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SEEDS Program Helps Tribes Grow Employment, Sustain Local Communities

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A recent grant from the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services' Administration for Children and Families is helping tribes create economic development projects focused on business opportunities and sustainable employment in Native communities.

Sustainable Employment and Economic Development Strategies (SEEDS), funded by the Administration for Native Americans (ANA) in FY2013, dedicates $4.5 million per year toward grants with a specific focus on job creation and training, business development and incubation, and retaining money and funds in the community or reservation.

“By improving access to employment and business development opportunities for tribal members who are struggling to make ends meet in this economy, SEEDS gives them the chance to work and participate in local jobs that will help improve their lives and those of their families,” said ANA Commissioner Lillian Sparks.

The Passamaquoddy Tribe of Maine created an economic development project to tap into a traditional resource: maple syrup. The Passamaquoddy own 65,000 acres in northern Maine where the predominant tree species are rock and sugar maple. Until now they have lacked the funding to purchase equipment and pay staff to operate and market their product. They hope to eventually grow Passamaquoddy Maple Syrup Ventures into a multi-million dollar enterprise that hires locals year-round and seasonally in addition to reinvesting profits into tribal services.

Another example comes from the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Tribe of Chippewa Indians in Wisconsin. One barrier to economic development facing the Bad River Tribe is the absence of high-speed broadband internet on the reservation and in the tribally designated service area, as well as outdated local cellular service that lacks the ability to provide mobile data transmission. The lack of connectivity creates a significant obstacle for budding entrepreneurs who need to buy and sell goods online or quickly compare prices when purchasing raw materials.

To address this gap, the Bad River Tribe plans to launch their own telecommunications company, Bad River Superior Connections, within the first 18 months of the grant to provide local and reliable high speed telecommunications. In addition to helping to bridge the digital divide, Bad River Superior Connections will keep money in the local community rather than sending checks to out-of-state corporations.

Each project has a ceiling of $500,000 and a maximum project length of five years. SEEDS projects must measure at least of the following outcomes: full time jobs created, number of Native Americans employed, the number of businesses created or expanded, and revenues generated.

From Maine to Guam, ANA has now funded 15 projects under this special initiative, and the other projects commonly focus on job training and job placement in specific fields such as green jobs, home care aids, or hospitality, or they are intended to build the capacity of local service providers that are assisting small business grow and first time entrepreneurs gain the skills necessary to launch a successful business.

Every year ANA provides over $40 million in competitive grants to Native American communities across the United States and in the Pacific territories in the areas of social and economic development, native language preservation and maintenance and environmental regulatory enhancement.