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Native Hawaiian business and community leaders convene on government contracting

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HONOLULU, HI – Thirty-five Native Hawaiian business and community leaders met Nov. 18 to discuss the Native 8(a) Program within the U.S. Small Business Administration. The five-hour convening focused on how this successful business program can be strengthened and expanded to increase participation and further the delivery of services to the federal government by local service providers and businesses owned by Native Hawaiian nonprofits.

“The Native 8(a) Program is one of the success stories with the federal government, and as our local nonprofits begin to engage in commerce by incorporating government contracting firms, we bring home to the state business revenues, jobs and keep federal dollars in Hawaii,” said Robin Puanani Danner, Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement president and CEO, a partner in convening the session. “The reality is that Hawaii has an extraordinary amount of federal government contracting – we need to be participating in the marketplace, delivering services, employing local people and sending any profits to our social justice nonprofit work.”

The Native 8(a) Program is an outgrowth of the Minority and Disadvantaged Small Business Program created by Congress in 1967 to advance small business owners by providing opportunities to obtain government contracts with the federal government. Since that time, Congress, through the support of various senators, has extended the program to the unique community enterprises operated by federally recognized tribes, Alaska Native corporations and Native Hawaiian nonprofits. These Native community-controlled 8(a) firms, known as Native 8(a)s, are not established to benefit individual investors, but rather to be owned by Native organizations with a community service, social justice and cultural mission.

“As a collective group of Native peoples, we have had a difficult history with the federal government,” Danner added. “But the Native 8(a) Program is actually something our federal government got right – it took knowledgeable Senators and Representatives over several decades, that truly know Native peoples, our goals and aspirations, to create an avenue where business and commerce can work for our communities.”

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Native 8(a) firms in Hawaii consist of Native Hawaiian nonprofits that have incorporated business subsidiaries to engage in government contracting, providing needed services like construction, telecommunications, information technology, catering and food service, as well as general maintenance of government buildings and landscaping.

It’s a growing sector, and according to Aimoku McClellan, president of Pelatron Inc., a certified Native 8(a), “As a state, this program has the potential of employing Hawaii residents in the tens of thousands. We have to participate and make sure that our Native status is something that benefits our community, but also the entire state. When a Native 8(a) is contracted by the federal government, you know you are getting a local firm, and one that is going to use local vendors and partners to get the job done. It’s the right thing to do, and we need to be leaders in ensuring that federal dollars spent in the United States, stay in the United States.”

The convening produced a list of priorities to work with Hawaii’s congressional delegation and with other business and Native leaders across the country that will not only strengthen the Native 8(a) Program, but increase its impact on local economies where tribes, Alaska Native corporations and Native Hawaiian nonprofits are doing business.

“The Native 8(a) is something that works for Native communities, it makes sense for state economies, and certainly, it works for America,” Danner said. “Talk about buy American, how about buy Native – you can be sure that our companies are connected to our homelands and aren’t about to move overseas when the economy gets tough. We’re staying, and we are going to energize the economies around us.”