SBA requests funding to expand tribal business information centers

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NEW ORLEANS ? The U.S. Small Business Administration wants to fund a Native American desk at the agency to take its efforts to help American Indian entrepreneurs nationwide.

SBA is in the final stages of hiring a national director for Native American outreach, agency administrator Hector V. Barreto told attendees of the RES2002 reservation economic summit here.

There is a $1-million request in the SBA's budget for fiscal year 2003 to fund the Native American desk, Barreto told the meeting, which was sponsored by the National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development.

SBA hopes to expand its Indian scope nationwide through the new program, the administrator said. Currently, its Office of Native American Affairs administers tribal business information centers (TBICs) in seven states.

"Native American entrepreneurs contribute to the economic well being and future prosperity" of America, Barreto said during a keynote address to the conference. And he said he wants to make sure that Indians "have full access to business development and expansion."

SBA's outreach will "recognize cultural needs" and provide more jobs for Native communities, he said. SBA's TBIC program now has 18 centers in seven states: Arizona, California, Minnesota, Montana, North Carolina, North Dakota, and South Dakota.

There are business information centers on the following tribes and homelands: Navajo Nation; Karuk tribe; Minnesota Chippewa; Blackfeet; Crow; Fort Peck; Fort Belknap; Northern Cheyenne; Flathead; Rocky Boy's; Eastern Cherokee; Fort Berthold; Standing Rock; Spirit Lake; Cheyenne River Sioux; Rosebud, and Pine Ridge. Each TBIC features culturally tailored business development assistance, including access to business-related software, guidance on market research and ideas on where to obtain capital.

"Small business is the engine that fuels our economy," Barreto said, noting that the nation's 25 million small businesses create two thirds of all new jobs, and produce 53 percent of the country's goods and services.

The agency has provided more than $150 billion in assistance to small companies over the past 50 years, including a few startups that later became industrial giants, including Nike, America Online, Federal Express, and Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream.

Recent initiatives at SBA will allow small companies to expense more of their costs on infrastructure and equipment in the first year, add access to health care plans, and attempt to remove some of the regulations that tack on $7,000 of expense per employee on average. "Unbundling" big government contracts will give small businesses added access to the federal government's $200 billion in business per year, Barreto said.