MESA, Ariz. - When the 22nd annual Reservation Economic Summit and American Indian Business Trade Fair came to an end in Las Vegas, Nev., in early March, organizers were confident that over time, about $1 billion in contracts would be eventually awarded from the networking that took place between businesses.
To track those results, the National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development, organizer of the event, sent out conference surveys to attendees. Less than a month later, a few of those surveys started to filter into its Mesa headquarters.
Vulcan Products Co. Inc., a manufacturing company that specializes in metal fabrication and machining services, revealed its success story in a survey. ''As a direct result of the networking events at RES, our company was able to obtain a contract and have three more awaiting this year,'' said Vulcan Sales Managing Director Mike Russell Jr.
RES was especially promising for Integrated Solutions, a corporation of the Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes of the Fort Peck Indian Reservation in Poplar, Mont., that specializes in information technology sales and services, and a wide selection of office supplies.
Wayne Two Bulls, general manager of Integrated Solutions, said this was the first year that the seven-employee-strong company attended RES. Through networking, he and an associate met Rosalyn Worthan, a program analyst from the Interior Department. Two Bulls said they are being considered for a contract with the government agency.
They also met with mortgage lender Freddie Mac and made some other promising leads. And in an effort to keep an open mind about expanding their services offered, they discussed partnering opportunities with a software development company. ''We don't want to stick with one concept and have all of our eggs in one basket,'' he said.
Two Bulls said he was surprised to see a diverse array of businesses at one event. He met potential leads by associating with an individual who had attended past conferences. The winning combination came as a result of being introduced to potential leads, along with passing out business cards and socializing during the networking breakfasts and lunches.
''I would say it was a pretty successful RES 2008,'' he said. ''It gives us a chance to network and learn, and make contacts.''
For the past four years, RES links buyers with Native-owned businesses during the Procurement Pavilion sessions. This year, similar to a good dating service, coordinators pre-matched buyers with businesses that they deemed a good match. About 200 businesses participated in the sessions, during which they had 15 minutes to give a capability briefing to would-be buyers.
NCAIED Acting President and CEO Scott Gregory said rarely are any contracts drawn up at RES. But he does remember that about two years ago a client closed a $200 million deal at RES with Interior, proving that anything is possible when buyers are looking to tap into a diverse market.
RES brings businesses together, but NCAIED keeps the networking going long after the event ends.
When the 503(c)(3) nonprofit corporation started up in 1969 to help Natives achieve self-reliance through business ownership, technology was in its infancy.
Today, they provide management and technical assistance to about 1,400 individual and tribally owned businesses. Additionally, thanks to a computerized bid match system, they are able to match buyers with their clients year-round. They work with federal government agencies, foundations and corporations to help develop business with Native enterprises.
''During the regular course of business, we follow up with them,'' Gregory said. ''That is how we have found out about some of these potential successes.''
Even potential buyers reveal to NCAIED when they are interested in a particular corporation. For instance, Gregory said that MGM Mirage, a sponsor of RES, told him that there were three businesses in which they have solid interest after attending the event.
Gregory, who has Eastern Band of Cherokee Indian ancestry, started working for what he calls the ''national center'' 14 years ago, and was named president/CEO in January.
Next year's RES, scheduled to take place at the Las Vegas Hilton March 9 - 12, 2009, will focus on the global marketplace. NCAIED headquarters are in Mesa, with 11 offices nationwide to serve the interests of Native-owned businesses. For more information, call (800) 4NCAIED or visit www.ncaied.org.