Gary Davis believes Indian country has entered an age of renaissance.
"I believe that we have a renaissance before us, and we really have to look at the possibilities that exist in sectors beyond those that we're currently engaged in, and look at the value and the worth of doing business in Indian country, and continue to communicate that message to the world," says Davis, president and CEO of the National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development (the National Center).
"I think regaining control of that narrative is imperative to the future success and growth of Indian country. And it will take partners," he adds. "It will take growing our network and bringing new [business] possibilities into the future that may not have been considered in previous generations — for the benefit of future generations."
This year, Davis represented Indian country at the Minority Business Development Agency’s (MBDA) delegation to the Hannover Messe in Hannover, Germany. The world’s largest industrial trade fair also drew President Obama and Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker.
More recently, Davis was appointed to serve on the U.S. Small Business Administration’s (SBA) Council on Underserved Communities (CUC). He will work alongside SBA Administrator Maria Contreras-Sweet, providing counsel and best practices on how to effectively support small businesses in underserved communities across the country. During his two-year term, Davis will help review current SBA programs and policies and make recommendations for how they can better serve the communities on which the CUC focuses — including Indian country.
Below, he answers some questions about how he'll make an impact through the CUC, and why he's such an advocate for bringing awareness of business opportunities in Indian country to an international audience.
Q: How will you bring a unique perspective to the SBA's Council on Underserved Communities (CUC)?
I think that representing one of the most underserved communities in the United States of America is a huge opportunity to provide a voice, and subsequently one that really lends itself to communicating the very nuanced issues that Indian country faces in business, and to create community sustainability, entrepreneurship and generally economic development. I think it's crucial that a voice be heard as to ways we can improve our community and ways that policies and programs can be bettered or implemented, so that we create a better future for our people.
Q: Is the National Center taking action to increase communication with small businesses to identify any necessary or preferred updates to SBA policies or programs?
Quite honestly I think the National Center wakes up every morning with its finger on the pulse with what is going on in Indian country not by solely what we think but driven by the information that we aggregate and that we gather across Indian country at our Reservation Economic Summit to our various programs that we've run throughout the years, and by generally our activity nationally with regards to business in Indian country. I think we're very up to speed as to the areas of opportunity and the obstacles that exist for progress in business in Indian country. I think it all leads itself back to being able to provide a very timely and important voice on the Council and to the Small Business Administration.
Q: Are there any current key concerns you can address for small businesses in Indian country?
Of course there's the ongoing concern with access to capital. That always tends to be an issue that we have to address. We're looking at: how do we create jobs in Indian country and how do we do that across the spectrum. I think one of the ways to do that is to look at how can programs that have been in existence at the SBA find a place not just in HUB zones and economically disadvantaged areas, but specifically those HUB zones and economically disadvantaged areas on reservations, and implement long-standing programs like free-trade zones into Indian country, or to spur investment, economic development, job creation, and to create economy in Indian country.
Q: In April you were part of the Minority Business Development Agency's delegation at Hannover Messe in Germany. What were the key takeaways from your experience representing Indian country abroad?
First of all it was such a great honor to be involved in such a magnificent event, and such an expansive event — 200,000 people came through that property at Hannover Messe. Just the sheer magnitude of the opportunity that was present there, and to be able to advocate for a portion of that opportunity to come to Indian country was a tremendous honor. I think that additional honor of being able to sit with counterparts in Germany at a policy roundtable was especially invigorating. And to be able to provide remarks there regarding opportunity in Indian country, possibility in Indian country, and the need for partners was of vital importance to truly add to the American presence in Germany. It was a tremendous honor to be able to carry that flag for Indian country.
Q: Can you identify some of the sectors of business that you foresee as prime opportunities for foreign companies to partner with Indian country?
We'd literally not have the time to go over the expansive amount of sectors that were there. Just in technology alone you had everything from micro-conductors to cabling to robotics — every shape, fashion and form; you had manufacturing, energy — just an intense amount of what is going on innovatively in the world. The opportunities to partner with some of the companies who may have not considered Indian country — renewable energy, hydro, wind, solar, products that were there that could come to Indian country, and looking at some of the manufacturing opportunities that are there that could potentially find their way onto reservation land. These are all tomorrow's conversations that we need to have today, in looking at how we can bring prosperity to our people, and looking at how we can diversify the portfolio of business development in Indian country, and make sure that we're thinking outside of the box, and that we're exploring what the world has to offer.
Q: On April 7, you participated in the "Face of the New Economic Narrative" panel at the Economic Development Administration’s (EDA) annual conference in Washington, D.C. What did that mean for you?
It's just such a great honor to be called upon to provide a voice for economic growth and business development in Indian country. It really resonates personally with me, because I really understand being an entrepreneur, and subsequently the opportunities that have presented themselves in my life. So it's just such a passion I have to make sure Indian country is heard, and we continue to present the story of Indian country and we continue to communicate the possibilities of Indian country — not just outside of our communities, but to our communities. I just can't help but be on fire for that, because I know what it's meant for my life, and I want to see that possibility and that opportunity come to every person in Indian country. It's a great honor.