By Babette Herrmann -- Today correspondent
LAS VEGAS - The 22nd annual Reservation Economic Summit & American Indian Business Trade Fair kicked off March 3 at the Las Vegas Hilton. Early that morning, those with a penchant for golf and a competitive heart attended the 20th Annual National Center Golf Classic at the Las Vegas Paiute Golf Resort.
That same evening, the welcoming evening reception offered attendees a lavish array of appetizers. The band One Nation, featuring NAMMY award-winning artist Arvel Bird, provided a synergistic performance.
While attendees enjoyed the ease of the opening day, behind the scenes, employees of the National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development, the nonprofit group that spearheads the event, scrambled to prepare conference rooms for sessions the following day.
Meanwhile, the registration process went smoothly as employees handed out packets at the pre-registration counter. And behind the counter of the on-site registration area, nearly a dozen employees and volunteers processed registration packets on computers lined up against the wall. Technology has streamlined the process.
Employees and volunteers seemed calm and smiled even when a few attendees had problems registering. Some had to wait for 15 minutes to a half-hour before their registration packets were processed.
Tom Mike works in registration and has been employed by NCAIED for 29 years. He has watched the event grow from a small two-day event into one of the most highly recognized four-day Native business conference and tradeshows in the country. ''To me, we progressed quite quickly,'' he said.
Mike, Tohono O'odham, started working for the company just six months out of high school. He was hired on as an assistant bookkeeper and now serves as the acting CFO. Soft-spoken and respectful, he smiled as he helped attendees complete their registration.
''RES is a learning experience for all the people gathering here to do business with each other,'' he said. ''We expand knowledge within ourselves and throughout the Indian nations.''
The organization has grown from 24 employees to more than 60 today, with each worker and board member rolling up their sleeves to help make the event flow as smoothly as possible. Hilton employees and businesses participating in the tradeshow set up and tore down their own booths.
NCAIED was founded in 1969 with the sole purpose to help develop small Native-owned businesses and tribal developments. They also provide consulting services and technical assistance, and they work with federal government agencies, foundations and corporations to help develop business with Native enterprises.
''Our goal is to help American Indian-owned businesses succeed,'' said Maria Dadgar, director of development for NCAIED. ''We stay in tune with the cultural aspect, and that is one of the things that makes us unique and keeps us here.''
Dadgar, Piscataway, has worked for the organization for four years. Her position keeps her at the forefront of the pre-planning, set-up and break down stages of the event. ''It's been a lot of hard work, but we support each other,'' she said.
In order to manifest a successful event and help it to stay on the cutting edge, they ask their sponsors and long-time attendees for suggestions on how to make the conference and tradeshow a positive experience for as many people as possible.
''Doing this for 22 years, you get to know the people that sponsor the event and the business owners,'' she said. ''You have to pay attention to detail and not to promise anything you can't deliver.''
Conference-goers get the opportunity to offer their feedback on the breakout session tracks by filling out a response form to explain what they liked about each of the sessions they attend. This process helps organizers to improve any shortcomings.
In addition to the employees working the conference cycle, about 30 volunteers - mostly from the Las Vegas area - worked at this year's event. ''It's just amazing and they are so dedicated,'' Dadgar said.
And speaking of dedication, speakers and moderators not employed by the organization pay their own travel expenses to share their experience, strength and hope to attendees.
When the event first started in 1986, it drew fewer than 400 people. In the early years, registration included a brown bag lunch. Over the years, it has turned into an event that draws nearly 3,000 attendees and features a lavish networking breakfast and lunch for three days.
Dadgar said the success stories make all the hard work pay off. She often hears of new businesses landing contracts from their participation at the tradeshow. ''We are recording our success stories,'' she said. ''Recognition and honor happens here, and we give businesses the opportunity to receive support from the Native community.''
Ron Solimon, chairman of the board of directors, said at the evening welcome reception that they ''expect to have more than $1 billion in contracts awarded'' as a result of RES 2008.
The 23rd annual RES 2009 plans to shift the focus to the global marketplace. It will take place at the Las Vegas Hilton, March 9 - 12, 2009. NCAIED headquarters is located in Mesa, Ariz., and they have 11 offices nationwide to serve the interests of Native owned businesses. For more information, call (800) 4NCAIED or visit www.ncaied.org.