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Number of Indigenous-owned businesses booming

WASHINGTON ? American Indians and Alaska Natives are jumping on the entrepreneurial wagon big time, the U.S. Census Bureau reports.

Between 1992 and 1997, firms owned by individual American Indians or Alaska Natives jumped an eye-popping 84 percent, statistics the bureau released for the November observance of American and Alaskan Indian Heritage Month show.

That increase in businesses far outstrips the 7 percent increase registered for the country as a whole, the bureau reported. It excluded legally incorporated "C" corporations from this comparison because prior data were not available.

All in, there were 197,300 American Indian-owned businesses in 1997, the most recent year surveyed. Eighty-eight percent of those businesses, 173,000, were sole proprietorships. About 2 percent percent, 4,600, were partnerships. Twenty-seven percent of owners were women, the bureau reported. Seventeen percent of the businesses had paid employees, with 400 firms having 100 or more workers. Interestingly, some of the "sole proprietorships" had paid employees.

Those 197,300 firms represented 0.9 percent of the nation's businesses, in line with the 0.9 percent of the country's population who termed themselves solely American Indian or Alaska Native on the last census. Businesses owned by tribes were not included.

Receipts from those businesses, though, accounted for just a skimpy

0.2 percent of the nation's business revenue. Average annual receipts were a slender $174,100, compared to $410,600 for businesses in the United States as a whole. About 2 percent, or 4,900 Indian-owned firms, took in more than $1 million that year.

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The service industry, which would include casinos, accounted for the highest percentage of businesses, 17 percent, and $5.2 billion in receipts. Construction followed, at 13.9 percent and $5.4 billion in revenue. Retail came in third, with 7.5 percent of businesses and $4.6 billion in receipts.

By far the biggest category of Native-owned business, 45 percent, was "industries not classified." Only in this category did Native-owned firms average more receipts than the nation as a whole.

The Native firms represented 6.5 percent of the country's 3 million minority-owned businesses. The Native-owned firms averaged less than two employees apiece, at 298,700 workers, and generated $34.3 billion in revenue, with the 9,400 legally incorporated firms accounting for a third of the total, $11.9 billion.

That revenue represented a huge 179 percent increase in receipts over the five-year timeframe, bureau noted from used data gathered for its most recent "Survey of Minority-Owned Business Enterprises." That's more than four times the average national increase in receipts, which was 40 percent.

By number, the four states with the most Native businesses were California, 26,600, Texas, 15,700, Oklahoma, 15,100, and Florida, 10,500.

Alaska had the highest percentage of total companies in a state owned by Natives, 11 percent. Oklahoma followed with 5.4 percent, and New Mexico took the bronze, at 5.2 percent.

For metropolitan areas, Los Angeles was first, with 8,541 American Indian-owned businesses and $2.9 billion in receipts. It was followed by Tulsa, Okla. at 3,822, Oklahoma City with 3,295, Houston, with 3,128, and New York, at 2,801.

Although 1997 is the most recent of the bureau's every-five-year analysis of Indian country business, the report was not released until this year, originally in May and then again for the November heritage month.