majority are small- to medium-sized American Indian businesses, including Chickasaw Distributors, Nana Development Corporation and Ongweoweh Corp. Some are small start-ups just getting off the ground.
The NACC’s programs focus on three areas – providing scholarships to American Indian students for college and university study, building relationships with institutions of higher learning both on and off the reservation to attract and retain American Indian students, and creating jobs on the reservation.
This third goal is accomplished through the creation of Achievement Centers that provide computer learning and job development opportunities. There are currently nine centers across the U.S.
Another center is planned that will focus on green living, alternative energy from sustainable sources, and nutrition and health problems American Indians face from poor nutrition.
“This center is planned for the Northern Rockies area, perhaps Colorado, and will be a partnership with Native Energy Corporation,” Cocchia said. “It’ll be a place for college students to do internships and learn about the contributions that American Indians can make to preserving the world.”